Review: 'Buzz' follows mother-son pair with ADD


Associated Press

Posted on October 12, 2010 at 8:03 PM

"Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention" (Voice, $24.99), by Katherine Ellison: If you think having a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be exhausting, imagine what happens when the child's parent has it, too.

"I go back and forth from thinking I'm the best possible mother for Buzz, because I can so deeply empathize, to thinking I'm the worst, because we so often clash," writes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Ellison in her new book, "Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention." Ellison chronicles her quest to understand her son and their shared clinical-grade distraction. (Buzz was 9 when he was diagnosed three years ago.)

As she delves into the world of ADD, the nation's most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in children, Ellison learns that "we've ended up with much more data than knowledge."

First comes the debate over the label — is it an excuse or an explanation? A character or a syndrome? Then there are the countless contradictory therapies "running the gamut from medication to meditation," as Ellison puts it.

What follows is a smart, easy-to-understand explanation of the disorder and Ellison's experience with various interventions, including neurofeedback, the prescription stimulant Concerta and supplements with names like Mind Power Rx and BrainSustain.

Ellison also highlights schools and programs around the country that have had great success with kids like Buzz. At one such high school, "the rule rather than the exception is that students are out of their seats, involved in hands-on projects and teamwork," she writes. Teachers are required to advise small groups of students throughout their high school years: "Each student knows that there is at least one adult at the school who feels personally responsible for his or her success."

"Initially designed for marginalized children, these tactics end up helping all students, the advocates say. In other words, kids like Buzz are the coal-miners' canaries," Ellison writes. "While they've been grimed by the school system's dysfunctions to date, they may just lead the way to reform."

The big lesson Ellison takes from her year of study is that there is no silver bullet — "no pill, or herb, or exercise" that will "cure" an ADD child.

The value of "Buzz" is having someone with a critical eye and access to experts — not to mention a hefty budget to experiment with — try out various therapies and treatments and report back the results in a thoroughly readable and understandable manner. The big caveat lies in the fact that this is one family's experience. It's not a guaranteed fix for parents seeking help but rather a helpful compilation of potential starting points.