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Beyond Attention Problems and ADHD; A book review

by Dr. Randy

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Fire Child, Water Child: How understanding the five types of ADHD can help you improve your child’s self-esteem and attention. Stephen Scott Cowan, MD. New Harbinger Publications. 2012.

What an amazing gem of a book! I call it a gem because, like a diamond or ruby, the deeper you look the more facets and marvels you discover. I have heard Dr. Cowan lecture on the subject of attention problems in children several times. His ability to perceive the nature of each individual child is inspiring, but each time I wanted more clues to the management of their behavior problems. This book provides it all.

There are many excellent books about children’s attention problems and ADHD, but none of them provide the unique perspective of Dr. Cowan’s analysis and method. He applies the sophisticated understanding of Chinese medicine to the perplexing pediatric topic of ADHD. In the process he shows that ADHD is really a style of behavior. Each child can be understood through the filter of the five elements of Chinese medicine. Dr. Cowan brings this process alive with case examples and vivid descriptions of the characteristics of each type. Once parents understand which of the five types best describes their child’s behavioral style, then they can apply specific remedial tools to encourage their child’s emotional and spiritual development. This process is not a simple one for parents, but Cowan carefully and sensitively takes parents along the journey of discovery to understand their child through the perspective of the five types and to apply a wide range of interventions best suited to that type.

The interventions that Cowan proposes are calculated to bring the individual child’s style into a greater balance and harmony. Although these interventions vary for each type, they have a common thread. All of them provide positive and life affirming activities and environments to encourage that child on the path of healthy development. The activities may include meditation, music, artistic pursuits, board games, martial arts, certain foods, or types of chanting depending on the child’s type. Environments may include more exposure to nature, more direction and structure, or bringing certain types of sounds into the child’s space.

Not only does he describe the five children’s types and show the best activities to bring out the strengths of that type of child, he also takes a major leap into the realm of true child development. As a developmental pediatrician, Cowan brings a wealth of understanding to the process of maturation. With the tools and models of Chinese medicine and philosophy he maps out an emotional and spiritual developmental path for each type of child. Although he presents this sophisticated model in simple terms that parents can understand, this application of Chinese medical principles to child development represents a major philosophical breakthrough in developmental pediatrics. Cowan actually maps out the maturation of each type of child in the direction of their higher purpose.

This complex understanding of their child will probably require several readings by parents. Over the course of a child’s elementary school years parents will return again and again to reference these sections about their child’s type to further their understanding as their child grows and develops. I would highly recommend this book to every parent who wants to understand their child and help them grow emotionally and spiritually, whether or not they are struggling with attention issues. Similarly, pediatric clinicians and therapists will find in this book a wealth of information to benefit the children in their care.

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