Her son has taught her life lessons- like stopping to smell the roses, and seeing the beauty in a simple sunrise, and he continues to teach her to take it one day at a time.
She’s a business consultant by trade; she collects ADHD reference books and is an avid campaigner for ADHD awareness.
You can read about her life with Damien on her blog here, and you can email her here
Growing Up with ADHD- a Parent’s Experience
I’d like to start by reading a poem written by a woman named Michelle Flood, whose son Austin was 6 when she wrote it. It’s a poem I have read and re-read on several occasions, to remind myself that I am not ever alone in this.
You’ve Seen Me Before
I’m the mom dragging her kid out of the car in the school parking lot while he holds on to the interior for dear life.
I’m the mom walking her kid into school wearing no shoes or coat when it’s 12 degrees outside.
I’m the mom who issues a sigh instead of a gasp when caller ID shows it’s the school calling.
I’m the mom whose cell phone number is on the school’s speed dial.
I’m the mom who has strangers tell her she has the most charming son while caregivers tell her he’s exhausting and suggest I look elsewhere for care.
I’m the mom who knows to hold onto the stair railing so she doesn’t get pushed down the stairs in her child’s rage.
I’m the mom who has put her kid in his room then sat outside crying while he emptied his closet and threw hangers at the door, chipping off the paint.
I’m the mom who had a lock on her kid’s bedroom door to keep him in his room at night when he was young.
I’m the mom who knows the best way to carry a 50lb kid in a manner where she can’t get kicked, hit or bit.
I’m the mom who can turn her back for 2 seconds and lose her kid in a hotel, on a cruise ship, at the park, or anywhere that child abductors might be lurking.
I’m the mom who will let her 6 year old go into the men’s bathroom at McDonalds alone rather than suffer a meltdown of epic proportions.
I’m the mom who people shake their heads at and say, “That kid wouldn’t be doing that if he were my son”, or “that kid just needs a swift kick in the pants”.
On the other hand, I’m the mom who gets bear hugs and “I love you” with no prompting and right out of the blue.
I’m the mom who gets asked at bedtime, “Will you share some special time with me tonight?”
I’m the mom who has a little boy hugging and kissing her with total abandon – in front of his friends.
I’m the mom who smiles proudly as her son charms the waitress, the mailman and the pizza delivery kid.
I’m the mom who gets to celebrate even the tiniest accomplishments of her son because each one means so much.
I’m the mom who has a son who can make her double over laughing because he has such a great sense of humour.
And I’m the mom who can love her son through good and bad unconditionally.
I’m the mom with an ADHD son.
As my intro said, my ADHDer son is 18 years old, and I was a single mom.
When my Damien was first diagnosed, I did what most of us ADHDer parents did back then especially- I clammed up. I didn’t tell Damien, I didn’t tell my friends or family, and I didn’t tell the school.
I was determined that I would fix this on my own. It took me many, many… many years and even more hard-won lessons to get where I am now, and I’m hoping that by sharing my story- I can help other ADHDer parents learn those lessons a little sooner than I did.
I’m also not going to go too much into my son’s ADHD issues- because I don’t want to scare you- but I will say that he was diagnosed at 6 years old with ADHD combined type, with severe hyperactivity.
Our life together has been FAR from boring let me tell you.
Most who know me will tell you I can go on and on for days, but I have a limited time today and a set topic to stick to.
And on that note, I’d like to welcome you to the rollercoaster that is parenting an ADHDer, and I’d like to congratulate you on being chosen as one of the few who get to raise the Richard Branson’s of the future.
So how many times have you been told your child is spoilt?
How many times has someone said to you “Don’t you know Ritalin is addictive!?”
Have you ever been told that you need to discipline your child more?
And how about the ever popular “How could you drug your child?”
And how many of you get those gilt-edged all but engraved invitations to parents evening with specially allocated timeslots and your name on a list on the door.
And how many of you have wanted to trade places with the parents who are sitting on the row of chairs outside a classroom- waiting their turn to see the teacher inside- when you walk past whilst they glare at you and wonder how come you get to jump the queue?
Add to that having teachers and caregivers telling you your child is disruptive, that he can’t sit still, and they don’t know that to do with him.
That he’s failing.
It’s no wonder we don’t talk about our kid’s disability.
I once read that having ADHD was like a person driving a Ferrari fitted with Toyota brakes. There’s all the beauty, power and speed, but none of the control. Its one of my favourite ADHD metaphors and I use it to remind myself and my son that he is brilliant- but needs guidance.
Think about all the ways your child’s ADHD affects you. Think about how it affects your home life, and your social life. ADHD does not only turn a kid’s schooling upside down. It’s not only at school that he can’t concentrate or focus on what he needs to do. Think of the concessions you make at home, the concerns you have if you go out somewhere. Think of the costs involved in his treatment.
And when you worry about it, remember that your ADHDer will worry about it too because he will pick it up from you.
If you are anything like me, then you’ve cried yourself to sleep at night, wondering what you could have, or should have done differently. You’ve lain awake trying to fathom why it’s your kid who has to be the one diagnosed with this “thing”. You battle to grasp why even the simplest lessons don’t seem to stick in his head despite your and the teacher’s best efforts. You will torture yourself trying to understand why he can remember all the biological names for different shark species, but he can’t pass a spelling test. You lose sleep worrying ceaselessly about your child’s future and what he’s going to be able to achieve.
You see your dreams of your child possibly becoming a surgeon or a lawyer, melting like ice-cream dropped on hot tar.
And when you wake up in the morning, most of the worry is gone, and the thing that remains is the determination to prove your child will be different, and ensure your child will pass.
This is not a bad thing- but unless you understand a little bit about how ADHD works, you can do immeasurable damage to your relationship with your child and to his self esteem.
Then after an afternoon of fighting over incomprehensibly difficult homework that should be a breeze, and having to replace yet another lunch tin, you cry yourself to sleep again.
And trust me, no matter how much research you do, you will still ask yourself the same questions over and over again. Second guessing the decisions you’ve already made and wracking your brain for solutions.
When you want to scream with exasperation because you’ve gotten yet another phone call from the school, or the twelfth detention notification for the year has been retrieved from the depths of his probably dilapidated school bag- stop and think for a second about how you feel every time this happens.
As a grown up you can probably process your emotions, thoughts and frustrations. You can think things through. You can try and find workable solutions.
Maybe you have a blog like I do, or keep a diary. Or maybe you see a shrink regularly (which I highly recommend by the way).
You can put words to your emotions.
Your ADHDer will battle to do that. He will battle with that and a lot of other real life scenarios that the rest of us don’t think twice about.
And you will feel your ADHDers pain and frustration by parental osmosis.
And your ADHDer, because he is the emotional sweetheart that he is- will feel what you feel because he can see what you’re going through. And he will also know he has “caused” it- but he won’t know why, or how to deal with those feelings.
And so the cycle continues.
Let me give you a few examples.
Your ADHDer will battle to read body language and pick up on subtle visual and aural cues. This is because he’s looking but not seeing, and listening but really not hearing.
He will over react to jokes, and a little bit of teasing from Uncle Harry at the family Christmas lunch. And when he explodes with shouting and tears you will react accordingly.
Unless you’re Yoda, you will probably take some kind of action against your ADHDer for over-reacting, whilst Uncle Harry and the rest of the family may wonder why your ADHDer is so immature. Makes for an uncomfortable day all round.
However, if you include your family in what you’re all going through, they may be willing and eager to help you out. Even if Uncle Harry says “he doesn’t believe ADHD exists”, the majority of people want to know how to help you because they love you.
Most of the time- when an ADHDer is out of his regular “home setting”- he’ll be interested in his environs because it’s new, and different and interesting.
This is one of the reasons people who meet your ADHDer for the first time will be blown away by his chatty, interested, engaging demeanour. Take him to the same place and the same people a few times and the novelty wears off.
This is a part of the reason why granny and Grampa will tell you he’s no problem when he’s with them, when he all but drives you to drink!
It could also be a little insight into why ADHDers who spend weekends with their other parent are so different when they’re there.
If you keep this in mind, you won’t find yourself asking “why?” all over again when he gets back to you and back to normal.
I know how fearful we all are of labelling our children, but giving your family- and others- guidelines on how to deal with your ADHDer (whether you’re around or not) is vital.
Whether the people you interact with on a regular basis “believe in ADHD” or not is beside the point. You need to make them understand that you believe it is real, and that it affects you and yours- and especially your ADHDer- in a very big way.
You need to put your foot down.
The consequences can be dismal…
If you ask a family member or a friend to have your ADHDer overnight, or for a few days so you can have a much-deserved “me time”, you may have some well-meaning but misinformed aunt/ uncle/ best friend not ensure your ADHDer takes his meds or sticks to his diet because they don’t want to “play policeman”.
If like my Damien, your ADHDer is hyperactive with a capital H, and impulsive- not taking his meds will make him unmanageable for whoever is looking after him, but they will not immediately put it down to the fact that he hasn’t had his meds.
They’ll wonder what they hell had gotten into him! Your ADHDer will have a wonderful time, unfettered and full of marvellous ideas, and unable to understand the change in attitude towards him. And their trying to bribe him or threaten him into being quiet or behaving himself will have little or no result and just frustrate everyone.
In all likelihood they won’t even tell you, but you probably won’t be able to ask them for help again any time soon.
But if you’re firm from the time that you start to share what you’re going through- you’ll get the help you need.
And sharing your child’s disability benefits him too.
If people accept that he has a disorder- and there will always be those who don’t- he gets that little bit more patience and attention that he needs. He gets a little bit of leeway for making a noise because his loved ones will learn to pick their battles as you do.
If he’s not hurting himself or putting himself or anyone else in harms way you can probably ignore whatever it is he’s doing.
If he wants to wear the same shirt every day for a week, ask him every day if he’s sure he wants to wear it, and let it go.
If he refuses to brush his teeth- leave it. It’s not worth arguing about. Just remind him about it gently and let it go.
People who know and love your ADHDer will see his brilliance too, and with gentle and regular reminders that he has a disability, they’ll have even more of a chance to see what he can become with the right guidance.
And if you speak to your ADHDer about his treatment and involve him in it, it will help him understand why he sometimes feels so frustrated that he screams. Involving him means you can perhaps give him words to use or other options when he feels annoyed with himself.
Involving him also means that he will understand- even if it’s just a little bit- why it is that you are crying yourself to sleep sometimes.
Involving your child’s school in his treatment means he benefits from his teachers’ awareness of his disorder as well as from other concessions that diagnosed ADHDers are allowed- like extra time in exams and tests. One of the first people who will pick up a change in your ADHDers behaviour is his teacher, and giving her a heads’ up will allow her to help you and your ADHDer.
Just about everything in an ADHDers life is a battle of some kind.
Making and keeping friends.
Simple social settings are immensely complicated.
They love to be the centre of attention and this is misconstrued by the general population because they come across as brash and overbearing and loud.
Bullies love ADHDers because it’s so easy to get a rise out of them.
Remembering to bring home school shoes, lunch tin, jersey and suitcase is a major exercise.
Completing homework assignments is a battle on its own- and then remembering to hand it in is a whole ‘nother kettle of bananas!
And they always seem to be in trouble of some kind because they simply do NOT think before they act.
This may seem like I’m going on and on about the negative- but the point I’m making is this.
There are things you can do to help your ADHDer with his daily battles. There are ways to help with homework and school. There are ways to help him recognise social cues.
Accepting your ADHDer has a disability is step one on this road.
Accepting that you will have to remind him every day to do simple things like put on his school shoes or remember to brush his teeth is step two.
And speaking to your friends, family and your ADHDer is step three.
After you’ve managed to do those three things- implementing the suggestions you find in books or hear in support groups is just that little bit easier.
And it really does get a little easier over time.
So thank you for your time; and thank you ADHASA for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit of my rollercoaster ride.