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ADHD and Cycling
Riding Is My Ritalin
Adam Leibovitz is conducting a groundbreaking experiment that could transform the way doctors treat ADHD: He's pedaling his bicycle.
ByBruce Barcott
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One evening in the late autumn of 1997, Jeff and Lori Leibovitz arrived at Skiles Test Elementary School in Indianapolis for a meeting with their son Adam's first-grade teacher. The Leibovitzes were upbeat. First-grade conferences are typically full of wonderful reports about children's wonderful progress in learning to read and write. But the Leibovitzes walked into Adam's classroom that night to find the assistant principal sitting with Adam's teacher. The assistant principal did most of the talking. She told them their son showed classic signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD: He had trouble sitting still in class; his focus pinballed around the room; his hands were a whirl of perpetual motion. Adam's teacher had taken to giving him rubber bands to occupy his busy fingers.

 

Jeff and Lori listened in shock. Adam was a rambunctious kid, but his behavior didn't strike them as unusual. Adam's ADHD wasn't extreme or debilitating, the assistant principal told the Leibovitzes. But that wasn't necessarily a good thing. The boy's condition was acute enough to cause learning problems but mild enough that he'd likely slip through the system's safety net for special-needs students.

 

"It was a horror story," Lori recalls. "Here was our oldest child, just starting school, and we're told that he's always going to struggle with this. They said he'd fall through the cracks and would never amount to anything. It was earthshaking."

 

At the time, ADHD diagnoses were exploding across the United States. From 1990 to 1998 the number of children and adults identified as having the disorder shot up from 900,000 to nearly five million. Jeff and Lori came home that night and plunged into the research. Lori read everything she could find and attended local support-group meetings. Most of the advice pointed in one direction: a prescription for amphetamines such as Ritalin. The powerful stimulants (the Food and Drug Administration labels them as Schedule II drugs, the same category as morphine and methamphetamine) have a paradoxical calming effect on the minds of ADHD patients. They're convenient, effective and popular—90 percent of ADHD patients who take them see improvement. Pop a pill; problem solved. Many parents swore by them. Teachers praised them for bringing calm to unruly classrooms.

 



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