I am in crisis again. I am old enough now to know that I can weather it, but it’s still painful and discouraging. This will be one of those almost-silent eruptions where just a small part of the messiness breaks the surface. I’ll have done something ill-advised; for a moment, I’ll have been the real me. Most people would shake the moment off and carry on, but for me it opens up a familiar vacuous hole inside that only ever partially heals.
I have ADHD, anxiety and depression. I have been in the same relationship for 13 years. I am a committed and attentive father to a son with autism spectrum disorder. I have a career that pays north of the national average.
I’ve been called “high-functioning.” Lately, I have realized that, for me, this term means “good at hiding.” I do a pretty believable version of “normal.” However maintaining the façade is always a strain, and the better I get at it, the more, well, “weird” my behaviour seems when the façade crumbles. And when it does crumble, dealing with the consequences drains my “happiness” reserves.
During my crises (whether mini or massive), I experience a genuine sense of heartbreak. I weep for the child I was, and still am, who just wants to be accepted and understood for who he really is. I feel deeply troubled that in this enlightened world, people who are not neurotypical often feel required to hide their real selves. These questions have become more prescient as I seek to raise and defend a wonderful complex boy with his own challenges. I wonder: Would I consider asking my son to hide who he really is to fit in? Not even for a moment.
One day, though, my son might face challenges something like my own. Given the tumultuous life I’ve led thus far, what advice would I give him?
Firstly, I would tell him he is beautiful, brilliant and valuable, and that the world needs more people like him, not less.
Secondly, I would tell him I love and accept him unconditionally and to be courteous to people who don’t understand him, but not to waste his time with them. He will find his place in things; it might just take some time.
Thirdly, I would tell him that when we struggle, we grow. We find something that pulls us through the hard times. I’ll tell him how I met his mum and she saw who I was and loved me — and how he came along and did the same.
I was a bright kid growing up — not as smart as my brother, a genius with a photographic memory — but I studied hard and knew how to perform well on exams and behave well in class, so I was successful academically. I wasn’t an athlete or in the popular crowd, but in academics, I found my niche. Graduated near the top of my high school class and from college with honors, passed the Law School Admissions Test in the 97%, passed the entire CPA exam in the first setting, did well in a highly ranked law school. You get the idea.
Yet in spite of my academic successes, there was always a part of me that didn’t measure up. I questioned myself constantly. I struggled to stay on top of things, to stay organized. Despite my best efforts, my room was always a mess, my car was dirty and important items went missing. I hid it from everyone (well, except for my roommates, because, as it turns out, you can’t magically make yourself organized by simply saying “I’m a neatnick.” They find out eventually that you are in fact a clutteraholic).
I couldn’t understand how someone so “put together” could have this dirty secret.
For many people, disorganization like this might not be a problem. But I grew up with parents who were as organized as the day is long (maybe longer). It is truly their gift. Their house, even with growing and messy children and their friends in and out, always looked like a model home. Always. Anything less simply wasn’t acceptable. And organization comes easily to both of my parents. You walk into their house and just breathe a sigh of relief because there is not a bit of clutter anywhere. They still can’t understand how someone can keep a messy house or not balance a checkbook. It is all a matter of self-discipline, they say. They didn’t used the word “lazy” to describe people who can’t accomplish such tasks, but that was the description I internalized.
I have spent the better part of my adult life feeling like a failure, feeling like my house will never be clean enough because it’s not ready for company at the drop of a hat. Embarrassed that I struggle to complete tasks and have 15 million “really awesome ideas” I never get around to bringing to fruition. Frustrated that my car is a mess, my purse is a mess, that I, by extension, am a mess. Confused that I can’t seem to focus on anything anymore.
And then, my daughter happened. My sweet, beautiful, spunky daughter. And she was a mess. A hot ball of fire running around, with a mess following in her footsteps. She didn’t care that she was dirty, or that her room was a mess, or that she hadn’t done her homework. She wasn’t defiant about it – she just got sidetracked by life. And she did everything late – she talked late, she wrote late, she read late. But she eventually got it. All in her own time. And, now, at 9, she is reading above grade level. But school has been such a struggle for her. She does OK academically, but she works hard for that OK.
School was always a struggle for my husband. He has so many gifts, but God love him, academics aren’t exactly among them. So I thought, she’s just like daddy. School is going to be a struggle. We just have to push her along to get her out of school, and she can find a career in the arts where that kind of stuff doesn’t matter.
And I really believed it. I believed my daughter just wasn’t capable of more — that underperforming was the best she could do.
Three weeks ago, we had my daughter tested for ADHD. The first thing the psychologist said to me when she went over her results was, “Were you in GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) when you were a child? Because your daughter should be.” I cried. I love my daughter so much, but in my own ignorance, I had sold my daughter short. It’s not that she isn’t smart. She’s actually very, very smart. And so incredibly capable. But her ADHD means her brain doesn’t get what it needs to help her function to her optimal abilities. And all the organizational seminars and tutoring in the world won’t necessarily change that. She is really smart child who performs below average. And she has so much anxiety about it – because she knows she is capable of better, but she can’t consistently produce better.
I now understand how many girls with ADHD go undiagnosed for so long. My daughter was one of them. Gifted girls who are underperforming, and no one knows why. She was a good kid with no behavioral issues. In my research, I am learning that these are the ones who so often go undiagnosed.
In the wake of her diagnosis, I had myself tested as well.
And I have the dubious honor of having the highest ADHD testing score of anyone in my psychologist’s history. True story. The psychologist actually asked me, “How have you been able to function for so long?” All the things I have internalized for so long – all the things I thought of as failures, as laziness, as just not enough self discipline — I was wrong. Completely wrong. My brain is just wired differently. What an incredible gift to realize this. I only wish I had learned it at 9, instead of at 40. If only I had known then what I know now, maybe my self-talk would have been different all these years. Maybe I would have reached out sooner, would have tried to stop managing it with just “better organizational practices.” But hindsight is 20/20.
At this point, all we can do is learn from our past and make our futures better. For my daughter and I, that means finding the right medication to help us be the best we can be. And, maybe, in opening up about our experience, we can help the mother of another little girl somewhere. Maybe we can help her spot a diamond hiding behind ADHD.
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It’s no secret parenting is hard work. When you have a child with ADHD (attention -deficit/hyperactivity disorder), parenting can be complex. It’s been almost two years since we found out my 7-year-old has ADHD. Every day is a rollercoaster for us filled with ups and downs. When my child wakes up in the morning, I never know if she will be excited to go to school and see her best friend or have a meltdown. When it is time to get ready for bed, I never know if she will happily get into her pajamas and be excited about the story I’m going to read to her or say she didn’t have enough time to play that day. My child is extremely unpredictable and highly sensitive. But I am realizing our challenges are making me a better person.
Having a child with ADHD has made me more patient. Parents of children with ADHD understand their child’s brain works differently. When I ask my child to put her shoes on and five minutes later, her shoes still aren’t on because she got distracted by a toy that was next to her shoes for example, I do my best to not lose my temper. I know she is not a bad kid or a trouble maker. I know she is not deliberately trying to get a rise out of me and make me angry. Like many children with ADHD, my child lives in the moment. All that matters to her is the present, which is actually something I envy about her. I remind myself of this, push away the negative words that were about to come out of my mouth, and practice patience, patience, patience.
Having a child with ADHD has made me more compassionate. There has been countless times my child has had a meltdown in public. Whether it was because she became frustrated with a word search on a children’s menu at a restaurant or she was having a hard time waiting her turn to go down the slide at the park, I have felt the eyes of judgmental parents on me and my child. They may think my child is giving me a hard time, but the truth is my child is having a hard time, and the rude stares and eye rolls are only making it worse for her. That is a truly awful feeling, so when I am in public and I see a child throwing a “tantrum,” I never ever judge the parent or the child. I honestly have nothing but compassion and empathy for them, which is something I strive to instill in my child.
Having a child with ADHD has made me more responsible. I have always been a pretty responsible person, but I feel like since I became a mother, I am more of a scatterbrain and am constantly forgetting things. My child’s ADHD diagnosis has forced me to become more responsible and organized, as well as a planner. For example, it is my responsibility to make sure my child takes her medication every morning, and there has been a couple of times when I forgot to give it to her, but I created a system that works well for us, and she hasn’t missed a dosage since. I’m also responsible for making and taking her to appointments with her psychiatrist and behavioral therapist, as well as practicing what she was taught. I’m on top of things with school, and I am in constant communication with her teacher. I now think and plan ahead because life is unpredictable and you have to be ready for the unexpected. I know to always be prepared.
Having a child with ADHD has made me more creative. It is no secret that children with ADHD have a knack for thinking outside the box, and that is one of the many things I love about my child. She’s able to see and understand what many others can’t and use her fierce creativity to make masterpieces, shattering the stereotypes that children with ADHD are “dumb” or “lazy.” When she is focused, particularly if she is hyper focused, she can write entire stories, create origami animals, and invent intricate games. The list goes on and on. She has inspired me to tap into my own creativity and make things I never thought I could. For her birthday parties decorations, for example, I decided to forego Pinterest and use my own creativity to turn our home into her dream birthday party. Being creative like my child is so much fun, and it is something we love doing together.
Having a child with ADHD has made me more easy going. When my child first began getting homework in kindergarten and we didn’t know she had ADHD, I would make her sit at her desk and stay there until she completed her homework. Thinking back now, I feel like I was the worst parent ever. That must have been complete torture for my child. After her ADHD diagnosis and researching a lot about how her mind works, I understand her better. I am much more lenient and easy going with her. I let her decide where she wants to do her homework, whether she is sitting at her desk on a wiggle seat, standing next to the kitchen counter, or laying on the family room floor. I let her decide the order she wants to complete her homework in. If she needs breaks, I let her take them. If she wants to listen to music while she does her homework, I let her. You get the picture. This is not at all how I imagined homework time would be in my house because I always thought that “What Mommy says, goes!” However, after letting go of my power trip and giving her more freedom, homework is now much more enjoyable for her. This has made me more easy going in other aspects of my life as well. If things in my life don’t go as planned, I don’t stress about it like I used to. If I accidentally burn dinner for example, I order a pizza. No biggie. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. And let’s face it, pizza is the best.
Having a child with ADHD has made me more optimistic. Before my child’s ADHD diagnosis, she was in a very dark place. At only 5 years old, she experienced depression and anxiety, which commonly coexist with ADHD. She constantly said she wished she was never born and that I deserved a better daughter. When she said those awful words, I felt a pain in my heart like nothing I had ever felt before. She had extremely low self-esteem and would put herself down every chance she got. By educating myself more about ADHD and showing my child compassion, patience, and kindness, as well as getting her the help she needed with medication, behavioral therapy, and the unconditional love and support of her family, she was able to come out of the shadows and see the light in her that I have always known was there. She is now doing very well at school and breezes through her homework most days. She is showing the world she is a superstar in her school plays and has the voice of an angel in our church’s children’s choir. Words can’t express how incredibly proud I am to be her mother and to see how far she has come. As cheesy as it sounds, I know she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to. No matter what, she will rise to the top, and I will always be her biggest fan, cheerleader, supporter, and advocate.
As her mother, I work hard every day to make sure I am doing all I can to provide her with a good life. I make sure she is equipped with all of the right tools to help her succeed and use her ADHD to her advantage. All I really want and what I think all parents want is for their children is to have good morals and values. I have been so busy trying to teach my child to be a good person, I never thought in my 30s, my child would in fact be teaching me how to better myself and turn me into a better person. The world has my daughter and her ADHD to thank for that.
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“Just relax.” I hate when someone says that to me. My brain does not “just relax.” It is impossible. Even when I am asleep, my mind races. My dreams are so out there… so much so that they don’t make any logical sense to me at times.
Most people who are neurotypical do not understand what it is like to live with a non-neurotypical brain. It is something they cannot possible understand, and I don’t fault them for that. But at least listen to me when I tell you it is not at all possible for me to relax. I do not feel calm if I just sit quietly and stare at a TV for hours. I do not enjoy sitting at the beach. I can’t do things “normal” people do to relax. My brain has too much going on for that. I like talking while hiking, coloring while listening to music, doing puzzles, creating something new, painting, building, exploring. I need some stimulation… that, for me, is euphoric. Being able to do something I enjoy, especially if someone I love enjoys it with me, is my type of relaxation.
If I were to define “relaxation,” it would not be the same relaxed feeling others may feel — like a weight is lifted off their shoulder and they are comfortable and can release the tension felt throughout their day. I define relaxation as a time when I can not be overwhelmed by the world around me, where my thoughts are not racing, where I am able to enjoy something and don’t have to conform to the norms of society to fit in. Relaxation is feeling myself, doing something that makes me truly happy and comfortable. I don’t find comfort in a bed or comfy chair. I find comfort in activities or situations where my thoughts aren’t racing. I love letting my imagination go wild, allowing myself to create things without any worry about negative influence. That for me is the feeling I love.
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My son, my husband and myself all have ADHD. We like schedules and knowing what is expected from us. We like things clear and understandable. We need reminders, notes, alarms.
This is how we stay on target and get done what we need to do. But what happens when your 10 years old and don’t have these skills yet? You need someone to teach you how. You need someone in your corner who will stand up for you and be your voice when you just can’t. You need someone to make your reminders, notes and alarms.
ADHD has been used as an excuse for kids who are just kids so much now that when a child who really struggles with it comes into a class they are often grouped with kids who don’t struggle in the same way. Being extra tough on a kid without ADHD may mean more work gets done and they might push themselves to do better. Being extra tough on a child with ADHD may mean no work gets done and they might push themselves far too much.
They may shut down, get angry, talk back, tear up their papers instead of doing them. They may look like they are being bad, but in truth they are trying to tell you it’s too much and they need your help to get through this. They are asking for what they need in the only way they know how.
So often this gets overlooked and the teachers lose a chance to help because they didn’t know the signs. They are trying to help without the skills they need. Sound familiar?
You can’t expect to do open heart surgery if you have only been trained to do stitches. You can’t teach a child with ADHD if you have only been taught to teach kids without ADHD. So why aren’t these kids often given the same help as children with other diagnoses? A special needs class, an aid. Why do we tell them to grow up and deal with it instead of teaching them the skills they need to succeed?
We need to give them the same chance as any other child with special needs. They need understanding, not tough love.
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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