Learning to Understand and Support My Son With ADHD
I feel as though the universe gave me signs my first son would have ADHD before he was even born. It was not really mother’s intuition. No, it was more concrete than that.
As he was my first child, I was your typical first-time nervous, overly health-conscious mommy to be. My food was as health-conscious as possible. My daily mocha treat, I didn’t know her anymore. Still, as soon as my little guy could find a way to move, he never stopped moving. By the time he was born, four months early mind you, I came to believe he never slept.
Fast forward to him as a toddler. We still had days where I wondered if he even needed sleep because he certainly could outlast Mama. At this age, his doctor did not want to give him a diagnosis of ADHD. He was just an energetic, precocious little guy. But mama knew it was more than that.
By the time he was entering the school system, he was labeled as extremely intelligent but had serious issues with remaining focused and refraining from talking out of turn. Finally, he was able to be diagnosed as having ADHD when his behaviors impacted him in the educational setting. After finally receiving a diagnosis that for me was not surprising, how do I deal with parenting my little guy now?
My son is currently a fifth-grader and every year he has been labeled. Before his diagnosis, he was labeled as a “bad kid.” He would not sit still. Every thought that popped into his head had to be voiced. In his mind, no one was a stranger. After his diagnosis, it was much the same. As a parent, one thing to always keep in mind is that ADHD is not a reflection of your parenting skills, nor does it make your child bad. As with all disabilities, ADHD traits make your child unique. Yes, he may talk a lot, but he lives a life without fear of expressing his thoughts. He may move around a lot, but as he tells me, he always gets in his 60 minutes of activity a day. ADHD traits are not necessarily negative. They can lead to amazing abilities.
Speaking of abilities, after his diagnosis certain people expressed negative stigma about his learning ability. ADHD is not in and of itself an indicator of academic success or failure. My son has had some struggles with academics when long periods of concentration were required. This happened mainly in his younger grades or when complex subjects were initially introduced. With age, therapy, and for a time medication, he has developed ways to adapt. Now he is mainly an A student. As his mom, the best thing I could do was help him develop concentration methods and find interventions such as play therapy to help him develop ways to focus.
I brought up the dreaded “M” word: medication. As a parent, there will be so many opinions offered to you regarding how to handle a child with ADHD. Some are all for medicating while others will demonize you at the hint of a pill bottle. I ultimately found that the severity of his lack of focus and associated behaviors (mainly lack of sleep) supported him being medicated. He took medication for three-and-a-half years of his schooling so far, but last year his doctor and I felt that he could try without. The transition was rocky, but as this school year is coming to an end he has remained an A average with only minor behavioral concerns. This may not be a long-term situation and your child may not have the same outcome. My advice is to do your research.
Medication helps with the chemical components of ADHD, but therapy can do wonders to address the physical and behavioral aspects. In the early years, my son was enrolled in occupational therapy as well as play therapy. He worked on refining his fine motor skills and learning social skills such as personal space, taking turns, and focusing on reading. Again, this may not be for everyone, so do research and find multi-faceted treatments for your child.
It can be stressful dealing with some behaviors associated with ADHD. My child still sometimes experiences brain fog. He can be so hyper-focused on a thing that I wonder if he has a photographic memory. Then ask him where his jacket is and suddenly, you are met with a blank stare as if he forgot what a jacket is. Over the years, I have developed a relationship with his teachers, so I often receive notifications when important papers or homework are sent home. Teachers should be your best friend. Also, many schools have apps or newsletters to make sure you are aware of important happenings.
Another issue that will not fade away for him is arguing and talking out of turn. Play therapy was beneficial as it allowed him to work on his calm communication skills. Now when he is speaking to me and begins to argue or get agitated, I have learned to whisper. Yelling or arguing back will escalate his behavior, but speaking in a soft voice makes him curious.
At times, behaviors may be extreme. Parents of ADHD can find it difficult to find ways to discipline their child. As previously stated, ADHD is not synonymous with BAD. At times the negative behaviors may just be enhanced with your child. You may be cycling through any number of ways to control your kid. Yelling doesn’t work so you try time out. Time outs don’t work so you try taking away toys or bribing them. For several months, I even gave up on punishment and would try to make him do yoga or meditate when he threw a tantrum.
Do you catch what the problem is? This is a prime example of, “Girl, you are doing too much!” All children need consistency. Rules and consequences really should be black and white. If you do X, then expect that Y will happen. Behavioral modification also works well with children learning appropriate behaviors. The parent should create age-appropriate objectives and award the child as each stage is mastered. Over time, these goals will support a new sustainable appropriate behavior.
Getty image by Jacob Lund.