Book Review: Buzz by Katherine Ellison
Reviewed by Emmy Fearn
Katherine Ellison’s Buzz chronicles the rocky period leading up to and including the full year Ellison devoted to finding help for her preteen son, Buzz, diagnosed with ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder. This book is sure to resonate with parents who have felt overwhelmed in similar situations—a child with worsening behavior, deteriorating mental health, and too many treatment options to know which way to turn. In Ellison’s case, the situation proved so daunting, she initially stuck her head in the sand and took no action at all—a position many parents will identify with.
After finally admitting that Buzz was in dire need of help, together she and her son set off on an exploratory odyssey of alternative treatments, as well as the oft-recommended stimulant medication. Along the way, the Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative journalist documents a comprehensive list of available options, including neurofeedback training, meditation, therapy, and medication. Her review is a boon to parents who have been wondering what else is out there, but who have not acted because they haven’t had the time and money to research treatments on their own.
Finding An Answer
Despite Ellison’s initial resolve not to “drug” her son, she eventually tried stimulant medication and discovered that it enabled Buzz to control and improve his behavior. She also confessed that, after this positive experience, she apologized to an acquaintance she had a year earlier excoriated for “drugging” his own child with stimulant medication.
Given Buzz’s behavioral challenges, I was perplexed at his apparent willingness, given his previous recalcitrance and his age, to comply with so many different possible treatments: As most parents know, even well-adjusted 12-year-olds don’t appreciate having their lives micromanaged, and Buzz would not have been considered well-adjusted.
The mystery was amusingly solved at the end of the book, when Ellison divulged the brilliant deal she had made with Buzz at the beginning of the year: If he cooperated with the research by doing what was asked of him, he could share in the earnings from the book she was writing. Buzz agreed, which gave him the incentive to learn how to manage his disorders and ultimately empowered him. This disclosure also reminded me, as other parents may attest, that extrinsic motivation, with rewards for good behavior, can be highly effective in modifying behavior.
Ellison’s vivid descriptions as mother and son journeyed together make Buzz an engaging read. But the book is also a cautionary tale of how dire things can get, because as Ellison realized, the problems don’t go away even if you do your best to ignore them. Hopefully, Buzz will motivate reluctant parents to deal with issues proactively to find workable solutions earlier in their children’s lives. If that happens, reading this book will have been time well spent.
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