Evanston mother starts ADHD support group

Marissa Conrad

When Desiree Askew asked her fifth-grade son’s elementary school to test him for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, school officials were slow to respond.

“It didn’t happen that year,” Askew said. “Then the next school year came, and it didn’t happen.”

Askew turned to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a national organization that works to educate and support individuals with ADHD, to learn more about what she could do for her son. As she waited four years for her son to be tested for — and ultimately diagnosed with — ADHD, Askew relied on the organization for information and emotional support.

Now she is starting a chapter in Evanston to provide local families with similar assistance.

“Going to an organization like CHADD provides the assertiveness and attention and focus required to get the job done,” Askew said. “I wanted to bring that presence here.”

The organization, with headquarters in Maryland, has grown to 235 chapters since its founding in 1987. The non-profit organization cannot provide psychological or medical treatment for those with ADHD, but it helps by providing information about the disorder, Askew said. She said the Evanston chapter, which is still in development, will have programming including guest speakers, support groups and regular chapter meetings at which parents of children with ADHD can network.

ADHD, the most common behavioral disorder diagnosed in children, occurs in 3 to 5 percent of school-age children, according to the 1999 Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health. Children with ADHD must meet at least six symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity, which include careless mistakes in schoolwork, distracted or restless behavior and excessive talking.

“The big thing to understand about ADHD is that it’s unseen,” said Wendy Raven, treasurer-elect of CHADD of Evanston. “If a child has a limp or something you can see, you respond differently to them.”

Raven, who attended the organization’s annual international conference last fall, said she hopes to work with Askew to bring more community understanding to a condition she called “under-represented.”

“There isn’t enough literature out in the community about it,” Raven said. “I want there to be more education in the schools. (I want) to educate the students. And the parents. And the teachers. And the staff.”

Askew said she hopes to build partnerships with local schools and area hospitals to arrange programming.

Adrienne Nelson, the coordinator of Chicago’s chapter of CHADD, said she thinks Evanston’s chapter will be even more successful than Chicago’s because the group will be more concentrated.

“Evanston’s a small community,” Nelson said. “I think (CHADD of Evanston) will have a great impact.”

Although CHADD of Evanston is not yet official, Askew said, it already has helped families.

“The national (group) is really working with us wonderfully, as if we are a CHADD chapter,” she said. “The one thing that is holding us back — and we will overcome this — is that we don’t have the minimum number of required members.”

Askew said this number differs from chapter to chapter, but she would not reveal Evanston’s membership requirement. CHADD of Evanston currently has only nine members but is holding a membership drive on April 11 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Evanston YWCA, 1215 Church St. Those interested in the organization can call 847-733-8549.

Askew said she realized the community’s need for a chapter of the organization after her experience with her son, who is now 14.

“He went from a student who was often failing to a student who is getting As and Bs,” Askew said. “Had I not gone through that, I wouldn’t have noticed the need. And the fact is, that need is there.”