FamilyLife Today® Podcast

“I Have ADD.”

with David Powlison, Ed Welch | June 29, 2011
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If someone you know struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder, then you’ll want to join us today when biblical counselors David Powlison and Ed Welch, answer Dennis Rainey’s questions about ADD.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • If someone you know struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder, then you’ll want to join us today when biblical counselors David Powlison and Ed Welch, answer Dennis Rainey’s questions about ADD.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

If someone you know struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder, then you’ll want to join us today when biblical counselors David Powlison and Ed Welch, answer Dennis Rainey’s questions about ADD.

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“I Have ADD.”

With David Powlison, Ed Welch
June 29, 2011
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Bob:  Ed Welch is a biblical counselor who has a daughter who is -- the word he uses is "impulsive."  Some people might call her "hyperactive."  How does Ed deal with that as a parent?  Here's Ed Welch.

Ed:  I can't expect my daughter to be like me in all ways.  Here is a girl who really prizes impulsivity.  She prizes acting before she thinks.  So I speak to my daughter -- probably weekly I remind her that the wise life is one that considers things that have happened, you try to learn from it, you consider your ways, and you seek counsel before you make certain decisions.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 29th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.   As a parent, what kind of spiritual help can we provide for a child if he or she has been diagnosed with ADHD?  We’re going to talk about that today.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. 

Dennis:  Bob, when you were a boy, would you have been diagnosed as ADD?

Bob:  No, I was a very peaceful child -- I was.  You can call my mom, and she'll tell you I was very -- you know, I was a normal boy, but I was pretty relaxed.

Dennis:  ADHD?

Bob: My nickname was not "The Roadrunner" like some people I know.  Huh? Isn't that what your mom called you?

Dennis:  I was born breach -- I was born feet first, and …

Bob: … came out running …

Dennis:  … my mom said I came out running, and I've been running ever since. But, you know, we didn't have a lot of drugs, prescription drugs when we were growing up as kids.  In fact, I don't recall a single friend in the first grade through the elementary years, as having been on any kind of prescription drug.

Bob:  I remember the first time I ever heard about ADD, I was a camp counselor in the early '70s, and one of my campers came to camp with a prescription bottle.  His parents said, “He has attention deficit disorder, and we have a prescription here of Ritalin,” and the other counselors told me -- I was pretty naïve -- the other counselors told me, "Bob, that's speed.  Ritalin is speed." 


I said, "Well, what are you doing giving speed to a kid who's got this attention deficit disorder?"  And they said, "Well, it works differently with him."  Okay.  So I -- first time I'd ever heard of the ADD diagnosis, and he was the only camper I had all summer who had that diagnosis.

Today, I would imagine, if you went to a summer camp, it would be hard to find a cabin that didn't have at least one kid in the cabin who had his prescription of Ritalin over at the nurse's quarters.

Dennis:  Well, we have a couple of guests today who have done a great deal of research in this area.  David Powlison and Ed Welch join us for a third day.  Gentlemen, welcome back.

Ed:  It's good to be here, Dennis.  Thank you.

David:  Yes, Dennis.

Dennis:  You guys have five children between you.  I think I know the answer to this question probably before I ask it.

Ed:  I’m more proud of my children than he is of his. That’s true, yes.

Dennis:  That wasn’t the question, Ed, I was going to ask, but we found that out on yesterday’s broadcast.  Did any of your children ever need to take Ritalin or any other kind of …

Bob:  … behavior-modifying drugs?  How about your girls, Ed?

Ed:  One would have been helped a great deal, I suspect, in school, if she took medicine.  I'm serious -- she has all the characteristics that you would find in psychiatric diagnoses.  She never took medication, though.

Bob:  So you're saying she fit the classic model of an ADD kid?

Ed:  She did and she does, yes.

Dennis:  Present tense.  And you, David?

David:  No. Never.

Bob: You didn't have that experience with your kids.  Okay, your daughter fits the classic model, and yet you resisted giving her the drugs.  That doesn't sound like a very warm-hearted parental thing to do.

Ed:  Well, the first thing I should say is I'm not for or against drugs.  It's not an issue of they're right or they're wrong.  It's simply that the Scripture just has so much stuff available to us that I haven't exhausted Scripture yet in my relationship with my daughter. 

I’ll tell you some of the things that I have done.  From a very early age my daughter thought impulsivity was a fruit of the Spirit. 


Honestly.  She really prized her impulsivity.

Dennis:  So freedom of expression, freedom of action -- hey, that's the way I was made, Dad.  I'm a creative person.

Ed:  Correct, and she is a very creative person, and there are all kinds of gifts associated with some of the weaknesses.  No question.  So here's a girl who really prizes impulsivity.  She prizes acting before she thinks, and so one of our lifetime tasks with her has been to keep in front of her one of the features of the Book of Proverbs, which is "a wise person considers his or her ways." 

So I speak to my daughter and just probably weekly I remind her about that -- that the wise life is one that considers things that have happened, you try to learn from it.  You consider your ways, and you seek counsel before you make certain decisions. 

It's not natural to her, but she is growing in that, and through learning that process, it’s been a profound spiritual experience for her -- learning how to turn to Christ in the midst of this and praying that the Lord would teach her something about self-control.

Bob:  Have you had days when your wife has said to you, “Honey, I cannot deal with her any more like this.  She’s driving me crazy.”

Ed:  In our family it doesn’t go that way.  It’s me going to my wife saying, “Honey, I can’t deal with this any longer.”  It just so happens that she has a style that’s somewhat similar to my wife’s in some ways, and my wife can more instinctively understand her. 

And what do I do?  I go back to the drawing boards.  I can’t expect my daughter to be like me in all ways.  There is the arrogance of it; that my style is the right, the most godly style.  So what I do is I recognize my daughter is wired differently and I study her.

Dennis:  Ed, it occurs to me that we haven't defined what attention deficit disorder is, nor attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity.  If you would, quickly define them and then give us, just quickly, some symptoms of both so we might be able to understand how some children are classified underneath each of these.

Ed:  Okay.  The boundaries of this are really very fuzzy.  It's not you find this amount of something in your blood and you're in or you're out.  The boundaries are very fuzzy.  So you can have a very popular definition -- "My children drive me nuts," and that would be one.

Bob:  They must be ADD.

Ed:  Yeah.  A second definition would be -- your children cannot work in the classroom.  They seem to be out of control in the classroom, therefore they have ADD.  I'm not trying to demean the diagnosis, but for some people that really would be the bottom line summary of it. 

More technically, there are three different categories that people can look at, and this just comes right out of the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.  They tend to be somewhat inattentive during situations, especially when they are group situations, when they're not one-on-one situations. 

They don't seem to listen very well when somebody is giving directions.  They seem to make careless mistakes at school.  Where some children seem to be able to lock in to the teacher, these children have a tendency to – they just happen to luck out by hearing a couple of words from what the teacher has to say.  It's just this wandering kind of attention that goes in a number of different directions.

So inattention would be one of the classic descriptions.  A second would be impulsivity, and that's the idea where if it's in your mind, it comes out your mouth.  For many of us, if it's in our minds, there are a number of filters that keep it from coming out of our mouths. 

But we've seen the children in school, you know, "Children raise your hand if you have something to say," and there are some children who are going to raise their hand , but they are "Oooh, ooh, aaah, aah, ooh, ooh, I know teacher," and they're going to yell out the answer. 

That kind of impulsivity would be part of the description, and you can see that in the western educational environment, that would be a bit troublesome.  In an African environment, it wouldn't be a problem.  So there is a cultural sense to this. 

The third part of it would be the hyperactivity, as you mentioned, Dennis, which is just the motor is running all the time.  The first time I ever saw that was when I was living with my parents and there was a missionary couple who came to the house.  My parents lived on a hill that angles very well, but it seemed like a 60 degree angle. 

This child came out of the car, but the child didn’t come out of the car.  The child was ejected out of the car, and the child literally, not by the parents, just some force, he sprang out of the car and he literally ran up and down this hill that was nearly vertical for a good half hour.  I was just astounded at his energy, and then I was astounded at the godliness of his parents for being able to try to stay up with him throughout the day.  So those would be more the technical descriptions of it.

Bob:  Correct me if I’m wrong, but the diagnosis today is more with boys than with girls.  There are more boys that are ADHD?

Ed:  Since it’s political, there’s an attempt to try to balance out the statistics, so they’re trying to throw more girls into the diagnosis, but it’s been a challenge for them.  So yes, more boys.

Dennis:  I want to read you an e-mail and then, David, I want to toss this one to you.  This comes from a listener who said, "I left my husband because of the constant drug abuse and the danger I felt it put me and my children in.  It's now been nine months, and I’m finding it very difficult to be both Mom and Dad for my 8-year-old son. “

“His behavior is either good or bad.  There is no in between.  I've been told to see a physician for ADHD and to have him put on medication, but because of the drug abuse that I have seen in his father, putting him on medication is not even thinkable.”

“I don't have any help, and his dad is not an active part of his life on any consistent level.  My son is angry, disrespectful at times.  At other times, he's so loving and kind."

There undoubtedly, David, are a number of moms and dads who have a child who could be diagnosed as ADD, ADHD, and are wondering, “If I don't put them on some kind of prescription, what should I consider doing?”  What are some steps that do pull the best out of the Scriptures?

David:  Sure.  That story -- one of the things it brings out is you think how pitiful it would be if a kid, living in that kind of situation -- a kid who has been abandoned by his dad, a kid who is living a very tough life, a kid who is full of anger, full of hurt, for him to be tagged with a label, as though that somehow explained him. 

It doesn’t give that mom an easy answer, but it points to something, I think, is just absolutely crucial for sanity, for hope in a parent.  It’s the whole idea that, as I first approach a child who has got the fidgets, who is inattentive and so forth -- let me try to normalize it.  Let me try to just put it -- it's just part of the normal human spectrum.

I think one of the things interesting that Ed brought up a minute ago that might have gone by fast is that this would not be picked up as a "problem" in a lot of cultures.  There is a way where the very diagnosis is a reflection of the values of the culture -- it may be dubious values. 

Just to pick a couple of things, we live in a culture that highly values desk work and focused work with ditto sheets or sitting at a computer, something like that.  So that makes a certain demand on a kid.  We also live in a culture because of the influence of television you are, in a sense, discipled by the culture to think in three-second sound and sight bites. 

There is nothing in the culture that reinforces paying attention for any particular length of time.  Those seem to me are going to work together to create a whole lot of kids who seem to be very troubled, seem to be unable to cope with the culture.

But it's helping a parent get a sense that -- let me not pathologize my kid.  Yeah, my kid is fidgety; yeah, my kid is having some struggles in school.  Yeah, on the case you read, my kid's angry, my kid's hurting, my kid's lonely, my kid has a shortage at the level of role models -- those are real-life problems, and let's try to come up with some real-life kinds of interactions.  The sort of thing Ed talked about with his daughter -- those are the life problems you've got to deal with as a parent.

Bob:  Like the life problem of my kid can’t seem to get through the page of math homework because by the third or fourth problem they can’t stay focused on the math homework.  Again, as a parent you think, “Is this a spiritual issue?  Do I need them memorizing some Proverbs so that they can go to the ant as sluggards and stay diligent about their work?  Is that the solution for this?”

David:  Or maybe my kid would make a wonderful mechanic or carpenter, or joiner, or maybe there’s a different thing that my kid is wired for, but the cultural values around me say, “You’ve got to be able to do math.”

Bob:  Yeah, in the third grade they don’t value auto mechanics, you know.  You’d better get the math right, and my kid’s getting a C minus and being held back in the slow section.

Ed:  Or perhaps when we study your child well, we realize that child, who does not like math whatsoever, for him to be able to sit down and actually work through three problems is a time for celebration, and a call to speaking of the real wisdom that is growing in that child.

One of the problems, occasionally, with the medication being used with the diagnosis is we can get a little bit lazy, where we have just done the fundamental, the most important, or the exclusive treatment for the child.  Now, no professional is going to say that, but it’s really very easy to think that most of the work has just been done. 

And so as parents it’s easy for us to be lazy and stop studying our children, considering their weaknesses.  Consider where they need to be discipled.

Bob, one of your questions was, “What’s the course?”  Well, there are a number of disciplinary strategies that, again, we need the body of Christ to think through those things with us.  What would be wise and helpful for this particular child?  But the backbone of your ministry to a child who struggles with these kinds of problems will be the book of Proverbs and the book of James.

Think before you act.  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.  What is the hallmark of a wise person?  Someone who listens.  Listen, my son.  Listen, my son.  And obviously it’s a skill that we all learn.  It’s not that you get it or you don’t get it.  It’s here the writer of Proverbs just beseeching his children:  “Please listen.  I want you to have ears so when I speak and when you hear the beautiful things I’m going to say, your ears are attentive.  Of all the other stimuli that attract you in the world, you’re going to focus in on this.  It’s not going to come easy, child.  It’s going to take years and years of work, but let’s learn to listen together.

Dennis:  You know, as you were talking, I couldn't help but think that there is a mom and a dad, for that matter, who both want to be great parents.  I mean, we want to succeed in this thing.  We want to be all that our children need to help them grow up and become mature and responsible. 

But there may be one mom and dad right now listening whose child has already been diagnosed and is on Ritalin.  What would you say to that mom, that dad, just about what they ought to do from here forward?  I mean, should they take their child off the drug?  Should they begin praying as a couple about what to do?  What are some thoughts for that parent?

Ed:  Perhaps David has some other comments on this, but let me throw out one perspective.  If parents come to me, their child has been diagnosed ADD, and they're taking medication, the fact that they're taking medication is not the most important thing for me. 

My goal is not to have them increase the medication or decrease the medication.  It's more -- I'm a Christian, I want to partner with them, I want to think biblically, so I want to study their child.  I want to study them from as many angles as possible.

What do teachers observe?  What do Sunday school teachers observe?  What do you find in your own home?  I want to triangulate, I want to get information from as many sources as possible to study this particular child.

Dennis:  And begin to help them think biblically about what their responsibility is as a parent.

Ed:  And I'm not suggesting to the parents that this problem is all a result of your lack of discipline, but this is just a wonderful occasion for us to go before the Lord and say, "Lord, search us, help us, teach us, allow us to grow in our parenting with this child."

David:  I think one other thing I'd say to someone -- it's a small thing but can make a big difference, because it's a matter of how you think about it.  I would try to encourage a parent to not use the phrase, "This child has ADD."  One can have cancer, one can have a broken leg, but what one should really say is, "This child does and thinks and feels and acts in the ways that get that label." 

Maybe I should use a word like this -- "My child has the fidgets," "My child came wired," you know, "Johnny came wired, Susie's a lot more easygoing."  So we're going to have to deal with Johnny, who is a wired kid.

Bob:  How about a nickname like Roadrunner?  Is that okay?

David:  Roadrunner is great.

Dennis:  I think it has a dignified sound to it.

Bob:  Has a ring to it, doesn’t it?

David:  And you see what that does is it makes – It’s not so life and death, medical, disease, you’re sick, there’s a big problem with you.  It puts it in the normal range of human life, where there are some kids that just come wired, and they’re going to take some special care.

Dennis:  I think the bottom line for all this, Ed, that you just mentioned, is that, as a parent, it's not wrong to feel inadequate, and at that point Barbara and I have gone before God and we said, "Oh, God, will you help us raise this child, because he's just like Dennis . . .


Dennis:  . . . and we need wisdom.”  We need wisdom to know when to provide structure and when to put wind beneath their wings, but the idea is to be on your knees before God, asking Him for success and favor as a parent, and I think, at that point, God's got you exactly where He wants you.

Bob: All I can say is I'm glad you got saved, because if you hadn't, man, oh, man, world watch out.


Dennis:  I want to talk to your mom, too.  I think we may find another label for you.

Bob: No, I was very peaceful as a child.  We've talked about this issue of ADHD.  It's something that, Ed, you've addressed in your book, Blame It on the Brain.  It’s interesting for me to find out that as you were writing the chapter you had to be thinking about your own home situation . . .

Ed:  Certainly, yes.

Bob:  . . . and a daughter who displays a lot of these same behaviors.  I want to encourage our listeners.  We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  Go online at and look for information about Blame It on the Brain. 

In addition to addressing ADHD, you address issues of depression and bipolar disorder, and we’re going to talk this week about Alzheimer’s, just helping us understand that there are spiritual components that go along with the medical side of these issues, and things we need to think about and consider as we are dealing with folks who are displaying these kinds of symptoms, or who have been diagnosed with one of these diseases or these disorders. 

Again the book is called Blame It on the Brain.  Go to to request a copy, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and we can send a copy to you as well.

Online at, you’ll also find the link that will give you more information about the upcoming CCEF national conference, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation national conference in Louisville in October, and you’re going to be dealing with psychiatric disorders as the theme of the conference this year.  If our listeners would like to attend, it’s open, and they can get more information when they click on the link at 

Let me also mention that we have a section of our website at that addresses the kinds of issues we’re talking about this week, many of the articles written by Dr. Welch or Dr. Powlison or other faculty members at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.  And there’s a link to that area of the website online as well.  Again the website is  Our toll-free number is 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “TODAY.”

Let me say a word to those folks who may be new listeners to FamilyLife Today.  You hear us talking about this subject and wonder, “What is your program all about?  Is this something you talk about regularly?”  Our commitment here is to address the issues that husbands and wives and moms and dads are facing in a marriage and family. 

We want to provide practical, biblical help for your marriage and your family.  Our goal is to see every home become a godly home, and so whether it’s issues like marital conflict or prodigal children or the issues we’re talking about this week, the goal with all that we do here at FamilyLife is to help you grow stronger in your relationship with God and your relationships within your family. 

If you are a new listener to FamilyLife Today, we’re glad to have you along.  We want to encourage you to get in touch with us this week.  All that we’ve been talking about can cause people to pull back and go, “Why is this happening in my marriage or in my family?  If God is good and if God is loving, then why am I going through this?  Why is he not protecting me from it?”

Our friend, Randy Alcorn, has written a small booklet called If God is Good, Why Do We Hurt? and we want to send a copy of that booklet out to you this week as a way to say thanks for listening to the program.  All you have to do is request it.  You can request it online at, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask for your free copy of the booklet If God is Good, Why Do We Hurt? 

Again, we’re happy to send it out to you, and we appreciate you tuning in and listening, and we hope you find FamilyLife Today to be helpful.  We hope you’ll tune in regularly, and make this program a part of your everyday routine.

And we want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk about Alzheimer’s disease, and what may be some of the spiritual implications related to that, and how we care for people who have Alzheimer’s disease.  That’s coming up tomorrow, and I hope you can be here.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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