Spark of hope
Parents in support group, Spark, have been helping one another understand their kids with ADHD.
By Priya Suri
One in five adolescents who visit the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) each year has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Often, it takes a toll on helpless parents as children with this condition find it difficult to sit still for very long. They may talk very fast, get distracted easily or have difficulty concentrating on tasks.
In class, they may be disruptive and it takes a skilled teacher to handle the situation. Indeed, ADHD is one of the most common developmental problems in children, here and elsewhere.
But some parents have, since 2000, banded together in a support group called Spark, or Society for the Promotion of ADHD Research and Knowledge.
Its purpose is to help parents understand and accept their children - and themselves.
Dr Daniel Fung, chief of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at IMH, said: "About 20 per cent of the new children we see every year end up being diagnosed with ADHD."
It affects 3 to 5 per cent of all children under the age of 19 in the United States. Dr Fung expects close to a similar figure in Singapore, although no local statistics are yet available.
Spark has, meanwhile, helped parents of these children cope.
This self-help initiative started in 1998, when parents of children with ADHD started meeting regularly to exchange parenting tips. As more people started coming to meetings, the small group grew.
Finally, in 2000, several parents decided to officially register Spark as a non-profit support group. Mr Edmund Wee, its honorary secretary and the father of an ADHD child himself, said: "Although a doctor is the first person we turn to for advice, it is also nice to receive emotional support from a non-professional, someone who has gone through the same experiences.
"Only parents of ADHD children can offer relevant and concrete solutions to problems faced by people in the same boat."
Mr Wee, 55, a managing director, stressed that face-to-face interactions and personal connections help a lot. "When we meet other parents, we realise we are not alone, and we don't feel like horrible Mums and Dads," he said.
Spark now has about 100 active members, with 30 to 50 parents attending its monthly meetings.
It also aims to raise awareness of ADHD among other Singaporeans, especially educators, since children spend a good part of their day at school.
The group sends out newsletters, conducts training programmes as well as circulates books and CD-ROMs created by Spark members. The material is relevant to the local, and Asian, context.
Spark has become so much a part of many of its earlier members that they stay on to share their experiences even after their children have grown up, and offer help to new members.
"Some newcomers even shed tears at our meetings. All their pent-up feelings are released, and it makes them feel good to meet people who genuinely care," Mr Wee said.
Spark holds meetings for parents of ADHD children every first Saturday of the month from 9am to noon at the Child Guidance Clinic, Level 3, Health Promotion Board, Second Hospital Avenue.
Visit www.spark.org.sg for more details.
This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times on June 18, 2008.
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