Editor’s note: This is the fifth in an 8-part series of weekly feature stories written in conjunction with the “Inside Out” community campaign to normalize mental illness.
As a kindergartner, Keagan Gilbert just couldn’t sit still.
He was always on the go, always talking, and always fidgeting. He had trouble focusing, and would move from one activity to the next “within milliseconds,” recalls his mom, Rachelle Gilbert. Parenting him was “kind of like being on an ongoing, constant train that never stops at the station,” she says.
Feedback from his kindergarten teachers confirmed Rachelle’s long-held suspicions, and at the age of 6, Keagan was diagnosed with ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Also diagnosed with an unspecified mood disorder, his symptoms caused difficulties in school, and he had trouble socializing with other kids his own age. He started telling his mom that he “hated school” and didn’t want to go.
She took him to a therapist, and made some nutritional changes to his diet, but when those things didn’t make enough of an impact on their own, Rachelle says, she decided to “go the medication route.”
That’s a choice she’s been criticized for, with people wrongly telling her that prescription meds are “the easy way out,” or spreading the misconception that they’ll turn Keagan into some sort of “a robot.” But Rachelle has seen the positive effects that Keagan’s treatment plan has had over the years, and she doesn’t regret her choice.
“I did what needed to be done for my child, what was in his best interest,” she says. “As a whole, at home, at school, with friends - to be on medication versus not to be on medication… This has been the right choice for my son.”
Now a 17-year-old junior at Hawley High School, Keagan’s behavior has evolved over the years, and he’s learned how to better manage his symptoms. It’s not a perfect science, and some days - some moments, even - are better than others. He describes his ADHD as a disorder that can make him feel like he has no control over what his body does.
“I hear, like, every single noise every second,” he says of his symptoms when they’re at their worst. “And mostly, I gotta move around a lot. I can’t stop moving. If I do stop moving, then I’ll get up again and start moving again. It kind of feels like you’re just always moving around, like you’re never tired until late at night, and you don’t want to go to sleep at night.”
There are times when it’s hard for him to focus, too. He’ll try to concentrate on something at school, for example, but his mind will race with thoughts about what he’s supposed to do for his next class, or later at home that day, or the next day.
He gets frustrated with his scattered thoughts and needs to calm himself down, and that takes some mental work. He’s learned some coping techniques, like taking deep breaths, counting, or taking a break and listening to music for awhile. If he’s in class, he’ll ask the teacher if he can be excused to go get a drink of water. If he’s someplace where he can take a quick nap, he’ll do that. Whatever it takes to cool out.
His ADHD and mood disorders are a part of who he is, but they exist within a much bigger picture of his personality. Keagan feels just like any other teenager, he says, and he doesn’t define himself by his diagnoses.
“Having a mental health disorder doesn’t make you any better or worse than anyone else,” says Rachelle. “That’s the message I want to spread. That it’s just something you have, and you deal with it (in a way) that works for you.”
Today, Keagan doesn’t “hate school” like he did in the early days, and he’s keeping his grades up. He also has some healthy outlets for his energy: A big baseball fan, he plays for the Hawley Nuggets and dreams of playing for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks after high school. From there, he says, he’d love to play for the Twins and become “the next Joe Mauer.” He’s also on the youth leadership team at his church, Maranatha Free Lutheran in Glyndon, and he works a part-time job doing carry-out at his hometown grocery store, Tony’s Super Valu.
Rachelle finds it ironically funny that Keagan’s first job is at Tony’s, where, about a decade earlier, he had one of his worst public tantrums. The fact that he’s earning a paycheck there now, shows just how far he’s come.
“He had a meltdown over a candy bar,” she recalls with a chuckle. “Now he works there.”
The fifth “Inside Out” video, featuring Keagan and Rachelle speaking about ADHD, is available to watch HERE.
MORE ABOUT ADHD
What is it?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a disorder that makes it difficult for a person to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors.
In the “Inside Out” video on ADHD, released this week, Dr. Brian Gatheridge, a psychologist at Sanford Health, explained that all children, especially young children, will demonstrate difficulties with their emotions and behaviors at times. They can be active, restless, impulsive, inattentive and easily distracted. For many kids, those behaviors are typical.
“But for some kids, we’re going to see that these behaviors occur more frequently than they do for most other children,” Gatheridge said. “When we see kids who demonstrate significant problems with hyperactivity and impulsivity and inattention that occurs across almost all areas of their life - home, at school and within social relationships - we start to consider whether they may meet criteria for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”
How common is it?
Approximately 9.4 percent of children ages 2-17 (6.1 million kids) have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, according to a 2016 report. The number of diagnosed cases has been on the rise, increasing by 42% between 2000 and 2018. As many as 9 million adults in the U.S., or 4 percent of the adult population, have the disorder.
Who does it affect?
People of all ages and races, though males are three times as likely to be diagnosed as females. Symptoms of ADHD begin in childhood (usually between the ages of 3 and 6; the average age of an ADHD diagnosis is 7), but the disorder can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Hyperactivity tends to improve as a child becomes a teen, but problems with inattention, disorganization and poor impulse control often continue through the teen years and into adulthood.
What are the signs and symptoms?
There are three main categories of symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Common examples of these symptoms include: making careless mistakes in school or work; having trouble sustaining attention in tasks like reading or having conversations; seeming to not listen when spoken to directly; failing to follow through on instructions, work or chores; easily sidetracked; trouble with time management and meeting deadlines; forgetfulness; fidgeting and squirming; restlessness; and nonstop talking.
Symptoms in boys tend to be more externalized and therefore more noticeable and easier to diagnose. In girls, symptoms are often not as “typical” and can be easier to overlook, such as: being withdrawn; having low self-esteem and anxiety; having a tendency to daydream; and taunting, teasing or being otherwise verbally aggressive.
People with ADHD, especially children, are more likely to experience a range of coexisting conditions, which can make social situations more difficult or school more challenging. Possible coexisting conditions include learning disabilities, antisocial behavior, fighting, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, bed-wetting and substance abuse.
How is it treated?
Although there is no cure for ADHD, symptoms are commonly treated with medication, education or training, therapy, or a combination of treatments.
*Compiled from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Leighton Broadcasting “Inside Out” video on ADHD
IF YOU SUSPECT YOUR CHILD MAY HAVE ADHD
Dr. Brian Gatheridge, a psychologist at Sanford Health, recommends in the “Inside Out” video that parents who suspect their child may have ADHD or something similar start by visiting with the child’s primary care provider or a local behavioral health clinician. It’s important to seek help as soon as there are concerns.
“Sometimes the longer these problems develop for children, the more and more problems that develop over time,” Gatheridge said. “So the sooner we can intervene, the better the outcome is going to be, long-term.”
ADHD is a lifelong condition, but “it does not have to be a limitation in any manner for children,” he added. “Certainly some things are going to be more difficult, but with the right interventions in place there’s absolutely no reason that these children cannot be as successful as any other child… It’s definitely something that can be very well managed with the right interventions.”
Those interventions typically consist of a mix of physician visits (or child psychiatrist visits), environmental and behavioral interventions, and in some cases, medications. Parents are often taught how to better equip their child to self-regulate.
Parents of kids diagnosed with ADHD are encouraged to keep a predictable and consistent daily schedule, limit distractions as much as possible, decrease clutter and organize the home environment, plan activities that provide the child with a sense of accomplishment and success, and reward positive behavior while also holding the child accountable for misbehavior.
Rachelle Gilbert said it’s important to, “Advocate for your child. What might work for one child might not necessarily work for your child. Do what needs to be done for your child.”
Also, keep the lines of communication open with providers and counselors.
“Having that team has been crucial for me,” said Gilbert.
MORE ABOUT THE 'INSIDE OUT' CAMPAIGN
"Inside Out: A Step Inside Mental Illness" is a Detroit Lakes area project to raise awareness of mental illness and erase the stigmas surrounding it. A community partnership between local media and regional healthcare and crisis organizations, the campaign consists of a series of online videos, newspaper articles and radio discussions that shed light on some common mental health disorders, putting local faces to those disorders. Topics covered include depression, PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, suicide and others.
Videos are being released once a week for eight weeks (the campaign started the week of Feb. 25), and are available to watch free on Becker County Energize's website, beckercountyenergize.com. There will also be a program airing each week on lakestv3.com. Newspaper articles are being published in the Wednesday print editions of the Detroit Lakes Tribune over the same time span, as well as on the newspaper's website, www.dl-online.com. Participating radio stations include Leighton Broadcasting's local stations, Wave 104.1 FM, KDLM 1340 AM and 93.1 FM, and KRCQ 102.3 FM.