Parenting a child with ADHD
Unless you have a child with ADHD, it is impossible to know what it is like. Sometimes I hate the ‘ADHD’ label, and other times I am so glad of it. Having a ‘different’ child is hard. For a long time, I told hardly anyone about the ADHD diagnosis. It felt like a 'dirty' word, like it was my fault, that I would be judged, that Sarah would be judged. I still feel like at times, and I wonder what the hell I am doing starting a blog and writing a book; sharing my inner fears and feelings with the world. But I am doing it because I know that there are other mums out there who feel the same; who are confused, bewildered and lost.
Whether or not you decide to medicate, this journey is not for the faint-hearted. ADHD is a controversial subject that will be talked about until the end of time. I hate the debates, the judgment, the do's and don'ts! Most experts don't have a child with ADHD or have ‘it’ themselves, so they often have no idea of the reality of living with ADHD. Our child is a square peg that won't fit into a round hole, no matter how hard we try.
I always tell Sarah that ADHD is just a name, made-up by a Doctor, to describe a particular type of person. I remind her that Mummy probably has it, as well as our babysitter, Jade. I tell her that some of the most amazing artists, musicians and cleverest people all over the world have it too. I tell her to keep believing in herself; we speak of how fantastic she is at art, music, and gymnastics. I hope that this is enough. I want her to know that she is enough, she is amazing, and I’ll tell her that every day – I have to lift her spirits so high that she, too, can believe that she is enough.
Our goal is to help Sarah keep her spirit and zest for life, but also give her the tools to help her focus in school, complete her tasks and do the best she can. For many kids medication helps them to do this, but as we have chosen not to medicate, we have got to think outside the box! I work closely with Sarah's school and her teachers. The Deputy Principal put together a behavioural modification chart to help Sarah in a supportive, understanding and compassionate way. Sarah thrives on positivity, goals and boundaries. Her ADHD and anxiety are manageable when there is consistency, reward and routine in her life. The behavioural chart sets two goals at a time and focusses on positivity, praise and reward, but also consequences if she doesn't achieve her goals or wasn't seen to be trying. The school felt that chart was necessary because they thought Sarah was using her ADHD as an excuse – which I agree with – so with clear boundaries and goals, we all felt this would work well for her.
I have been feeling happy and confident about the present and the future. Yes, Sarah is still 'inattentive'; that word that has become her middle name at school. She is still hyper (her cartwheels all over the house drives me insane and is unable to walk like an average person), but she is manageable. She is happy. She is doing her homework, reading and (most days) she practices her violin and recorder. I never thought I would be able to write those things and she is happy, I am happy, and our family is happy. And feeling like a normal family for the first time in forever is an incredible feeling!
Then last week as I lay in bed with Sarah chatting, my world came crashing down. Lying in her bed was something I rarely did with her before, as her behaviour would drive me crazy. I have learned to do this more and more, and I have come to realise that this is her safe place, a place where she opens up to me and tells me all sorts of things. Sometimes when she is really hyper or over-emotional, I run her a bath, put on some calming music and light some candles. It's like all her inner fears come out. Her feelings, worries and stories start magically dancing out of her little mouth. But, tonight her words weren't dancing out of her lips; they were wailing with tears and sadness.
"Why can't I be like everyone else'?
"Why do I have to have ADHD, why me"?
"Why can't I concentrate like everyone and do my work"?
"Why don't people want to play with me in the playground"?
My heart sank as I listened to her telling me how she struggles to concentrate in school, she misses what the teacher says and then watches in horror as all her friends start doing their work. She tells me how she feels so embarrassed having to walk up to her teacher with an empty workbook, while all her peers have completed their tasks. She explains how sometimes at recess and lunchtime she wanders around the playground and the oval, not knowing who to play with, and watches as her friends run away from her.
She cries as she explains that she can't stop doing cartwheels, has no control over her body and doesn't understand why she cartwheels everywhere. Sarah tells me how the teachers get upset with her, her friends call her naughty – yet she tries so hard.
"Mummy I try so hard; what's wrong with me, why am I like this?”she asks.
Even writing this now is so painful. I just want to make everything okay. I want her to be like everyone else, have friends, be invited to playdates, be loved for who she is; she is a beautiful person.
Sarah often feels awkward in social situations. When people get upset, she will be silly, blurt things out and make the situation look worse.
She will often pretend that she doesn't understand things as she gets embarrassed, and then friends think she is fibbing or doesn't care. She is hopeless with change; so holidays, birthdays and Christmas can be a nightmare. And, transition is hard for her, so leaving a place, going to bed, changing classrooms… it all sends her little world into a spin.
Lying there, in the stillness of the night, holding her and telling her how amazing was she was felt like it wasn't enough. Maybe I am not enough? Maybe I should try medication and maybe that will fix everything. Maybe it won't. I have read so many books on the subject, read so many blogs, tried so many things. I am very open with Sarah, I protect her from the outside world as much as I can, we don't talk about war or drugs or terrorists. Yes, we talk about lots of things; strangers, protecting her private parts, we talk about all of that. And we speak of ADHD.
Having a child with ADHD is hard. You know that. We are the mamma's who go through it every day, who never stop thinking about it, worrying about it and stressing about it. It is never-ending, and just when you think you've cracked it, the wind catches your sail and off you go in a different direction again, and find yourself lost and bewildered.
So let's unite and hold hands together, as only we know what it feels like to be travelling this journey. Whether you medicate or not, let's leave the judgement at the door. Let's be there for one another, support, encourage and share. We are just trying to do the best for our kids in the only way that we know.
ADHD Mamma's let's come together! Let's travel the journey together!