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The Mastermind Beyond ADHD: Interview with Author Jeff Emmerson

(First of a 2-Part Series)

I’ve been involved with many fascinating book projects over the years. However, none are as potentially impactful socially as Beyond ADHD: Overcoming the Label and Thriving, the book I wrote with Canadian ADHD expert Jeff Emmerson to be released globally by Rowman-Littlefield on August 16. You can pre-order it on Amazon.com.

Beyond ADHD is a critical book for our times. In the last 30 years, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has gone from a rarely diagnosed disorder to an industry hundreds of billions of dollars in size, fed by all sectors of society. It involves:

  • Ten percent of the North American population;
  • Concerned educators, employers and parents who send fidgety or inattentive workers or kids to the doctor or school nurse’s office;
  • Overworked doctors that prescribe quickly from nine-point checklists;
  • Pharmaceutical companies (“Big Pharma”) eager to sell powerful prescription drugs that impact the patient’s biochemistry (often negatively);
  • A compliant (until recently) media slanted heavily toward “diagnose-and-prescribe”, writing articles that spread the idea you can only treat ADHD with drugs;
  • An equally compliant educational system, employees on the lookout for disruptive or hyperactive kids — and, in some cases, using approved course materials provided by Big Pharma, which promotes ADHD as a lifetime disorder, versus something we can get beyond;
  • A U.S. Congress so heavily lobbied by Big Pharma (532 of the current 535 members received campaign contributions) that they won’t move to quash Big Pharma’s grip on pricing; and
  • A public so gripped by busyness, technological and social stimulation that their neurological systems are overloaded. Many assume it to be ADHD or another mental health disorder diagnosed as fast as, well, a prescription can be written. If this dynamic sounds like a part of America’s woeful prescription drug story, well, it is.

Beyond ADHD Author Jeff Emmerson

Those are the departure points for Beyond ADHD. The book revolves around Emmerson’s life and experiences, instructive and harrowing at times, but also a cautionary tale into why you don’t diagnose someone with ADHD and give them powerful prescriptions in 15 minutes (the average time one spends in a doctor’s office before getting this diagnosis and prescription!).

I first met Emmerson via Twitter in late 2012, his chosen platform for discussing ADHD and mental health issues. What a platform it is, with more than 700.000 highly engaged followers, including medical, mental health and social health experts who worked with us on Beyond ADHD. He also has a large video blog audience, and more than 15,000 LinkedIn followers. After a difficult first 35 years of life, Emmerson was diagnosed with ADHD in 2011. In 2015, he met with Michigan-based neuroscientist Dr. Timothy Royer, who shattered the diagnosis after considerable testing — which led to this book.

With four weeks until Beyond ADHD releases, I decided to interview Emmerson, to give you a taste of his forward-thinking perspective, one that brought me right to the table to co-author this book. In this first part of our interview (part two will be posted Friday, July 21), you can see in Emmerson’s answers numerous options, causes and ways of working with this that, frankly, are woefully underused.

WordJourneys: What inspired and motivated you to create Beyond ADHD?

Jeff Emmerson: My own journey through the mental health system. Or, to be more specific, how I was diagnosed with ADHD after a suicide attempt in 2011 and what I discovered when my intuition told me to dig deeper into other possible reasons for the symptoms and battles I’ve faced for many years. I saw a desperately failing diagnostic system that made rushing to diagnosis way too common. I knew I had to speak out so that others might be able to avoid the “murky waters” of misdiagnosis through deeper understanding of just how faulty ADHD diagnosing is for millions.

WordJourneys: What are the three biggest issues with the way we currently diagnose and prescribe ADHD?

Emmerson: Number One: Not ruling nearly enough out first through a collaborative, inter-disciplinary team approach that treats ADHD/ADD as a diagnosis of exclusion (not the other way around);

Number Two: Not making other interventions (instead of simply medication) just as high of a priority (such as behavior therapy, brain training, nutritional counseling, looking at alternate learning/schooling options, physical activity, creative outlets, trauma at home being assessed, etc.);

Number Three: Not digging deeper after a diagnosis is made, and/or assuming that medication use needs to be permanent. Self-resilience and accountability must be held to very high standards as part of treatment. In other words, treat the whole person, not simply diagnose, medicate and leave them to their own devices without on-going support and education into self-reliance and growth.

WordJourneys: Why is ADHD diagnosed at such a high rate now? Do we really have that many afflicted adults and children, or is it something else?

Emmerson: My deepest fear (and gut feeling) is that so-called ADHD (in millions of cases) is a band-aid diagnosis made because we simply don’t have the knowledge, research or resources to dig deeper and actually address some key contributing issues no one talks about: chemicals in tap water, air quality, societal “norms” industry-wise, increasing tech addiction, poorer sleep quality, and many other root causes for symptoms. Instead, we use stimulant medication to see if it “works” and leave it at that (assuming ADHD and making it a potentially permanent diagnosis on someone’s medical records, a whole other issue for several reasons).

WordJourneys: The education system has played an increasing role in getting kids to ADHD diagnoses. Is this a good or bad thing — and why?

Emmerson: This infuriates me, and here’s why: Some kids may benefit from diagnosis and treatment, but factors such as date of birth (what time of the year a child is born), learning differences, root-cause factors for ADHD-like symptoms (many of them) and other issues are way too easily turned into a rushed ADHD diagnosis. Frankly, much of our education system is antiquated and obsolete in relation to the technological age we’re living in, so we need to hold education policy makers to task, just as much as we weed out children who seem to be acting out in any number of ways. After all, some of the world’s most innovative and creative people disliked conventional school very passionately. We need to do something about this desperate need for wholesome, 360-degree learning to become the norm (to start with, anyway).

WordJourneys: What are the challenges facing doctors and mental health professionals in treating the whole person, rather than just the ADHD?

Emmerson: Resources. Funding for thorough, holistic care is scarce in the United States, especially in the mental health realm, and there is heavy pressure to reduce that even further. What’s even bigger is that investments in education toward self-awareness, resilience, and extra-curricular activities, and incentives for families to stay healthy both physically and emotionally, are dwindling away. The unfortunate reality for many healthcare professionals is that insurance companies and profits for medical practices push more and more patients to be seen in shorter and shorter time-spans, resulting in rushed, insufficient care. Profits can still be made while taking the proper time to treat patients holistically and fully. We just need to help the system evolve and incentivize providers in new ways that benefit all.

(Part 2 will appear Friday, July 21, on The Word Journeys Blog.)

To pre-order Beyond ADHD

 

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Just Add Water: Where autism, surfing, and a world-class athlete meet

On Tuesday, July 14, the book I wrote on autistic surfing great Clay Marzo, Just Add Water, releases to bookstores, surf shops and online booksellers.JUST ADD WATER by Clay Marzo and Robert Yehling copy

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Just Add Water culminates a 2 ½-year process of Clay’s story evolving from a dinner table idea to release. We’re also launching the first leg of our signing tour beginning Wednesday night (July 15) at Barnes & Noble in Lahaina, Maui, Clay’s hometown. We’ll then be in my stomping grounds, Southern California, for a week of signings (see schedule below blog), including an appearance at Jack’s Surfboards during the U.S. Open of Surfing July 30 in Huntington Beach.

Stay tuned to www.wordjourneys.com or to www.claymarzo.com for more details, as the signing schedule will grow over the next 6-8 weeks.

Just Add Water was incredible to write. I’d promoted the ASP World Championship Tour (of surfing), along with many U.S. events. I also wrote for all of the major surfing magazines at one point or another. It was a blast to put pen to paper again about the lifestyle I love, as expressed by one exceptional surfer.

However, that’s not what makes this book unique among the 17 I’ve written or ghostwritten. The experience did. Since readers rarely hear the ‘genesis’ stories of books, I want to share ours.

It began with a dinner napkin in Encinitas, CA, similar to how John Keats created his immortal poem “The Nightingale”. Only, we were at a Mexican restaurant in October 2012, not a Dublin pub in the 1790s. My longtime friend and Clay’s manager, Mitch Varnes, met with A Taste of Eternity author Martha Halda and I. While catching up, Mitch asked if I’d be interested in writing a book on Clay. Before I said ‘yes,’ Martha brought up the opportunity the book would present  to showcase a family’s deeper struggles with an autistic member.

That did it. YES.clayday-960x340

I also had a feeling… an autistic world-class athlete? A household name to virtually every surfer under 35? With several million YouTube views on his channel? Add that up, and I formed one conclusion: Huge potential readership. I scribbled notes on a napkin, paid the bill, and Martha and I headed home. Quickly. Then Martha had to endure one of my all-night creative blasts. She knew what to do: close the door behind her and let the Energizer bunny write  until he ran out of batteries.

A few days later, my agent, Dana Newman, jumped in. In April 2013, we sold the book to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through acquisition editor Susan Canavan. By happenstance, Susan, whose office is in Boston, had seen the mainstream media frenzy that followed Clay after his Asperger diagnosis in 2007. She loved it. She also published Temple Grandin, the world’s most-read author on autism (and autistic herself) — another serendipitous notch in our belt.

On a very personal note, the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offices are located on Boylston Street — the finishing stretch of the Boston Marathon, which I know a bit about. Did I say ‘serendipitous?’marzo-tube

Time to go to work. I met with Clay’s mother, Jill, who gave me open access to everyone and everything — as well as some of the most poignant comments in the book. Then, I spoke with childhood friends Gary and Teresa Manguso about their son, who, like Clay, is a surfer living with Asperger’s. They provided invaluable insight on Aspies’ difficulties reading social situations or facial cues, especially subtler emotional cues. I also spoke with Sarah Brookhart, Martha’s niece, whose young son is autistic. Sarah’s anxiety over her son’s future gave me a direct look at the silent anguish parents face. Which stitched in Martha’s dinner idea.

In October 2013 — one year after we had our pow-wow — I flew to Maui to spend a few weeks with Clay. What followed was among the most enjoyable and challenging periods of my career. What could be more fun than sitting in the water, dining at Kaanapali and Kapalua Resort restaurants, cruising Maui with a lifelong local, surface diving off the coast of Lanai, or hanging out at a hot, semi-secluded break like Windmills — for research? Work?

I’ve seen Clay in countless videos and magazine photos, but there’s nothing like being in the water with him. He made crappy between-season Maui surf look classic with his gravity-defying moves and ability to find wrinkles in the waves that sure looked invisible to me. “Most surfers paddle out to catch waves; Clay paddles out to be the wave. He has to; it’s a part of him,” his behavioral therapist and lifelong friend, Carolyn Jackson, said.2013-09-29 21.49.15

Now to the flip side: we had to develop enough material from Clay’s comments to write the book. Some days, we spent eight hours on the book, with bursts of conversation separated by 30 to 60 minutes of silence… interesting tapes to re-listen to. Some days, he didn’t speak — at all. On those days, the key was to sit quietly, communicate non-verbally, watch him surf or shoot photos of his food (an obsession), and wait until tomorrow. When I did, ‘tomorrow’ was always productive.

I also learned the four ice-breaking topics that get Clay talking … the L.A. Lakers, Western Australia (where he and his girlfriend live part-time), food … and surfing. If you ever hear him elaborate on wave and bottom conditions, and the weather, you’ll think you’re talking to a NOAA meteorologist or oceanographer. He’s brilliant in the subjects that occupy him. “Those with Asperger syndrome have the potential to be among the best in the world at the one thing that occupies them, because it occupies them entirely. They feel they can’t live without it,” Asperger syndrome expert Dr. Tony Attwood said. That fit Clay perfectly.

I spent many long hours wondering how we’d get enough for a book; after all, Clay has never spoken at length in any interview. I used every interviewing trick I’ve learned in 40 years as a journalist to develop and piece together solid commentary from Clay, some of it deeply insightful.

Still, it wasn’t enough for an as-told-to memoir. Midway through my Maui trip, I called Susan Canavan to tell her the original conception wouldn’t work. We mulled over our options and arrived at a biography in structure and style, but with comments reflecting the emotional depth and contemplation of memoir. Given the early reviews, we pulled it off.Photo 2

Without Jill and Gino Marzo, we would have stalled in place. They offered raw, honest accounts of the good, bad and hopeful of raising an autistic son who surfs like he and God are riding tandem. Jill and Gino are divorced, so their perspectives often clashed. Thanks to their graciousness and willingness to bare it all, we saw the deep familial side of this autism issue that is so rarely presented publicly. img014

We also received big assists from Carolyn Jackson; Clay’s girlfriend, Jade Barton; his brother, Cheyne Magnusson, and sister, Gina; the sixth-grade schoolteacher, Mary Anna Waldrop Enriquez, who first saw the hidden gifts in Clay’s mind well before medical experts in Hawaii knew how to diagnose autism; several surfing friends; Just Add Water film documentary creators Jamie Tierney and Strider Wasilewski (Jamie was the first to make a direct correlation between Clay’s idiosyncrasies and Asperger syndrome); my long-time friends Alan Gibby (who made surfing a fixture on ESPN in the ‘80s and ‘90s) and 1976 world champion Peter Townend; and Mitch Varnes. From my writing community, author and retired teacher (of autistic kids, in part) Claudia Whitsitt, and Marla Miller offered great advice during the Southern California Writers Conference at which we all taught workshops in 2013.

When I got home, it was time to write. After four months, we turned in the manuscript and then worked with the publisher for over a year on the other side of publishing —editing, marketing, promotion, publicity, and more editing. Finally, we landed on the date that is finally here: July 14, 2015.

It’s been an incredible journey. Please review us on Amazon.com and Goodreads, tell your friends, Share posts on Facebook, and send me comments on what you think. Be sure to buy the book on Tuesday, July 14, to drive up ratings both online and on bestseller lists. We have that potential, for sure. If you’re around, come to one of our signings.

Then jump into the ocean if you’re near one — and try to be the waves. That will give you an entry point into Clay Marzo’s world

JUST ADD WATER SIGNING SCHEDULE

(through August 13)

July 15 — Barnes & Noble, Lahaina, HI, 7 p.m.

July 25 — Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines, Carlsbad, CA, 10 a.m.

July 25 — Barnes & Noble, Encinitas, CA, 2 p.m.

July 28 — Rock Star promotion, Huntington Beach, CA, 1 p.m.

July 28 – Barnes & Noble, Santa Monica, CA, 7 p.m.

July 30 — Jack’s Surfboards, Huntington Beach, CA, 11 a.m.

August 10 — Tattered Cover Books, Denver, CO, 7 p.m.

August 12 — Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO, 7 p.m.

(NOTE: Check www.wordjourneys.com, www.claymarzo.com and the Clay Marzo—Just Add Water Facebook page for continuous signing updates.)Photo 9

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