Why We Opted Out of Standardized Testing for Our Son With ADHD

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Every year we received the email. And every year I’ve been able to ignore it. Until this year. In the state where we live, the first year standardized testing is mandated is the 3rd grade. Our son is now in 3rd grade. I could not ignore the email and attachment this year. The attachment was a letter stating the steps to take to opt out of the testing for your child.

I was afraid. I was anxious.

What does it mean that my child would not be participating? Would he have to stand in the hall while the other students took the test? Would he be berated with questions from his peers about why he wasn’t taking it?

As a parent of a child with an ADHD diagnosis, I often worry how he will be treated at school. He has a 504 plan, which gives him special accommodations that other children may not receive. He is able to move around more, is given the choice to sit closest to the teacher, can take tests in a smaller group outside of his classroom and other supports which allow him to be successful in school.

Children can be cruel and a parent always worries. As a parent of a child who is unique, I worry more.

In the end, our decision was based on our own feelings about how this would affect him and also the opinions of his teachers. Without our addressing it, a teacher brought it up. Taking these tests would not be beneficial to our son. She sees him daily and knows him in the school environment. How could we go against our gut-instinct and her professional opinion? We wouldn’t and we didn’t.

Even if you do not have the support of your child’s teacher — which we are enormously grateful to have — know your rights in your state. The pressure to meet the 95 percent federal guideline for standardized testing is intense. States that receive federal Title I funding can have their funding withheld if they fall below the 95 percent mark. This means the school district can lose funding if less than 95 percent of their students take the test. But changes to the law in 2016 gave discretion to the states in dealing with those who fall below this benchmark. How this plays out is yet to be seen. But know your options. Your loyalty is to your child, not to a school district.

For our family, this wasn’t about whether or not we agree with standardized tests on the whole. What it was about was our child. And he is our ultimate responsibility.

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Thinkstock photy by: MarkPiovesan

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What Not to Say When Someone Tells You They Have AD(H)D

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Coming out with ADD feels sometimes a lot like coming out the closet. There is a nervousness when I’m about to tell, a vulnerability and question in my mind if the person will think differently of me. People often feel a need to contradict me when I tell them I have adult ADD and offer their own theories about what could be going on with me. So I have created a small guide for what to (not) say if someone tells you they have been diagnosed with ADD.

1) Don’t say this is a conspiracy of the pharmaceutical industry to over-medicate me.

I am aware ADD can be over-diagnosed in schools. I am aware of the pharmaceutical industry’s love of placing profit over people. This response doesn’t help me at all and is very patronizing, for it suggests I am a sucker who hasn’t devoted careful and pained thinking to all of these matters. If I am choosing to communicate that I have the diagnosis of ADD, it is because I have chosen to accept this diagnosis.

2) Don’t tell me “everyone” is distracted sometimes and this is just part of my personality.

Very similar to response one, this suggest I have foolishly run off to medicate myself with no real basis or thought. It also puts me in the awkward and difficult position of having to defend myself to you and “prove” my diagnosis. It’s similar I think to the “you’re not depressed, you’re a bit blue” response. It’s shit.

3) Don’t start suggesting cures unless I ask you for advice.

Believe me, no one spends more time thinking about how to treat what is going on than the one experiencing the condition. I have chosen which coaches/peers/blogs/websites to consult. Your telling me to down cod-liver oil while swimming six laps every morning isn’t going to help me.

And now for the do:

1. Do respond sensitively and recognize I have chosen to tell you something I feel vulnerable about.

2. Do ask questions.

Things like “How does this affect you?” “What was the process that led you to seek psychological counseling?” and “How is it going?” are all great questions. They all show me you respect my judgment and are interested and want to find out more about my experience.

3. Do ask how you can help.

Follow this journey on 1ADDPHD.

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When Socializing Is Exhausting for Someone With ADHD and Anxiety

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Growing up, I was described as a lot of things — scatterbrained, a space cadet, quiet, bitchy, aloof, awkward, standoffish…

It added up, and I was ashamed of what I felt was my flawed personality, constantly thinking there was something “wrong” with me but I couldn’t control it. Eventually, I became afraid of social interactions. I avoided going out with friends, making eye contact with cashiers, raising my hand in class, making phone calls, the list goes on. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I was diagnosed with ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and OCD. Everything made sense!… To me. But many others, especially those who aren’t aware that one’s brain can be neurologically wired differently than theirs, are the ones I have trouble with.

Socializing is something many people need. With me, it gives me instant anxiety even thinking about it because my brain won’t be quiet long enough to let me to focus on one thing at a time. It’s an exhausting cycle I’ve been dealing with for as long as I can remember. My ADHD brain —> anxiety —> self judgment —> clam up and get real awkward —> get scared for the next time I have to talk to someone.

Here’s how things typically go for me:

I confidently start to engage in a conversation. I think about if I’m doing a good job. I have a song I haven’t heard in years playing in my head. I can’t remember if I unplugged the curling iron. What do I do with my face? Do I look bored? Where should I put my hands? Is my laugh gonna sound fake? I probably look so uninterested. Crap, they stopped talking. How do I respond? What did they even say? That song is still playing in my head. I need to make a grocery list when I get home…

Then I usually ask them to either a) repeat themselves or b) nod my head and say something insincere like “that’s awesome!”

I have such a hard time retaining things from a normal everyday conversation. I am judging myself so harshly because I don’t want to be labeled by my illness or stereotypes. Of course this will cause more anxiety! Of course it will then spiral out of control! And then I beat myself up over “messing up again.” I’m working on figuring out how to accept these parts of me, but what I think is absolutely imperative to the entire population is education in mental health so we can reduce the stigma of it. Yes, we are all human. But just because we’re all human doesn’t mean we’re all the same. That would be so boring, wouldn’t it? You can’t define “normal.” People have quirks and traits that make them “them,” and that isn’t “weird,” it’s beautiful. People are so quick to jump to the conclusion that someone is “weird” or “awkward” or “aloof” just because they don’t fit into the stereotypical “normal” category.

I think if mental illness wasn’t such a taboo topic for some, we could all be a little more empathetic toward one another. And maybe, just maybe, even though you might think I sometimes come off as aloof or bored or stoic… you know I’m not. You know I am kind. I am empathetic. That I have an enormous heart. And I, like many other people, do my very best every single day.

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A Letter to People Surprised by My ADHD Diagnosis

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Dear friends and family,

If you didn’t know already, I guess the cat is out of the bag. I have ADHD. I was just diagnosed at the beginning of the year, but I realized I have unknowingly been dealing with it for quite some time (basically my whole life).

You might be surprised. I get good grades. I do not jump out of my seat randomly or have random outbursts. I can sit and watch full episodes or movies on Netflix.

But these are not the only symptoms, and not everyone with ADHD has these symptoms. Everyone has different symptoms, and there can be differences between males and females.

My ADHD is displayed through my constant worrying and anxiety.

My tendency to constantly be on my phone, because I can change tasks often enough to satisfy my racing thought patterns.

My constant shifting in my chair, not because I am uncomfortable in the position, but because I have trouble sitting still.

My frequent typos even though I read and reread and reread what I type.

My love of exercising because it helps to relieve some of the extra energy I have so maybe I can keep my attention on an assignment for more than five minutes.

My lack of engagement in classes because reading for classes can be near impossible.

My constantly late arrivals because I try to brush my teeth, get dressed and make lunch all at the same time.

My loss of complete conversations because I could not focus on what you were saying despite my best efforts.

My last-minute assignments because the pressure of the clock is the only thing that nails me down in a seat to be productive.

My depression because sometimes I feel like I am 10 steps behind everyone else in classes and success is not possible for me.

I have been fortunate enough to have access to care that helps me. On my best days I am able to balance my time so I can complete work and decrease my anxiety. I am able to get something out of class and remember what happens after I leave. I feel like my head is in one place at a time, not five different ones.

You may not see a difference, but I cannot explain how amazing it feels to be in the moment.

As your relative or as your friend, I ask two things of you:

1. Please do not think of me differently, because I have not changed. I just now have a diagnosis for something I have always had.

2. And please do not hesitate if I bring it up. I want you to ask if you have questions. I want you to learn and understand me.

Kindly,
Still me

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What It Feels Like to Be on ADHD Medication

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“What is it like to be on ADHD medication?” a friend asked me the day I started.

For me? It was a huge mental difference. Not a “high,” but a zen calm. It’s the feeling you would get after sitting down after a long hike up a mountain to visit a sub-tropical rainforest spring. But that’s only part of it, because it’s hard to describe without also understanding what living without medication is like. Until I started, I had no idea either. I mean, I had read about the external symptoms and I’d ticked enough boxes to get myself to a specialist. But I didn’t really understand.

In fact, when I asked the specialist, in my usual worried way, “How will I know if it’s working?” he smiled at me and said, “You will know.” I swear, I heard a Yoda-like cadence there, too. This was not reassuring at the time. But of course he was right.

What does it feel like to be on ADHD medication? For me, it feels like being a person without ADHD. I get up and I can do things. The visual buzz quietens – I can actually focus on things without needing to deploy visualization minimization strategies, such as looking down when I walk, or finding material to occupy my mind, like reading. I can walk without a hat and look up instead of at my feet and still be able to do things like cross a street safely. The visual noise is gone.

I have a lot of strategies I’ve developed over the years to get things done. Hell, most days I look and act functional. I thought this was what everyone did, but I was in awe of people who could remember other people’s names, or be able to remember an appointment and get there on time without multiple loud buzzers as reminders. I didn’t understand how someone could always remember to bring essential stuff like wallets and handbags without carefully planned and practiced mindfulness techniques.

If you’ve ever seen me worriedly scanning a seat after I get up, or doing a quick once-over of a room before I leave it, that’s why. But if the routine is interrupted? Boom. Lost stuff. Forgetting glasses, or expensive musical instruments. Yes, that happened. Twice. Thank goodness for honest people. Actually that could be my mantra – thank goodness for honest people, as I have left many important things over the years. In fact, despite all my careful groundwork, it still happens at least once a month.

I also have zero organizational capacity,  something I mention to people when I meet them. Usually it’s met with, “Oh yes, I’m terrible at that too.” But they don’t really understand. I’m not going to pick up a phone and organize a meetup. That’s two steps. I can’t do that without a lot of mental gymnastics. And the more stuff I have to organize, the worse it all gets. I was pretty functional before I had two kids who also have the organizational ability of goldfish. Now, I can get us to medical appointments mostly on-time, and with most of the stuff we need. Going beyond that? Flying pigs all the way.

When I was 9, my brother dubbed me the absent-minded professor. It was his nickname for me for years. If you’ve ever read “Tintin,” you’ll remember Professor Calculus, who shows up and talks high-level physics and math before accidentally eating his shoe. Well, imagine Professor Calculus is a she, and she settled down and had two mini-Calculuses, who might also accidentally eat their own shoes, but are probably going to wander up to mummy’s chalk-board and correct her math.

I can’t pay bills. I can’t use the phone to organize stuff if I have to look up a number and dial first. (And yes, my husband has on occasion looked up the number, dialed it and then handed me the phone.) I’m probably going to forget organized meetups, or get the date wrong if I don’t write it down and set an alarm straight away. And I mean straight away. A minute later? It’s gone.

Also, that worry-face? Had that since before puberty. I’ve had permanent worry-lines since then as well. My wonderful husband finds it amusing when when I tell him bemused stories about random strangers asking me if I need help or directions almost every time I go out. I’ve even been asked at my local train station, when I was traveling through there four to five times a week. By the staff.

In my life, there was a borderline-panic that was so familiar it became background noise. On medication? That voice just stopped. It’s like living with Mr Chatterbox for so long you don’t realize they are there. And then suddenly… silence.

My brain had to scream over that noise to be heard. Now, I don’t have to do the internal yell at myself to  kick in the adrenaline so I go into a mini-panic to break my concentration. On medication, my brain doesn’t need to recreate every horror imaginable in order to get my butt into gear, from dying in a ditch of starvation through to the sacrifice of my first-born. Suddenly, there’s enough quiet to be able to say, “Hey, you’re bit hungry. Maybe you should get breakfast now.” And then my brain goes, “Yeah, OK, let’s do that.” So I get up, and have breakfast.

That’s a bloody miracle. All praise the medical science gods. Really.

It kind of makes me a bit weepy – but thankfully only a bit (and that’s the medication too, by the way). I don’t need to keep going over and over and over the same scenario in my head. I practiced for years to redirect my mind and find ways to break out of those cycles. It took years until I reached the point where I would only have to mull on things a few dozen times a day. Even though I knew it was pointless. Even on really trivial stuff.

I built mental muscles to heave that darn boulder up the hill. I got used to the weight of fighting my own brain. In fact, I’ve always had to do this – I didn’t know other people don’t do this every day. I got used to the weight of that thing.

And then it was gone.

That first day? You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

It felt like a holiday. It feels like freedom.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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When My Son Told Me Going to School All Day Is Exhausting

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I had attention and anxiety issues when I was a kid, only it wasn’t understood at the time. I didn’t find out until I was drinking age that I legitimately had an attention issue. My youngest son, Taylor, was fortunate to be born at a more accepting time, so I got him tested as soon as I noticed the signs, and he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADD).

One morning during breakfast, I realized Taylor was staring sadly into oblivion over his cereal with his head in his hands. I asked him what was wrong, expecting a generic, “I don’t want to go to school.” Instead, he explained how tiring it is to be in school all day, how he doesn’t feel like the other kids, how he feels different. He said, “I don’t want to go to school all day. It’s so exhausting.”

About a week before, I picked him up from school and asked him if he wanted to go get ice cream. He replied, “I just want to go home, Mom. I’m exhausted.”

When I look back, school days seemed ridiculously long to me, too.

I wasn’t able to pay attention, and because of that, I’d daydream. I’d spend hours in my own world, lost somewhere beyond the fence in the back of the school property visible through the classroom window. I’d see how long I could go without looking at the clock, which moved so unbelievably slow; and it always seemed as big as the wall, so I couldn’t miss it.

I didn’t learn how to properly manage my issues with the anxiety that came with my attention problems, so school was hell most of the time. I faked being sick constantly in an attempt to stay home.

I hear and see everything that’s going on around me, which makes it difficult to concentrate in a classroom setting or anywhere that’s full of people. Taylor is the same way.

He gets nothing but praise from his teachers for being a good student and for being a great helper. No one can see how much he may struggle to keep it all up every day. Sometimes if a task seems daunting to him, he may struggle to finish work and need time out in the hallway away from the distractions to finish.

Taylor is also on the autism spectrum. When he’s home or out with us, he flaps his hands or stiffens up when he’s excited. At school he hides it, and the energy it takes can drain him by the end of the day. I’ve often wondered if I’m on the spectrum too since I did (and still do) similar things to hand flapping. It’s all so exhausting when you try to suppress yourself all day. I know how it feels.

So when I saw him with his head in his hands at the table, staring down at his cereal saying he didn’t want to go to school, I believed him. People who have not been in our shoes can have a hard time understanding what it’s like to function as we do in a typical day. They might label us as lazy, which is not the case.

For me, it’s hard to watch my kid struggle through the same issues I did. I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt about it.

I tell him it’ll be OK, and that he can ask for a break if he needs it. I made a note to myself to call the school and ask for a meeting to discuss further accommodations for him. In the beginning of the school year, the teacher and I discussed waiting before we went ahead with a 504 (a 504 is a formal plan made for accommodating a special need or needs). It was time to discuss moving ahead.

He has me, I’m his biggest advocate, and I’ll make sure the changes he needs are made for him to be successful in school. Until then, he still has to go to school and do it all over again until we can get a plan in place. It sucks that as a parent I can’t wave a magic wand and make everything better for him right this second.

I realize I’m thankful I’m not a kid in elementary school anymore. I’m an adult who understands and can try to help Taylor through this.

After my phone call to school to schedule the appointment, I sat and thought for a while.

I wonder what my son is doing in school right this minute? I wonder if he remembers what I told him before he left for school this morning? I hope so. He can ask for a break in the hallway if he feels overwhelmed, and not to be afraid to ask. I told him not to suffer in silence, like I did. I hope he’s learned the clock game, because I remember seeing a clock in his classroom. I also hope he remembers he’s got an ally in me.

Follow this journey on Sweatpants and Swear Words.

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