Why I Decided to Tell My Child She Has ADHD

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When a parent receives an ADHD diagnosis for their young child, they are filled with many emotions. The biggest one I hear from parents is relief. They feel an overwhelming sense of relief because they finally have an explanation for their child’s behavior and actions. Now they can move forward and seek proper care. That is absolutely fantastic for not just the child, but the entire family. However, when a young child is diagnosed, parents are then faced with a decision: whether to tell their child they have ADHD or not.

Honestly, I am surprised by how many parents have told me their child doesn’t know they have ADHD. However, I can understand why. Our society has created such a negative association with ADHD. Sadly, when most people discover a child has ADHD, they automatically assume he or she is “a troublemaker,” “rambunctious” and “disobedient.” Hardly anyone looks at the child and thinks he or she is “a leader,” “an out-of-the-box thinker” and “a visionary.” Because of this, I am not surprised many parents are afraid to tell their child they have ADHD. They are afraid their child will feel scared or “different.”

I see ADHD as an advantage. I see it as a gift. I see it as a superpower. That is why there was no doubt in my mind I would tell my then 5-year-old daughter she had ADHD. First of all, I felt she has the right to know why her mind works a certain way. Second of all, she has nothing to be ashamed about. In words she could understand, my husband and I told her that her brain works differently than in other kids and because she is so interested in the amazing world around her and has so many wonderful thoughts, it makes it hard for her to focus sometimes. We told her there is special medicine just for her that will help her brain focus better at school. We also told her about the celebrities with ADHD and all of their accomplishments. (Her favorite is Walt Disney.) We told her ADHD is part of what makes her so creative, imaginative and passionate. My husband has ADHD and he’s an intelligent and successful businessman, so my daughter sees firsthand how ADHD affects her father in a positive way every single day.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite having a positive perception of ADHD and using medication to help her focus in school, my daughter still has some difficulties. Anxiety and depression have found their way into my daughter’s life as well, which often coincide with ADHD. However, it is nothing we can’t handle together. My daughter is young and still learning what works and what doesn’t for her ADHD, which is completely understandable. When she is having a hard time, I like to recite Rumpelstiltskin’s famous quote from “Once Upon A Time” to her: “All magic comes with a price, dearie.” I say it in his voice of course, which usually ends in her laughing and then remembering all the great qualities and abilities that can come with ADHD.

What I do and will always do for my daughter is help her see the glass half-full. I will always provide her with the tools she needs, including me, who is her biggest supporter and advocate.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How One Word Plays a Valuable Role in My Life as a Person With ADHD

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As a person with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one of my major stressors can be the frustration, and sometimes guilt, of procrastination and the feeling I’m never accomplishing enough. It takes very little to knock me off course sometimes, and the freewheeling, relaxed, socially abundant atmosphere of summer, while wonderful, doesn’t help.

There’s always someone doing something somewhere that sounds so much better than the work project that’s due on Monday or that errand you promised your spouse you’d take care of for the kids over the weekend. In short, there are plenty of “squirrels” to steal your focus.

For someone with ADHD, the word “routine” can conjure up a series of repetitive, logistical tasks and seemingly “mundane” obligations that are about as exciting as watching a new cable channel called “Haircut TV.”

That’s not to say they aren’t important. In fact, they’re often vital, and I sometimes regard those who can manage them with an almost mystical reverence. But for me, they can be painful. So in this context, I use the word “routine” simply as an unbiased descriptor — an adjective.

But while these “routine” tasks often assume the persona of my sworn nemesis, I’ve also come to realize over the years that the word “routine,” in an alternate context, has come to play an extremely valuable role in the management of my ADHD life. “Routine” as a noun — a word that refers to the regularity of activities that can help bring order and stability to an otherwise chaotic mind.

For someone living with ADHD, adding a certain amount of routine (in noun form) to their life can be a very effective coping strategy. It can help provide external cues that make it easier to transition between tasks. 

When faced with a task that needs to be accomplish regularly (but always seems to get put off due to its mundane nature), you can build a “routine” around it. Creating a ritual of sorts can trigger your brain to know when its time to start shifting your focus towards that activity. In other words, establishing a routine as an external prompt can, in some cases, help build “muscle memory” of the brain.

Let’s face it: A lapsed routine during the summer can be fine. It’s expected. It’s the time of year when we get to slow down and enjoy some of the rewards of our hard work. The trick for many individuals with ADHD is to take advantage of the downtime without allowing it to consume you.

But there’s no denying that for me — and for many who deal with the challenge of ADHD — there is a certain amount of comfort and safety in knowing that when September roles around and the kids head back to school, everything can get back to its normal routine.

So although it may be wise to recognize and appreciate the difference between “routine” as both an adjective and a noun, the truth is that while we may never desire one to be more than a casual acquaintance that we learn to accept and tolerate out of necessity, the other can become one of your best friends.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Myth of Spoiled Children

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Every child behaves inappropriately from time to time. They kick, they scream and they express their displeasure for a situation in a way that is equal parts tiring and inappropriate. My son “J” still expresses himself like this during times of distress. To those on the outside, my son is acting out; he is not trying to act appropriately because he is “spoiled.”

I do not like this word. By definition, a child is “spoiled” when their parents are too lenient and give in to even the most impractical requests. In my opinion, such an explanation for my son’s behavior trivializes his conditions and the hard work he puts into living within the confines of life’s expectations.

Let me back up. My son was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at 5, unspecified anxiety disorder at 8, and autism spectrum disorder at 10. Every day is an alphabet soup of situations and his reactions to them. Sometimes those reactions are “appropriate,” and other times those reactions are not. On days his reactions are less than stellar, we work on coping skills and emotions. It seems that, regardless of how hard he tries, however, the most widely accepted explanation for his behavior is inept parenting. We’ve “spoiled” him. We’ve “babied” him. In my opinion, neither of these external reactions to J’s behavior hold merit. That is because J generally reacts in ways that are stereotypical in relation to his neuro-complexities.

For instance, children who experience anxiety can show signs of irritability. Children with ADHD are more likely than their peers to engage in disruptive behaviors and to be impulsive. Last, children with autism may face a slew of complexities that impact their behavior, their reactions and their lives. Making strategic decisions on how to best handle complex behaviors associated with these diagnoses and defusing situations without unnecessary conflict does not “spoil” children because children cannot spoil.

Milk spoils.

Meat spoils.

Eggs spoil.

Children do not spoil.

Children react to their environments, and listening to a child and working with them in a certain capacity does not diminish their quality or degrade their worth. It empowers them. It helps them know they are loved and enhances their quality of life. That, in my opinion, is worth far more than appealing to misconceptions of his motives and misunderstanding of how he’s parented.

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4 Tips I Wish I'd Known About Parenting a Child With Special Needs

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Parenting is not easy. And (shh), it is not always fun. It can be grueling and, at times, seemingly impossible. There are days I want to put up a sign that says, “Gone Fishing. Or to Trader Joe’s. Or to pee. In Iceland.”

The thing is, parenting is isolating at times – no matter how much you love your children and adore motherhood. Having a kid with special needs can really throw you into a corner all alone. It doesn’t matter what the specific need is; it can be terrifying and trying along the way.

Here are four things I wish I had learned 12 years ago about parenting a child with special needs. 

1) It is not easy; maintain your sense of humor.

My oldest daughter and I have a special relationship. We get each other. We love each other so intensely it is often suffocating (for both of us).  She is fun, bright, passionate, funny and wants to be with me always. She also has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We have all had to learn to laugh (with her) because otherwise we would cry. If we find humor in everything else, it makes the painful parts a little less painful.

2) Find support.

For years I did not share my daughter’s issues with anyone – not even her teachers. Sure, they knew she had ADHD and understood the impact it could have on her life at school. But no one knew about the difficulties she had at home: the meltdowns, difficulty reading social cues or how she would not go to sleep at night. I was sure all of this was because I was doing something wrong. Then one day, after a really rough night, I broke down to a friend. Lucky for me, I chose the right friend; as it turned out, her child had similar issues. We vented, shared stories and became each other’s main means of support during the hard times. To this day, we laugh together, cry together and offer each other tips.   

My other lifesaver has been our cognitive behavioral therapist. She has helped my daughter become aware of her behavior and work on regulating her emotions. She has assisted me and my husband in coming up with a behavior plan based on incentives. She has helped us understand the psychological and physiological characteristics of kids just like my daughter. It actually felt better to know our child is not entirely unique; it made us feel less alone.

Online support groups for parents are also helpful. There is a whole world of parents who are experiencing the same issues that you face. You can validate each other, mentor each other and explore your options together.

3) Tune out your critics. Trust yourself.

My harshest critics are often those closest to me. “She has tantrums because you are so strict with her.” “Why aren’t you enforcing more rules and limits?” “Why on earth are you not medicating her?” “Why did you medicate her? Poor kid!”

It was hard, but I had to learn to feel confident in my own parenting. As I relied more and more on “the experts” and my fellow parents to guide me through the rough patches, the more I was able to tune out my critics. I have learned to parent as I see fit. Oh, my critics still criticize, but I am more capable of ignoring them and carrying on. I have watched my daughter thrive and blossom as my husband and I learn to parent with confidence.

4) Advocate. Advocate. Advocate.

You are your child’s greatest advocate – and at times, maybe the only one. Even with the neuropsych evaluation in hand, you may have to gently (or not so gently) remind the teachers your child needs modifications and/or differentiation to meet goals and expectations.

When a teacher says, “Your daughter had a lot of trouble focusing on math today,” I ask, “What came before that block?” When they reply, “English and science and a double block of reading,” I know to ask, “Was there any gross motor movement? Any breaks? Was she given any time at all to get up out of her seat and even socialize?”

I’ve been on both sides of this coin. I’ve been the teacher with 28 kids in my class. I have seen how hard it can be to take every single child’s needs into account, but it is still so important for teachers to do this!

It is your right – perhaps even your job – to keep your finger on the pulse of your child’s life at school. If he/she is not successful, ask yourself: why not? A simple tweak, like walking around the school after half an hour of work, could be just the trick your child’s teachers may have overlooked. No one is a better expert on your child than you are. I should add that you will have many a teacher who has your child’s best interests at heart. We have had plenty of those! Be sure to let them know how much it means to you!

Every family has ups and downs. Every child has good days and bad days. Sometimes it feels like we families with children with special needs have more rough days than “normal” families do. But I assure you, this is not true. What I have learned since I started opening up is that no family is “normal.” And we are so lucky.

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An Experiment for People Who Don't Understand ADHD

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“All my life I had to fight,” in my Oprah voice of course.

My fight was not with a man or external factors, but with my own mind. It’s like I was constantly digging in a sand pit to find the real me. For those who have never experienced what I am explaining, it may seem a bit wild, but stay with me. Take your computer. Now open most of the tabs, run a couple of programs and, just for fun, turn on all the notifications. OK, now try to work in this manner for let’s say six hours (I don’t want to torture you too much.)

What happens? I will just give you a few possibilities. Your computer slows down, but hopefully it doesn’t crash. It takes forever for anything to open. Your patience grows thin. You grow annoyed and either stick with it or give up. Either way, now you are short-tempered and annoyed by not only just your computer but every and anything around you.  When you do get something to work, you are hyper-focused on that one task. You are so happy you can actually get something accomplished.

What you don’t notice is you have missed everything else. You pretty much work on whatever pops up on your computer as long as you can, until it goes away again. At the end of your six hours, you are frustrated, tired and unmotivated, knowing tomorrow you have to endure this again. You had so many hopes for the day but got nothing accomplished.

In this scenario, my brain is the computer and you are my body. This was my life with undiagnosed adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This example may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but it is actually downplayed compared to the reality. I remember being so frustrated with knowing all I was capable of, but always being too tired to stay focused and accomplish what I wanted. Always being afraid of success because I was afraid I could not keep up and worried someone would see my flaws. Having to take all my energy to filter my thoughts into speech, only to be told you are speaking too fast or “I can’t understand you.”

In my mind, I am speaking too slow and will never be able to get it all out. Trying not to cut people off or finish their statements because I have already finished the whole conversation in mind with almost complete accuracy. Trying my very best to keep listening because something else has already won my attention.

To add to this, I am very analytical and I see life in patterns. I assume this a byproduct of me coping with my ADHD or maybe it is just me. So when I know everything someone is going to say or what they are going to do, it is because people are creatures of habit. So when someone asks me, “Are you psychic?” I want to say, “No, just a byproduct of 39 years of coping with ADHD.” Instead, I just answer, “Context clues.” This has been one of my ways of organizing my thoughts and my environment all to stay sane.

Now to get to the point of this: how and why I got diagnosed. It was not the unfiltered  thoughts but my recognition of my growing inability to control the increased impulsivity that led to a diagnosis. After many years of over controlling my emotions, I had become dull, feeling nothing. Eventually, I was starting to feel again, but it was all flooding in too quickly and was more than I could handle. I was getting to the point of losing control. I would say and do things without thought, as though my brain’s gatekeeper was on vacation.

After a day of trying to stay focused, my nights were the worst. There were nights I felt like my brain said screw it and that’s if I didn’t just crash. I tried meditation and it helped me think clearly about my life and all the things I didn’t put together before. Meditation helped me focus on getting help, which was the best decision I have ever made. I found a brilliant doctor, who also suffered from adult ADHD, and got medication, which I have never believed in. Today, I am a believer. For me, my medication is a blessing — and this is coming from a person who believes Manuka honey and Braggs apple cider vinegar can fix anything.

I am not sharing my story to promote any drugs because everyone’s struggle is different. I am sharing my story to help me heal and no longer be ashamed. I am sharing my story for anyone that is suffering as I did.

Please, always remember you are not alone. You are not broken. Your mind is complicated and you just need help organizing your brilliance. For those of you who have never experienced what I am speaking of, I have one request. Do not judge another person’s struggle until you have walked in their shoes.

The Mighty is asking the following: Coin a term to describe a symptom, characteristic, aspect, etc., of your diagnosis. Then, explain what that experience feels like for you. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What It Feels Like to Be a Woman With ADHD

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) begins in childhood, which is when a lot of individuals are diagnosed. However, the number of adults being diagnosed with ADHD is growing — in particular women that seemed to slip through the cracks earlier in their lives due to an atypical presentation of the disease.

I am one of those women. I did not exhibit bad behavior in the classroom and generally I did well in school growing up. But what most people didn’t know is that I secretly struggled to stay afloat both academically and personally. I was so ashamed, so convinced my symptoms were some personal defects that needed changing, that I buried them deep and did what I could to cope with it. This is something that followed me into adulthood. By the time I was in my 20s, my life was a mess, much like the chaos inside my head. My methods of coping got me through the first part of my life, but it wasn’t working so well anymore.

It would take another 10 years before I would be diagnosed.

A lot of people wonder what ADHD feels like. After all, many think they have it, or claim to, even if in a joking manner, but those who actually struggle with it know how severe some of the symptoms can be. Before I was treated, ADHD affected every area of my life — personally, professionally and academically. It isn’t just a lack of concentration. It looks different in everyone. This is what it looks like in me.

It is hyperfocus — zooming in on a topic to the point that you lose yourself, lose time, lose relationships, because you are consumed by an idea, a project, a book, a television show.

It is me, feeling like everyone knows things I don’t because I miss out on parts of conversations, on lessons and lectures, on life because I’m constantly fighting to catch up. It is me overextending myself to try to be like everyone else.

It is feeling as though someone is pressing their hands against my ears, blocking out parts of what others say. I have to strain to grasp every word.

It is reading, only not really, because I start to skim and skip over parts due to an inability to pay attention to each word; that, and a burning impatience that wants me to reach the end immediately.

It is going to the movies, and then not knowing what your friends are talking about when they mention certain parts of it. It is feeling left out.

It is fighting an uphill battle to stay organized, to find your belongings, to keep track of them. It is getting locked out of your house because you forgot your keys. Again.

It is trying to listen, only feeling like the words bounce off of you instead of processing through your mind. It is thoughts, racing so fast you can’t capture them. You only see fragments, and sometimes they don’t make sense.

It is trying to write, to finish something, only to abandon everything halfway through because you’ve lost interest or focus. It is being unable to explain to others it was not your desire to do so, but rather your brain refusing to cooperate. It is feeling shame when they tell you try harder, to grow up, to accomplish something with your life.

It is wanting desperately to manage your disease, but being hindered by the same illness you are trying to treat because you are forgetful, scattered and disorganized.

It is seeing the world in pieces, and trying to do your best to assemble the puzzle.

For me, ADHD is complicated by my bipolar diagnosis. Even though the two illnesses have symptoms that overlap, the treatment for both diseases is different. I periodically have to cope with a lowered dose of my ADHD medication because it can trigger mania in some individuals. When a manic episode starts to manifest in my life, treating my ADHD sort of becomes secondary to controlling my mood — which of course has the potential to wreck my life if left unchecked. I understand this. I get it. It’s not fair and I want to kick and scream when it happens, because I hate feeling the way I do when my symptoms are out of control, but I comply because I know it is important. Bipolar is the monster that must be reckoned with. That is not to say my ADHD diagnosis is less important, only that in my life it is less damaging on a long-term basis if I temporarily take a lower dose of medication.

Bipolar disorder and ADHD have a lot in common — such as impulsivity — so in a way they can overlap and exacerbate one another in some individuals. For instance, I have to deal with some level of impulsivity all the time, though it is much worse in mania. I wish I could untangle the two diseases, separate them so that they are independent of one another and thus able to be treated accordingly, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. That’ll never happen. I have to rely on my inner strength to get through those times when ADHD treatment has to fall by the wayside until my bipolar disorder is under control.

Overall, things are better now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, even when my medication gets decreased. I’ve had more success with my ADHD medication than my bipolar meds thus far. Medication has done wonders for me. Learning some skills in therapy has also helped. It is still difficult, but these days my head is clearer, my thoughts less scattered and my life more manageable.

I didn’t get here overnight. It won’t all be better tomorrow. It’s a journey, one I am discovering each day. One I am not ashamed of, because I did not choose this life, but nothing is going to stop me from living it.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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