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My Answer to the Question 'What Does ADHD Mean?' After My Child's Diagnosis

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What does ADHD mean?

If you Google ADHD, you will learn that the acronym stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and you will read about distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

If you go to a medical professional for answers, chances are you will be given pamphlets and told of medications that might help.

Others might tell you that ADHD is over-diagnosed, and often a parent’s “made-up excuse” for a child who is undisciplined at home.

The best place to go for a true understanding of ADHD is into the home of a family who lives with it. My 12-year-old daughter has ADHD. I’d like to tell you about our experience with ADHD.

My daughter wakes up in the morning and jumps out of bed, eyes wide open, ready to run a race. She believes everyone in the house should also be up and ready to run beside her. She does not believe in sleeping in.

She can’t always sit still long enough to eat a bowl of cereal or tie her shoes, and she strives to fill every moment with noise and movement. If she runs out of things to say, she will sing, bark, moo, or even cluck like a chicken.

At times, her ADHD can cause her to play too rough, spill things, break things, knock things over, constantly apologizing. Only to repeat the things she just apologized for.

She is often distracted from the task at hand by things the rest of us might not even notice: a squeaky chair, a dripping faucet, the flicker of a light, a voice in the hall, a movement across the room, or a dog barking outside.

Her having ADHD means she might ask half a dozen questions in rapid succession but not wait for an answer, because she cannot stop her mind from wandering from one topic to the next. It means medications that help her organize her thoughts, have conversations, follow multistep instructions, and learn.

As her mother, my daughter having ADHD means creating visual schedules and reminders, and going over the rules repeatedly. I model a quiet voice and talk often about volume. I give constant reminders about safety. I meet with teachers and request help and understanding. At times I have lost my patience and have tremendous feelings of guilt for not being more understanding.

Life with my daughter means lots of giggles, silly misunderstandings, fun games, made-up words, a huge imagination that never stops, hugs and back rubs.

Her ADHD diagnosis has meant learning to parent differently. It has helped me to find buckets and buckets of perseverance and compassion I had no idea I had.

It means I work harder and longer, knowing she is worth it all.

Follow this journey on Quirks And Chaos.

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Our Current ADHD Narrative Fails Women and Girls With the Condition

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I was diagnosed with ADD when I was 7. That’s kind of a miracle, considering the fact that I was a disorganized, easily distracted little girl and not a hyperactive, disruptive little boy. The diagnostic criteria for ADHD were developed based on studies of “hyperactive young white boys,” and those same boys are still the faces of ADHD. Unless you have it or know someone who does, hearing “ADHD” is likely to conjure up images of badly behaving boys in affluent suburban elementary schools. For years, ADHD was a “male” phenomenon. It wasn’t until fairly recently that doctors, psychologists, and others in the mental health community began to acknowledge that women and girls can have it, too. And while think pieces, editorials, and parenting magazines that express concern over the rapid rise in ADHD diagnoses and over-medication of boys are practically ubiquitous, there is another problem lurking under the surface of the ADHD diagnosis question:

Women and girls are tragically under-diagnosed and living their lives with no help or support.

The problem with the diagnostic criteria – and the reason why so many women and girls with ADHD go undiagnosed – is that ADHD does not look the same in boys and girls. Girls with ADHD tend to be less hyperactive and impulsive, more disorganized, scattered, forgetful, and introverted.” They struggle less with keeping their bodies still and more with keeping their minds still, less with acting out and more with fitting in. They are overlooked not just because they don’t fit the diagnostic criteria of what ADHD “looks like,” but because their symptoms are seen as less of a problem because, as Rae Jacobson explains on Child Mind Institute, Politely daydreaming underachievers just don’t attract attention the way hyperactive and impulsive boys do. Staring out the window is nothing when the kid next to you is dancing on the sill.”

Yet our ADHD is just as real, just as valid, and just as deserving of diagnosis and treatment. In schools across the country, smart girls are struggling to keep up with their classmates because they aren’t getting the academic support and accommodations they need for their ADHD. In families from coast to coast, parents are fighting with their daughters over messy rooms and forgotten chores, and not understanding why this is so hard for their girls. At summer camps, field hockey practices, and Girl Scout troop meetings nationwide, young female “space cadets” are being excluded and picked on because they’re not like the other girls.

Even when girls do receive an ADHD diagnosis early on, they are far more likely than boys to blame themselves for their ADHD-related shortcomings. Where boys with ADHD often externalize their frustration, acting out and blaming other people and other factors, girls are more likely to internalize and develop anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.

On top of all that, we feel the societal pressure to fit the mold of what women and girls should be, when many of those traditionally feminine traits are the same exact things we struggle with because of ADHD. Little girls don’t have ADHD; little girls are neat and polite, and have pretty handwriting. Messiness is a “boy” thing. Women don’t have messy homes; they’re the ones who clean up after messy boys. It’s OK for men to forget things because the women in their lives will remind them. We grew up watching television shows where Type-A moms picked up the slack for bumbling dads, and hard-working women talked about “having it all,” and we learned that that’s just what women do and wondered why we could never seem to do it. We went through life not knowing what was “wrong” with us, just knowing we were somehow wrong.

The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with us; there’s something wrong with the society we live in that places unattainable expectations on women and girls, and then ignores our symptoms and our struggles when we can’t achieve them. Yet because we as women and girls with ADD and ADHD have been so ashamed for so long, we feel the need to hide, to put up a front, to be everything all at once but not let anyone know how much time and effort and crying and misery it took to get there. We’re drowning in a sea of expectations and gasping for air. We’re crumbling under the pressure to be perfect and desperately trying to hide the cracks in our facades of success. And we’re struggling in silence because we live in a world where ADHD is a “boy” thing and women and girls aren’t supposed to mess up.

We can’t go on like this. We need to change our perceptions of ADHD before the next generation of spacey, forgetful, awkward girls grow into depressed, anxious women who blame themselves for things that aren’t their faults.

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The Beauty of a Brain That's Different

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I can still feel the tears filling my eyes and the tight ball in my stomach as I prepared for the words I knew our therapist was getting ready to say. She had in her hands, the results of my 7-year-old’s Conners Scale, the standard diagnostic tool for assessing ADHD and other processing disorders, in her hands. What she was about to say wasn’t a revelation — it was simply confirmation of what we had probably suspected but been afraid to admit for some time. My sweet blue-eyed boy, my beautiful baby, had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as well as anxiety and oppositional defiance disorder.

The words that came out of her mouth after that were a bit of a blur, but the feelings of sadness, hopelessness and fear that hit my heart remain etched in my memory. All I could muster was a “What are our next steps?” as I struggled to absorb the information. Those next steps would be a trip to our pediatrician, where the conversation would focus on what interventions would be best for our soon-to-be second-grader. I cried a lot in the days following his diagnosis. I cried in anger at myself for taking the news so hard. I cried in frustration at my complete lack of knowledge about the world of ADHD. I cried for the challenges I knew faced us as a family. And then I did what all Momma Bears do when our cubs need us the most — I dusted myself off and became a student of the new world my family and I had been immersed in.

I researched the pros and cons of medication therapy, I researched cognitive behavior therapies and I researched all that I could about my son’s diagnosis. I reached out to my fellow moms for advice and insights. I’m still very much a student — and yes, I still cry on the challenging days — but I am realizing more about my son’s ADHD diagnosis and the beauty of a brain that’s different.

1. My son’s brain is wired differently. And that’s actually, well, amazing. His mind (and body) never stop. He never stops thinking of ways to turn the playroom into a fortress or ways to make a grand sea adventure out of his bath toys. He questions everything — and sometimes, frankly, I don’t have an answer for the perpetual “whys” he peppers every conversation with. That creativity, that drive, that energy, will fuel him long past his childhood days. Maybe that busy brain refuses to stop thinking and dreaming for something truly wonderful — like alternative energy sources or a cure for cancer. My own brain is already tired and ready for a nap just imagining the things he can do.

2. I know my son better, even if I will never understand exactly how his brain works. Ever since he was 4, I’ve struggled to really understand my son and why he can’t follow the rules the way other children seem to. Why he can’t sit still in restaurants, even with his father and I using all our parenting tricks of the trade to reinforce or discourage his behavior. My husband and I are fairly compliant, color-inside-the-lines kind of people whose childhoods were filled with much of the same conformity. I wondered, is this a cry for attention because we work so much?

Knowing that this isn’t a “naughty” kid but a little boy whose mind is wired differently has helped me get to know my amazing kid in a way I never knew how to do before. He is funny, whip smart and quick with a jazzy comment. It might be a lack of impulse control, but on his best days, my son seems to turn that into some of the most compelling and interesting conversations I have ever had. As I read more about parenting an kid with ADHD, I find myself saying, “Yep, that’s my son,” to many of the passages of those books. And all of those seasons of tee ball where we begged him to just stand out in the field for one more inning? Its crystal clear why that was just about a nearly impossible thing to ask.

3. The club my kid is now in is a really cool one, full of remarkable people. As I Googled everything I could about ADHD, I learned some pretty remarkable people have ADHD. That U.S. swimmer with 28 gold medals – Michael Phelps – is an ADHD club member. yeah, Sir Richard Branson – you know, the guy who started a magazine when he was 16 and is the owner of Virgin Airlines. There’s another one! Gymnast Simone Biles and other famous people are all part of the ADHD club – and there are countless other really smart, successful people whose parents got the same ADHD news for their kiddos.

4. The reminder that my Village has got my back. Whether you call them your village, your Mom Club or Wine Buddies, my Village is full of with fellow Moms I already know and love — and now that my son’s dad and I know that our son has ADHD, we’ve discovered new and old fellow parents are going through the same journeys with their children. Those moms (and dads!) have reached out to me, given advice, shared about parenting successes and setbacks — and made me realize that regardless of whether your child has a diagnosis or not, this parenting thing is hard work, and we need as much support from our fellow parent network to survive it. We forget just how amazing this support system is until we need that lift from those who have walked our path — and I remain ever grateful for the reminder that my Village has got our backs as we take the next, often uncertain steps in our family’s own journey.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not sugarcoating the challenges that might lie ahead for my son. Do I wish he did not have one more potential challenge in the already difficult road of growing up? Do I wish that good behavior was something that came easier for him at school and at home? There are challenges to be sure, but I hope and believe the positives we can glean from going through this as a family will help us navigate them.

My dreams for my boy haven’t changed one bit — but understanding now how his brain and body work tells me that perhaps my own brain isn’t quite equipped to imagine the dreams already percolating in that sweet boy’s beautiful, busy mind.

Follow this journey on The Caffeinated Mommy.

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Why It Matters That Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles Has ADHD

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Olympic gymnast extraordinaire Simone Biles recently opened up about the fact that she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and takes medication for it. As someone who was diagnosed with inattentive attention deficit disorder (ADD) at the age of 7 and has been taking medication for it ever since, it made me extremely happy to see another young woman with ADHD speak openly about her diagnosis. However, this wasn’t just a big deal for me and Simone. This was a big deal for everyone with ADHD, and everyone who’s ever doubted its legitimacy as a condition or thought negatively of people who have it.

The stigma of ADHD is real. So real, in fact, that some parents are reluctant to seek help for their children for fear they might have to carry around such a diagnosis. The stigma is so prevalent that it’s easy for it to be internalized by people with ADHD. Is it any wonder that nearly half of all children and adults with ADHD have some sort of co-morbid disorder like anxiety or depression?

There’s nothing shameful about having ADHD. It just means our brains work a little differently. Speaking out and ending the stigma is so important for the for the 9 percent of U.S. school age children and 4.4 percent of U.S. adults living with ADHD. By speaking out about her diagnosis and making it clear she is not ashamed, Simone Biles is doing her part to end the stigma.

There’s another aspect to Biles’ statement as well. Something she can do by talking about her diagnosis that I can’t do by talking about mine. Simone Biles is a visible, prominent person who just told the world she has ADHD. As an elementary school girl with ADD in the early 2000s, my diagnosis sometimes felt lonely. I didn’t know a lot of other kids who had it, and I didn’t know any adults who did. I certainly didn’t know of any famous people who had it.

However, for kids today who are growing up with ADHD, they will be able to look to Simone Biles as a role model. This is important because when you have a condition that is as doubted and stigmatized as ADHD, having a role model who shares your diagnosis can be a big deal. It’s especially significant that our new ADHD role model is a young woman who is practically the epitome of success.

For many of us with ADHD, especially women and girls, ADHD can feel like failure. We internalize messages that tell us having ADHD means there’s something wrong with us or we can’t be successful. Well, Simone Biles just showed the world there’s nothing wrong with having ADHD and having it can’t stop you from winning five Olympic medals or succeeding in anything else you want to do.

Simone Biles, Olympic medalist smiles with gold medal

Image via Simone Biles Official Facebook page.

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Why I’m Hesitant to Discuss My Recent ADHD Diagnosis

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I’ve been writing a blog for about five years now. I write a lot about myself as a parent — my mothering triumphs and failures, frustrations and fulfillments, surprises and bits of wisdom. However, I don’t seem to talk much about myself as just Laura. That’s my real name, Laura.

I’ve been able to write about my son’s ADHD with little hesitation, but it’s been difficult for me to come to accept and disclose that I, too, have recently been diagnosed with ADHD.

When reading up on the disorder following my son’s diagnosis, it was undeniable that most of the characteristics felt alarmingly familiar to me. I wasn’t just reading about him, I was also reading about myself.

My most important piece as a blogger has been, “ADHD, a Real Medical Diagnosis.” It stresses the importance of removing the stigma associated with this diagnosis for my child’s sake and for all who carry the diagnosis. So why not move it along by sharing my own story? I am in no way ashamed. There is absolutely nothing that could have been done to prevent or change it. The hesitation is simple — putting it out there means being seen differently. The truth is that transparent. As an adult, the same stereotypes that worry me about my kid’s future are like giant barriers that stand in the way of my own day-to-day life.

I guess, in the end, moving forward means being willing to be seen as exactly who I am, and honestly, there is nothing wrong about that.

When the initial diagnosis was made official, I felt a surge of empowerment. There was a reason for some of the things that have plagued me, in one way or another, my entire life. Yet, months later, the sheen of this shiny new diagnosis, this “answer to my problems” has worn off. The realization of what it means has just begun to settle in.

I don’t want to preach to you about what it feels like to be me — to live in my brain. There are people with far worse fates than my own. Similarly, there are people with far better. We are who we are, better to work with that than try and be something else. I will, nonetheless, try and provide some information on how a brain like mine works.

I work from the inside out in a world that works from the outside in.

I literally have no less then four or five thoughts going on in my head at all times. My brain is never ever quiet. Yoga and meditation are my kryptonite.

I take in everything that’s around me in detail. I see, hear, smell and feel it all — the passing glance, the broken window latch, the plant in the corner, the banana peel that the guy just threw away across the room. Nothing filters, it’s all just there. Did you hear the bird tweet as it flew by the widow on the other wall? Well, I did.

I have absolutely no idea how to be quiet or subtle. Never take me to library.

Most things don’t have a designated place. No, that’s not true; its designated place is where I last put it down.

You will never get a word in edgewise with me. Ever. It’s not because I’m not interested in what you’re saying — it’s quite the opposite, in fact. There are just so many thoughts, and I don’t have the ability to judge which should be kept and verbalized and which should just return to the small recess of my brain from which it came. They. All. Must. Be. Said. Period.

I’m never doing just one thing at a time. Yet, if I attempt to do too many things, I implode and none of them get done.

I have begun a million projects — I’m still in the middle of most of them.

Unless it’s “do or die,” making a decision is difficult. It’s the overthinking and the thoughts again, people. I can rationalize, rethink, get new information, hem and haw, be wishy-washy, make a decision and then immediately change my mind because of — yes, the thoughts.

It’s going to take me about a year — maybe several years — to learn your name. However, I will remember your face, how and where we met and likely some random factoid or two about you. But I still won’t know your name!

I have an acute awareness of how the aforementioned characteristics make me appear to others. This makes me anxious and sometimes sad.

On any given day, my ADHD can either be overwhelming or not noticeable in any way. Inconsistency is ADHD’s hidden talent — its secret weapon. There is no way of knowing if it will be a good, highly functional day or an ADHD kind of day.

Can you see now why I hesitate to discuss it? That list is just the tip of the iceberg, and it already makes me seem unreliable, flaky, anxious, strange, scatterbrained and a bit of a pain in the ass.

Well, yes, at one time or another, I am all of those things.

However …

I am also extremely creative and see things from a multifaceted perspective.

I blossom under pressure. While you’re still asking yourself if that’s the fire alarm ringing, I have cleared the room of all living souls and am halfway down the street with them. (True story: On a layover in London’s Heathrow airport, a man had a heart attack in line in front of me, and I was the first person to begin administering CPR.)

I have learned to understand and embrace others’ limitations, as I have to live with my own every day.

I am an “empath.” I can sense your feelings and emotional state just by seeing your face. I know, I know, it sounds like I’m trying to tell you that I am the star of “Long Island Medium.” No, I don’t talk to dead people, I don’t read palms and I can’t read your aura. However, because I do take in every detail of what’s around me, it means I’m taking in the details of your facial expression, body language, word choice, etc. I can tell if someone is pretending to be happy but truly hurting inside. I can feel your pain, happiness, fear, excitement, anger and boredom right along with you.

I love challenges. If I’m not challenged, I’m bored to tears.

I’m quick on my feet. Having a bevy of thoughts at the forefront of your brain often comes in handy. One or more of my random musings are usually at the ready for any situation that may arise.

Taking in information all at once often means I can see a problem before it becomes a problem.

So why did I just take to the time share the inner workings of my brain? The simple reason? Because I don’t think enough people truly understand the depths of this disorder and why in permeates our lives in the way it does. But on a larger note, I want to highlight that we are all different, none of us an exact clone of another.

This is not only incredible, but vital in continuing to make this world thrive. Our very success as the human race has risen from our differences, not our similarities. All of our brains play a role in this world. Personally, I am equally enamored with the brilliant brains that tackle today’s problems, as I am with the brilliant brains that created the Cronut and other such delicious foods and sweets.

A version of this post originally appeared on Man Vs Mommy.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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'But You're Too Smart to Have ADHD'

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“You’re smart, and do well in school. You don’t have ADHD”.

If I had a penny for every time I heard that I would be rich (well maybe not rich because I’m in college, but I would be able to pay for my tuition).

ADHD isn’t always the kid who interrupts the teacher, gets up in the middle of class, and is failing school. Attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder can manifest itself differently in different people.

I’m the inattentive type (which often goes undiagnosed for longer). I have always assumed I had ADHD, but I was only diagnosed and put on medication four months ago. I am a junior at a four-year university, and I am majoring in nursing. Yes, I am in college. Yes, nursing is a hard major. Yes, I get good grades. Yes, I do have ADHD. What people don’t see when they only look at my grades is the amount of work I put in to get those grades.

When they ask me how I did on the test and I tell they I got an A and they respond “see, you didn’t fail, you don’t have ADHD…” When they see me with my hundreds of flashcards and tell me “see, you study, there is no way you have ADHD…” They don’t see how long it takes me to make those flashcards (and how many breaks I take while making them. They don’t know I have to make the flashcards because once they are done I can walk around and study, eliminating my problem of not being able to sit still).

When they see me sitting in lecture looking at the teacher and assume I’m paying attention, there is a lot they don’t see. They don’t see me struggling and failing to stay focused for that two-hour lecture. They don’t see me recording the lecture and then having to re-listen to the parts I didn’t catch in class because I was counting the ceiling tiles, or listening to the student in the back of the class clicking his pen. They don’t see me playing with silly putty to keep my hands busy in an attempt to focus on what the teacher is saying.

When they see me sitting at the library for hours and assume I’m “studying,” there is a lot they don’t see. They don’t see that when I am re-listening to the lecture I have to take breaks every 10 minutes and walk around because I can’t sit still for that long and I have to get up. They don’t see me rewinding the lecture because all of the sudden I realize I have just zoned out for 10 minutes and have no idea what I just listened to. They don’t see that I’m at the library for five hours on a Saturday when it’s a beautiful day outside because yes, it will take me five hours to read 40 pages because most of those five hours will be spent distracted by the students walking past me, the girl in the room behind me tapping her foot, the light above me that flickers every five minutes, the flushing of the toilet.

When they see how I have color-coded my binders and my agenda so every class has a specific color associated with it, they assume I am the perfect student. When they see my organized room with a specific place for everything I own they assume I’m a neat freak and have my life together. What they don’t see is what would happen without this system (and even most of the time with this system). They don’t see me realizing at 1 a.m. I have an assignment due tomorrow. They don’t see me showing up to class with the wrong binder. They don’t see me searching my room in a panic for 20 minutes because I lost an important piece of paper. They don’t see me in tears because I lost my ID for the fourth time this year (and we have only been in school for a month). They don’t see me frantically searching for my car keys because I forgot I have an interview in 20 minutes (but luckily I set a reminder on my phone), but my keys are not in their designed spot in my room.

When they see me taking notes in a meeting and tell me, “you don’t need to take notes. Why are you such a goody two shoes?” they don’t know that yes, I do have to take notes. I have to take notes because I won’t remember anything that was said in the meeting. They don’t see that my “notes” are pages full of doodles because when I doodle it’s easier for me to pay attention to what the speaker is saying.

When they tell me I’m lazy or tell me to just focus they don’t see how much it hurts. They don’t see that I am already beating myself up on the inside. They don’t see me frustrated and crying for losing everything all the time. They don’t see me yelling at my brain to just read the darn page and stop listening to the girl tapping her shoe. They don’t see me wishing I could just be like everyone else who can go out on a Saturday because they finished their homework already.

When they read this article and tell me, “well you had enough attention and focus to write this article… you don’t have ADHD,” they don’t see that I’m doing this instead of my homework because I hyper focused on this and my brain won’t let me keep reading my textbook until I finish this article.

So yes, I am in college. Yes, I get good grades. Yes, I am a nursing major. And yes, I have ADHD.

Image via Thinkstock.

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