Most of us go into parenting with a very firm idea of how we are going to raise our children. Yes. We. Do. Our children are going to be the best behaved, smartest, politest, most compassionate children who ever ate all of their vegetables and graduated University with Honours on the face of the earth! Most people realize very early on in their parenting career that this is not going to be the reality, and when you add ADHD to the mix, it is realized even more so.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as most people know it is a very misunderstood disorder. To many, particularly those who haven’t raised a child with ADHD, it is a behavioural issue hidden behind a “medical disorder”, when in truth, it is a medical disorder hidden behind a “behavioural issue”.
ADHD is a spectrum disorder which, in a nutshell, means that it is characterized by a specific set of symptoms, but not everyone with the disorder has each and every symptom, so it can present differently in different people. It also means that there are variations in severity from mild to severe and everything in between. The symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity (moving quickly from one activity to the next, talking non-stop, fidgeting), impulsivity (interrupting, doing things quickly without thinking them through), and inability to focus for long periods and getting distracted easily. Many children who have ADHD also have one or more co-morbid disorders such as Anxiety, Depression or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to name only a few. Wow … that’s a lot for one little kiddo to handle!
So, what does all of this mean, when you are the parent of a child with ADHD? It means that your parenting experience is going to be much different than most other parents.
I know this firsthand. I am the parent of an ADHD son. He is 21 now, and our journey has had many twists and turns. I wouldn’t change him, or the lessons I’ve learned along the way for anything, but there have been many times when I wish I had had a lot more support and understanding.
So, in an attempt to touch even one person who may need to know they have an ally, here’s some things to bear in mind to help survive the journey:
- Your child does not have a behaviour problem; he or she has a very well-documented and very well-studied medical disorder, and it should be treated accordingly and not unlike any other medical condition. Your child deserves compassion and respect, and so do you.
- ADHD is not your fault, and certainly not your child’s fault. It is caused by chemical differences in the brain and is believed to be genetic. Nobody did anything wrong.
- You are equally as good a parent as any other parent out there, you are just on a different journey. It’s sort of like being given the same beautiful piece of IKEA furniture as everyone else, but with yours, the corners are cut differently so it doesn’t go together as easily, and this will often mean that everyone will be standing alongside their piece of furniture assuring you that the reason why yours is different is because of something YOU did wrong. It is simply common sense that this is not true. Tune that noise out!
- Don’t compare your experience to anyone else’s, especially someone who doesn’t share your challenges. You will always come up short, and you deserve better.
- Knowledge is power. Learn everything you can about the disorder. This will undoubtedly help you help your child, but it will also give you confidence when dealing with the hecklers.
- You’re going to lose your shit sometimes. Then, you are going to feel guilty because you lost your shit sometimes. Try to keep it uppermost in your mind that you are dealing with an experience that is often very frustrating and stressful, and that you are doing the best you can. Also remember that people who judge you are totally oblivious to what you are going through.
- Try to remember that your child is the same beautiful baby that you brought home from the hospital (or adoption agency or other) all those years ago, and that all that beauty is still there, it’s just a little mis-wired. This has brought me patience beyond measure, and has saved me many times from feeling completely hopeless.
Here is a link from Buzzfeed’s Parenting section, which is bang on in my opinion, about the realities of raising a child with ADHD 28 Things Nobody Tells You About Having a Kid With ADHD.
A note about zombies and other imaginary creatures:
Of course, one of the biggest challenges of having a child with ADHD is the medication factor. Do you? Don’t you? Is it safe? Do natural alternatives work? I sometimes think that there are those that think that we all stuff pills down our kids’ throats without knowledge or conscience!
ADHD is treated with stimulant medication, and it works by stimulating the brain to create more of the neurotransmitters that are lacking or missing in the brain of a child with ADHD, thereby alleviating the symptoms. Unfortunately, many people believe that ADHD is treated by sedatives, hence creating the impression, to those who don’t understand the disorder, that parents are sedating their children because they are bad parents and don’t know how to deal with their behaviour. What?! Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
But the nonsense doesn’t stop there. In the 1970s, when doctors first began medicating children for ADHD symptoms, they had to experiment with dosages, and it was very much trial and error. They found that some children were very sensitive to higher doses of the medications, and that they would develop a flat, emotionless effect which has been likened to that of a zombie, so this is often a comparison that will be made in an attempt to criticize parents for medicating their children.
Wow, when my mother had cancer and was getting radiation, she acted so much like a unicorn! Sorry, not sorry … but you get the picture.
This rarely happens now, because studies and experience have helped doctors to streamline dosages, and new medications have been created, etc., but of course if it does happen, all it takes is a trip to the doc to sort it out. Let’s give this disorder the respect it deserves and leave the imaginary creatures where they belong … in the movies.
Another very important point to debunk:
Children with ADHD can be ultra-focused when they are doing something they truly enjoy, but when it comes to schoolwork, cleaning their room, chores, etc. they are not. Unfortunately, here again, the tendency is for people to conclude that children are selective in when they want to focus, and to think that ADHD is “made up”.
The reality is that when any one of us is doing an activity we enjoy, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released in our brain, and when we are facing something we are not looking forward to, there is less of it. Since dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that is lacking in a child with ADHD, and it is stimulated when they are doing something they are interested in … well … you do the math.
Bottom line … ADHD is very real. You didn’t expect it, and sometimes you will resent and even hate it, but how you deal with it does not define you or your parenting skills, and in fact; pat yourself on the back. Parenting a child with ADHD isn’t easy, and I have had the honour of meeting some really stellar ADHD parents.
Please note: my son was consulted prior to writing this post so that he would be comfortable with the details shared; also, this post is completely geared towards parents of children with ADHD, by design, and is not an attempt to minimize the challenges that children with ADHD face or imply that the parents’ experience is in any way worse than the child’s.