Mishpacha: Interview with Rabbi Wertheimer

The following is a translation of an interview with Peretz Wertheimer that was published in Hebrew in The Mishpacha Magazine, July 2011:

 

A high percentage of children suffer from ADD – Attention Deficiency Disorder. What can we do to help these children? Rabbi Peretz Wertheimer, Director of Achiya’s Center for ADD/ADHD in Elad, gives us insights on into how to deal with this very common disorder.

 

Pay attention — to attention!

In the last few years, there has been a growing awareness of the problem of ADD/ADHD in children. In the past, a child who was unable to sit still would be labeled as lazy or perhaps even “disturbed”; today, it is recognized that the child has a problem which necessitates professional attention, and the sooner, the better!

Rabbi Wertheimer, Director of Achiya’s Center for ADD/ADHD in Elad, points out that awareness is not sufficient. Many parents sole source of information is fragmented comments heard “in passing.” Many prefer to deny that a problem exists and would never consider going for a professional evaluation. Ignoring the problem can cause the child irreversible damage, which is why it is crucial to fully understand the problem, and then do something to resolve it.

 

Mishpacha: How many children have ADD/ADHD?

 

Rabbi Wertheimer: ”The percentages are very high; the latest research claims that from 5% to 10% of the general population suffer from some form of ADD/ADHD. The problem is more pronounced in boys. It’s interesting to note that many times when parents with a child who has recently been diagnosed with the disorder learn about the symptoms, one of the parents will jump up and says – ‘Hey – that’s me when I was a child, and I never imagined that this was the problem!’”

 

GIVING THE SIGNS

 

Mishpacha: What are the symptoms of ADD/ADHD?

 

Rabbi Wertheimer: ”Difficulty with attention and concentration can be divided into three subcategories:

“The first subcategory consists of children who suffer from attention deficiency. They do not disturb the class. Instead, they are generally extremely introverted. It is difficult to diagnose their problem; it’s almost as if they’re saying to the teacher ‘Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.’ These children can make it through school for years without anyone being aware that there is a real problem, and by the time it is diagnoses it is often very difficult to treat. As a result of their problem with concentration, most of these children feel like failures and are social misfits.

“The second subcategory consists of children who are hyperactive: they have excessive body movement. These children seem to be powered by an invisible motor. They are unable to sit still for a minute.

“The third subcategory is a combination of the first two – both attention deficiency and hyperactivity. Of course, within the framework of each disturbance there are different levels of severity. Obviously, each child is unique.”

Rabbi Wertheimer notes that in the majority of cases it is possible to identify children with the disorder at an early age. The problem becomes more serious as the child grows older, since the class material requires increased mental and cognitive effort.

 

Mishpacha: What warning signs are indicative of the disorder?

 

Rabbi Wertheimer: ”There are definite symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Children with the disorder have difficulty paying attention for an extended time; they tend to forget things, to lose things, and they find it hard to complete assignments, such as homework. Children suffering from hyperactivity, in addition to their attention challenge, will often be unable to sit for any appreciable length of time; they will busy themselves with anything that is to be found on their desks. They may also leave their seats to wander aimlessly around the classroom even while the teacher is standing in front of the class, giving a lesson.

Some children are impulsive. They interrupt others as they speak and shout out the answers in class. Their moods change abruptly, and they often have outbursts of anger. All of the aforementioned symptoms are based on the guidelines for diagnosis that were prepared by the American Association of Psychiatrists (DSM4). According to the Association, the symptoms must appear for at least six months and have a negative influence in at least two situations: for example, at school and at home. In other words, if the teacher is the only one to complain, or the parents, alone, report such instances, it is not sufficient to determine the presence of the disorder. In addition, these behaviors must be apparent before the age of seven.”

 

TREATING THE DIFFICULTY

 

The good news is that today, there is a solution, and with “siyatta deshemaya”, it is possible to find the right treatment that will enable to child to succeed in school, and life.

 

Rabbi Wertheimer: “Before it is possible to begin treating a child, he must first undergo a professional assessment. It is important to note that the diagnosis cannot be made by parents, teachers, or – and this I must emphasize – the many different types of charlatans out there. Only a professional, such as a neurologist, psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist can diagnose the disorder. Only after the disorder has been diagnosed and evaluated, is it possible to find a solution.

 

Mishpacha: Can you describe the methods of treatment?

”Usually, it is recommended for a child to take medication, such as Ritalin, or, in certain circumstances Azritalin LA/SR or Konserta. These medicines are effective for the majority of children; however, about 15% of children with the disorder need a different type of medicine, which is prescribed by the professional managing their treatment.

“Treatment with medicine, however, is not sufficient. In addition, the child needs behavioral therapy to give him the tools to function properly in class and in society; tools that will improve his overall performance. Behavior Therapy igiven either through group therapy or with individual coaching. In addition, it is of great importance for both parents and teacher to receive guidance in order to understand the child’s unique challenges.”

 

Mishpacha:  Is medicine crucial? Isn’t behavioral therapy enough?

 

Rabbi Wertheimer: ”Of course if the case is borderline, it is possible to try to manage without medicine. As a principal of a Talmud Torah, I can only say with certainty that in the vast majority of cases where children were diagnosed and prescribed medication, I noticed an immediate and dramatic change. The children started to blossom.”

Rabbi Wertheimer has a message for the parents: “If you suspect that your child is experiencing a difficulty, take him for a professional evaluation — the sooner, the better. This is the most precious gift you can give your child, and he will be forever grateful to you for it.”