When New Jersey chiropractor Daniel Cardellichio discovered that his 13-year-old son James had attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (or AD/HD), he started to reflect on his own childhood.
“I think that I had AD/HD growing up,” he said. “It was a situation where I remember sitting in class, looking at that clock every 10 seconds. I was like, ‘I’m gonna rust,’ but I got through it.”
When his son was first diagnosed, the Howell, New Jersey resident recalled how as a student, he struggled to read books. He also remembered being a class clown to compensate for his struggles in the classroom, an experience he shared personally with his son to motivate him.
“He goes, ‘I heard you were the class clown.’ He’s a bit of a class clown, too.” he said. “I said, ‘Yeah, but I got straight A’s.'”
Today, Cardellichio sees how schools such as his son’s Saint Leo the Great School in Lincroft, New Jersey are more accommodating of children with AD/HD and similar conditions.
“The schools have been great,” he said. “They have different teachers that help out individuals with these conditions, because [the students] just happen to learn differently.”
It is a message that Cardellichio wants to take with him to spread awareness of the struggles students with AD/HD and other issues face. He is part of an organization called #SameHere The Global Mental Health Movement, founded by sports executive Eric Kussin 15 years ago to fight against mental health stigma.
“ADHD is a situation that is growing exponentially right now,” he said.
More recent data suggests a spike in AD/HD cases. From 2003 to 2011, there was a five percent increase in cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Boys are twice as likely to develop AD/HD.
Learning Through a Pandemic
Cardellichio started to notice symptoms six years ago, when James started running around aimlessly and struggling to concentrate on schoolwork. It was around this time that James’ school called.
“We got a phone call from my son’s school,” he said. “He’s standing up, he’s running around, talking. My wife and I are looking at each other saying, alright, what’s going on? We were trying to talk to him, to get him to listen. His grades went from really good to really poor, because he just was not doing the work.”
During the pandemic, challenges emerged for James when it came to remote learning.
“It was infinitely more challenging because you’re sitting in front of a computer,” he said. “They are taking tests. They are trying to sit and take notes.”
At one point, tension grew between James and his mom as he was struggling to adapt to remote lessons. Cardellcihio jokingly referred to the tension as “kung fu.”
“They were both agitated with each other,” he said. “The parents had to become teachers in a way.”
The family was able to get through the difficulty of learning remotely, but balancing school with all the distractions of home life remained a challenge.
“If you have a child with AD/HD, they still want to get up and do more,” he said. “There’s more distractions at home. The dog, the TV’s right there, the refrigerator’s right there.”
All in all, the experience of virtual learning taught Cardellichio the value of teachers and schools in shaping a child’s future.
“Those teachers that were in the classroom, that were helping out with learning disabilities, were able to help out the children that had AD/HD so it was as normal as they possibly could be,” he said. “You have to give kudos to the schools for figuring that out.”
Throughout his son’s journey with AD/HD, Cardellichio was reminded of how important it is to celebrate both one’s differences and accomplishments.
“My son had difficulty reading, for example,” he said, “and then he found [the] Harry Potter and Percy Jackson [series]. One summer, he read [both of] the entire series in bulk. It gives me chills to even discuss this, because [children with AD/HD] are different, but they are different in a good way.”