Children and teacher in classroom

My son has ADHD and sensory processing disorder (SPD). Many people are misinformed or just have some preconceived notion of what ADHD is, so here is a brief description.

ADHD is not:

  • Just being hyperactive and unable to sit still.
  • A behavior problem.
  • Caused by poor parenting and lack of discipline.
  • Magically treated by medication.
  • Something small children just outgrow.
  • Treated with sports or other physical activities.
  • Just a child being “lazy.”

ADHD is:

  • The inability to regulate one’s emotions.
  • An inability to identify and pick up on general social cues.
  • An inability to filter out the input around you, therefore, causing extreme distractibility.
  • An inability to control impulses.
  • Difficulty organizing and staying on task. 

This is just a brief overview of some of the characteristics that are associated with this disorder. A child can have some, many or all of the characteristics. Additionally, any one of the characteristics may be more present and cause greater challenges than others. 

My son has begun first grade this year, and the transition has been difficult. In kindergarten, he was able to have some freedom to play and roam; the expectations were not as high. Now, in first grade, he is expected to sit still for longer periods of time and do much more class work. Pressures have increased 100-fold. He is facing challenges under these pressures.

There are social situations that he seems to perceive or interpret incorrectly. Every day he fights against his own brain and body to tune out the world around him, sit still and focus. He often comes off of the bus tired and wounded from that day’s war. Some days it is so difficult that he just gives up and refuses to do any work altogether. This, consequently, elicits more negative penalties and additional demands from his teachers to try and work harder. I worry that the day is soon coming where he will just refuse to get on the bus and go to school altogether.  

There are times when he calls out so often that no other student can get a word in edgewise. He is smart, brilliant even, and he has ideas that need to be heard. Waiting his turn to share his thoughts can be challenging for him.

I want to help my sweet boy. I want him to feel smart, for he is truly brilliant. I want him to feel socially accepted, for he is the nicest, kindest, most loving child.  

I want him to feel happy every day, because that is what a 6-year-old deserves. I’m not sure I know how to do that right now, and it terrifies me.

I wish society understood this disorder and its challenges more. I want parents to understand that it’s not that our children are “undisciplined” or “lazy”; they actually work twice as hard as a “typical” child to function day to day. 

I want schools to begin to design programs that work for children who are wired this way. Why is my child made to feel less-than every day because he cannot fit into the mold of current educational expectations? We have to do more for children as a whole.

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When I was teaching a freshman class, I remember a paper conference I had with a student one morning. While looking over his paper, this student told me he had ADHD. “I just have to work harder. It’s not easy, but I don’t let it hold me back,” he told me. I always remember this conversation. For one, it was the first time in my new teaching career that a student told me about his special needs. I felt honored and curious as to how I could help him succeed. But the conversation we had has also replayed in my mind again and again as I raise my own two sons, both of whom have ADHD and one who is autistic.

“You have some challenges,” I tell them. “I know it’s not easy. But it just means we have to be creative, work through things together, try again.” We’re going to get there, but the challenges that can come with ADHD and autism mean my boys might have to take a longer way around. As my boys travel their paths, I’ve realized I’m on the longer way around, too.

I read parenting articles about patience and find myself scoffing. I find myself justifying my irritation — “Well, I asked nicely the first three times! If you would just pay attention, Mommy wouldn’t yell!” I want to raise them right, to be kind, loving, respectful men. But that means I have to be kind, loving and respectful, too. I can’t justify acting like a jerk or dismissing my impatience and irritation as acceptable by-products of any parenting challenges I might face on a day-to-day basis. ADHD and autism can present challenges for my boys, but I don’t want them to say “I can’t” because of their special needs. I don’t want to say “I can’t” either.

I can be kind, like keeping them in mind when I plan our dinners because making their favorite foods is one way I can tell them, “I’m thinking about you.”

I can be patient. I can be creative in carving out one-on-one time, even if it is just snuggling on the couch, watching their favorite show. I can be interested, even if I can’t keep all Pokemon details straight.

And I can be loving, always loving, because they are my sons and I am their mom.

We’re on the long way ‘round. We have challenges. Maybe you do too. But let’s keep moving forward, choosing love, choosing kindness and choosing relationships.

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I’ve got a failure complex. I thought maybe it was my battle with depression, but I’m starting to win that war. Yet, still I feel a failure. A failure at work. A failure as a father and husband. A failure as a man. A failure at life. Failure with a big, fat capital F.

I understand feeling inadequate as a parent or even a spouse is a natural thing. I can live with that. I don’t like it, and I’ll always feel like I should be doing more, but my best will have to do. The rest of life, however, keeps me awake at night. It’s what I think of before finally falling into an often fitful sleep at night and the first thing on my mind as I prepare for another day at work.

To understand, we have to go back. Way back. Twenty years back, to be more precise. I was a dorky, unathletic senior in high school. Awkward, introverted and lacking confidence. I had one thing going for me though. I was pretty damned smart.

As it happens, my intellect is the one thing I really like about myself. I’m not bragging. I’m certainly no genius. There are scores of people intellectually superior to me, but I’m still on the high side of average. This is really where things start to fall apart.

I graduated high school near the top of my class, had one of the higher SAT scores in the state and was told the sky was the limit. Except it wasn’t. The limit turned out to be my attention span. I went to college and changed majors as often as people change the batteries in smoke detectors. From pre-vet med to elementary education to criminal justice, I just kept shifting.

I functioned at a high level. So nobody took notice of how difficult it was for me to keep on task. To be fair, I didn’t notice it myself. I found it impossible to pay attention to anything not relying heavily upon theory. STEM type classes were my nemesis, and I avoided them like the plague. In theory classes, you can get the gist of an argument and fill in the holes. STEM, however, required a person to understand the entire process.

Since I often spaced out, giant holes were left, and I struggled. I thought maybe I was just lazy, but I still couldn’t will myself to change. It wasn’t working, and so I had to adjust to a focus and major that suited me. That’s where the constant major changes came in. Now, I have a master’s degree in criminal justice and make my living as a salesman. It’s not me. I don’t like it, but this is the hole I dug for myself.

A few months ago, I finally began seeking therapy for depression. Part of that process was also seeking the help of a psychiatrist to fully diagnose my condition and to find a treatment that might help me cope. The expected result, of course, was a full on major depressive disorder diagnosis. Toss in a little generalized anxiety disorder, and you have absolutely no surprises. Seriously. Tell me something I don’t know.

“Oh, hey. By the way, do you have trouble following conversations? What about finishing things? Do you often struggle just to follow along to a television show? What about household projects? Are some of those laying around waiting for finishing touches?”

“Yeah, but what are you g….Oh. Oh Fuck.”

It was like a sledgehammer to the back of my head. As soon as the doctor began asking the questions, I knew where he was going. It was the surprise that shouldn’t have been. Attention deficit disorder (ADD). I was shocked, and then I wasn’t.

Just that fast, everything fell into place.The natural reaction, I think, would have been to be grateful there was finally something that may result in positive change. The depressive jerk in my head had other plans. Now, I lament 20 lost years. Two decades of wasted time. Somewhere around 7,300 days lost to an endless abyss.

Now, instead of just disliking my job, I have an intense hatred for it. Walking in the door becomes the epitome of wasted years. The small talk. The lack of a challenge, of a mission, of having any real impact at all. It is the symbol of my failure, like a giant billboard reminding me of 60 grand in wasted education and 20 years of spinning my wheels.

I should be happy. I should be relieved that a weight chained to my ankles for so long will soon be released. I should be able to look ahead and formulate a plan. Nope. I can only see the wreckage behind me, the shredded remains of 7,500 days and each new day only adds to the shame.

I don’t want to wallow in my failure. I don’t want to constantly look over my shoulder, ashamed at the wasted potential I’ve left behind. Yet, here I sit, hammering away at my old laptop, getting ready to post to a blog few people read and submit another piece of writing, of my art, for free to any website that will publish it.

I used to say I was just smart enough to realize I’m not quite smart enough to do anything great. Now, I’m not so sure this is true, but I’m also of the opinion it may just be too damn late.

I can sit in my chair and think my life is barely half over, and there is still plenty of time. But the great question is time for what? I’ve spent so much time dabbling in so many things that I’m left with no idea of what’s next. Like a swimmer pulled underwater who is unsure where the surface is, I just don’t know which way is up.

Oh look. A squirrel.

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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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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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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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