Friday, January 28, 2011

Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention: Book Review

I read Katherine Ellison's article - Doing Battle with the ADHD-Industrial Complex - when it was published a few months ago. I thought it was an interesting and insightful piece, and promptly put her new book on my to-read list. I wasn't really looking forward to reading Buzz, though.

I've read a lot of books on ADHD, OCD, and Tourette's Syndrome and related disorders (including autism spectrum disorders) over the past ten years. You can see some of these books on the disability shelf in my goodreads account here, and some information on Tourette's and Tourette's Syndrome Plus (TS+) here and here

The books I've read include memoirs, parenting and teacher advice, therapeutic manuals, and fiction aimed at all ages. Some of these books were enlightening, some were depressing, and some should be required reading for anyone dealing with these issues. I wish I had enough money to buy copies of Ross W. Greene's The Explosive Child for every parent who would benefit from it, and enough copies of Lost at School and Challenging Kids, Challenged Teachers for every administrator, teacher, and paraprofessional (i.e., teacher's aide) who needs to read these books.

Anyway, I thought Katherine Ellison would be preaching to the choir in Buzz, and that it was unlikely she would tell me anything new, or describe any personal experiences I hadn't already lived myself. Then the book became available on my library request list. Even though the cover gave me a headache with its vibrating-look title (and the library's fluorescent ID sticker went right through the middle of the legs in the center, making them look like some weird butterfly wearing Converse high tops), I gave it a try. 

I was hooked by the first chapter. Ellison describes her "bad mom moments" in unflinching detail, along with graphic descriptions of her son's defiance, anger, and confusion. After one particularly memorable incident, Ellison resolves to turn her attention and considerable skills at investigative journalism to ADHD in general, and to her son (who goes by the nickname "Buzz") in particular, for the next year.

Her account of her year of research, experimentation, expense, family life, and community is fascinating. She examines medication, therapy, support groups, neurofeedback, meditation, and several other approaches to dealing with ADHD. There's a bit about the history of most of these ideas, interviews with mental health professionals and other practitioners, and interesting accounts of her experiences and her son's.  I'd heard of many of these approaches - but reading about the details of the practices was cool in a whole different way. It reminded me of Mary Roach's popular science books (like Stiff), actually. And I really appreciated the detailed end notes (complete with references), and a useful index.  

When I read about the meditation technique of mindfulness that Nirbhay Singh recommends for defusing anger, for instance, I was able to turn to the research in the endnotes, and then look Singh's articles up online. My son and I both read Singh et al.'s Meditation on the Soles of the Feet Training, and though he didn't particularly like thinking about his feet, he was able to focus his concentration on something else in a similar manner to help calm himself the other day. This is an approach I hadn't ever seriously considered.

Ellison's descriptions of her family's ordeals and triumphs during this year is equally engaging, and adds a certain (sometimes dark) humor to the narrative that kept me reading. I did wish that there was more about schools and educational advocacy in Buzz, and Ellison mentions that she became aware of this lack when it was too late for her to use the information effectively (in the epilogue). 

One work that complements Buzz particularly well is Judith Warner's recent book on children and mental health: We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication

In short - it's definitely worth turning your attention to Buzz, whether you have to deal with attention deficits and/or hyperactivity or not.

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