18 Years of ADHD: How We Made It Through
The estimated number of children aged 3–17 years diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) between 2016-2019, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was 6 million (9.8%). Approximately 75% of children receive some sort of treatment of for ADHD, however the use of medication and/or behavior management either individually or in combination varies. Still research supports that positive parent interventions with ADHD symptoms are the most significant indicator of successful outcomes for the child socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.
However, as a mother and therapist, I know helping a child learn to manage their ADHD symptoms, can be both confusing and challenging.
The Early Years
My daughter was finally diagnosed with ADHD when she was 6. I say finally because she was hyper since the day she was born. She hardly napped and wanted constant stimulation. I could almost see the wheels in her brain turning.
I can’t say her seemingly fast-moving mind didn’t come with advantages. Despite her inability to pay attention for very long and her extreme physical hyperactivity, she learned and retained information extremely fast, although she was hardly paying attention. She started trying to say words at 7 months old. She learned multiplication and division at 4 years old and went straight into first grade, skipping kindergarten. I was concerned that without a challenge in the classroom she would literally spend the day dancing from the desktops. In fact, her milestone and educational success was a barrier to having her diagnosed sooner!
My daughter started medication around age 6 and we went on for some years using the medication. The medication was effective for the majority of the day before the effects wore off towards the evenings. We adjusted to make things work. When she was 3 and my son was born, we had a double stroller for a while, so I would not get lost in the grocery store so easily (yes me, according to her I would get lost when she took off running through the aisles, not her). We spent lots of time outdoors and I enrolled her in tons of physical activities that allowed her to use her physical energy in an appropriate setting.
The Not so Easy Years
As my daughter became a teenager, she began to question the need for the medication. She reported no side effects but said she did not like feeling “not like herself.” It dawned on me that my daughter liked how she felt unmedicated. Then I had a second revelation: who wouldn’t?! She’s elated, euphoric, and full of energy. I can’t lie. I could use some of that sometimes too! But this constant state prevented my daughter from settling down enough to do homework or tasks around the house. It made her speak before she thought, impulsively damaging relationships. We sought assistance from the doctor, but were not presented with any good options.
By the time my daughter was 15 the daily one pill a day became a morning standoff between her and I. Same days she won. Some days I won. As a single mom the conflict was difficult and obviously not the best way to start the day. Our relationship suffered.
I had tried every “therapist tactic” (as my daughter likes to call it) that I could come up with by the time she was 16. No type of reinforcement convinced her to take the medication consistently. Her grades suffered tremendously, and she had a couple of minor incidents at school where her impulsive behavior got the best of her. We spoke with her doctor and due to my daughter’s insistence, and now age where she was allowed to make her own medical choices, she went off medication altogether.
The next almost two years were rough to say the least. My daughter scraped by graduating high school, but a far cry from the honors classes she started with in 9th grade. I felt frustrated at our medical system that allowed for autonomy despite parents’ opinions. I felt hopeless at times. But I never gave up. My daughter agreed to therapy, so I made sure she stuck to that as much as possible. I called on the extended family members she was more willing to listen to when her and I reached dead ends. It was draining. It was hard. But we made it.
My daughter is 17 now, just weeks away from 18. After almost two years of chaos and mayhem (OK maybe I’m slightly exaggerating, but if you’re a mom you get it) she has decided to start a newly available medication for ADHD. It has only been a few weeks, but she is better able to concentrate but says she still feels closer to “her real self.” The difference is already drastic! She is happy. So, I am happy. Our home is at peace again.
This story isn’t about being pro medication or not. It’s just about my experience, reminding other parents they are not alone, and to share a few tips I have learned along the way these last 18 years.
Here are five tips that worked for me that you may want to give a try:
1. Seek Help
The behaviors associated with ADD/ADHD can be stressful for parents, the child, and siblings. It’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Help can be available through your physician, therapist, community resources, and school resources. Use as many of them as you can! The more the better. One important school resource that even as a mental health professional I was unaware of prior to my personal experience is a 504 plan. Those with ADD/ADHD qualify for this type of plan. This is a plan created with the student, parents, teachers, and other school personnel to provide the student extra support to be successful in school. It may be as simple as allowing additional time to take test in class or turn in assignments.
Also, don’t forget to call on family and friends to help as well. Sometimes an extra voice of reason or a listening ear goes a long way not just for your child but for you as well. If your child is taking medication, staying in contact with the prescribing doctor will always be important to monitor for side effects and make sure the medication is working properly.
2. Give autonomy where you can
This is a big one. All children need to feel they have the ability to autonomous. In fact, it is vital to their development. This is especially true for children with ADD/ADHD as they may feel less autonomy since they have more difficulty controlling their behaviors and emotions.
3. Don’t rely only on the meds
Whether or not you choose to give your child medication, it is important for them to also learn coping skills and ways to work through behaviors. Your child developing communication skills, anger management skills, relaxation techniques, etc. are examples of different strategies they can use to manage the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
4. Separate the behaviors from the child
It can be hard to not feel frustrated and upset towards your child. It’s important to remember that the child, especially younger children, are not yet capable of fully controlling their behaviors and emotions. As parents we must remember that although we dislike our children’s behavior, we love them and want the best for them. Focus on the behaviors/symptoms not the child. If this becomes difficult for you to do, work through these feelings, and discuss it with your therapist or doctor.
As parents we have to accept that we can only do what we can. And even then, we may not have the results we would like. But what’s more important is to make sure our children feel loved through it all.
Dr. Nashira Kayode is a therapist, consultant, and author in Southern California. Dr. Kayode is an expert with the state of California and has several publications on mental health.
Learn more about Dr. Kayode or mental health: drshikay.com
Getty image by FatCamera