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Utah students with ADHD need more help, experts say

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SALT LAKE CITY — According to New York Times analysis of a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five boys will be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Some health experts link the increase to people becoming more aware of symptoms; others call it a legitimate increase in cases. Whatever the reason, Utah experts say more needs to be done to help students with ADHD.

Aaron Wheeler, 16, can certainly laugh at himself. Humor, he said, helps him to deal with his ADHD — something he was diagnosed with in preschool.

For Aaron's mother, however, it's a much more serious topic.

"It's trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, with fitting him in the school system," Stacie Wheeler said. "It just doesn't work for him."

Aaron learns differently from most of classmates, and teachers often tell him to "try harder."

"If I'm sitting down in English or math, and doing my homework, there are always people talking; and just listening to them talking can completely make me sit there for, like, 10 minutes (doing nothing)," Aaron said.


"I think for a lot of teachers, their tendency is to say, ‘Just buckle down and try harder,'" Stacie Wheeler said, "It's like (saying), ‘If you would just fly …' It's kind of what they're asking him."

Kids with ADHD have under-activity in their prefrontal cortex, meaning they need a stimulant to help them to focus. Aaron uses music, and if a teacher doesn't allow it he can easily be thrown off course.

Susan Miller, a counselor who works students who have ADHD, says teachers need to be more educated. "Every single teacher has had two or three kids a year that have ADHD, and they are the biggest time consumers," she said.

According to Milller, teachers in Utah are given a very basic understanding of the disorder, but she'd like to see some changes — for example, smaller class sizes and more assistance, especially as we see more teens being diagnosed.

The most recent data on ADHD in Utah was taken back in 2007. It showed 6.7 percent of 4- to 17-year-olds tested positive.

"I think Utah is somewhere in the middle, in terms of children that are diagnosed with ADHD or treated for ADHD," said Dr. Adam Schwebach, who specializes in testing and treating patients with ADHD.

"It would be nice to see where we can provide adequate services for children with ADHD in the public school systems, because that's where they really struggle the most," Schwebach said.

Aaron suggested one simple solution: having "classmates that weren't so distracting." As for his mom, she wants something more for her son.

"They need step-by-step follow-through; and I think if we could start them early, by the time they're Aaron's age they would be a lot better off," Stacie Wheeler said.


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Devon Dolan


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