Parenting a child with ADHD is hard. Unless you’ve dealt with the constant worry, judgement of others, and fear that you aren’t doing the right thing for your child, it’s hard to understand our world.
Today, I want to give you a glimpse. Here are 10 things I wish you knew about my kid with ADHD.
He was born this way.
From the time he was a baby, he has been an active child. You could see the wheels turning in his head a mile a minute. He never wanted to sit still, and from the time he could walk, he has moved constantly. Looking back at those years through the lens of his ADHD diagnosis, I can now see that the toddler struggling to get out of my arms during church services was not the misbehaved child I imagined. I now understand just why he never wanted to sit and color, or practice reading.
He is super smart.
My son memorized my phone number ON HIS OWN when he was three years old. I had no idea he had done this until a cashier asked me for my phone number at the pharmacy and Andrew spouted it off. Correctly. That was just the beginning. He is ahead of his grade level in reading. He is amazing a math. He loves to learn, especially when the topic interests him. Kids with ADHD have the ability to have just as high of an IQ as anyone else. Often, their ADHD symptoms mask their true intelligence.
He gets hyper-focused on things that interest him.
ADHD is often associated with an inability to focus, but often it is the opposite that is happening. If something has interested my son, it is very, very hard for him to focus on anything else. He has always had super strong interests and would go through stages of absolute devotion to certain TV shows or movies. Right now, he loves Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Minecraft, and could spend hours upon hours learning everything there is to know about these fandoms.
He doesn’t want to misbehave.
In fact, he is very sensitive about being a “bad kid.” He knows there are good and bad choices, and can tell you which is the right choice. Impulsivity is a huge part of ADHD, and he often gives in to the short term reward, even if he knows it is wrong. He will often get mad at himself afterwards, and I have to remind him that he is a good kid who sometimes makes a bad choice. But I will always love him no matter what.
He knows what to do, but his brain can’t access that information.
ADHD is characterized by disruptions in the synapsis between the part of the brain that stores information and the part of the brain that uses the information. That means that every step required to complete an action increases the likelihood that the connections will be disrupted, and the child won’t know what to do.
For example, for a neurotypical brain, the act of putting away your homework folder from your desk to your backpack is simple. For an ADHD brain, it goes like this:
1) Open folder.
2) Place homework sheet in pocket.
3) Close folder.
4) Grab backpack.
5) Lift backpack onto desk.
6) Unzip backpack.
7) Move lunchbox inside backpack to fit folder.
8) Place folder inside.
9) Zip backpack.
10) Place backpack on floor.
That is 10 chances for a missed connection, in even the simplest scenario. Can you imagine what it’s like trying to follow multistep directions?
He often gets overwhelmed.
That two-page worksheet that looks so simple to your son or daughter will paralyze mine with indecision. He doesn’t know how to start. Sometimes writing his name on the paper seems an insurmountable obstacle. The thought of reading an entire book is disabling. We’ve learned to break things into chunks to help with this. My son often does this without even realizing what he’s doing.
“How long will it take us to drive there?” he’ll ask. “About two hours,” I reply. “Ok, so that is just four 30 minutes,” he will say, calculating the time into what he feels is an amount he can withstand.
He sometimes just needs a break.
The end of the school day is very difficult for my son. He will come out of the building and he needs about 30 minutes of alone time to just play, imagine, and be himself with no stress and no pressure. We stay after school most days to give him time outside to play on the playground with friends. Some days, he laughs and plays football, and hangs out with the other kids. Some days, he goes into a corner behind the building and spins a fidget to calm his mind, getting upset if anyone talks to him.
It’s hard for the other kids his age to understand when he just needs to be alone. We’ve had lots of hurt feelings and misunderstandings because at the end of the day, my son is just seven years old. He isn’t emotionally mature enough to advocate for himself in a way that doesn’t involve screaming, “Just leave me alone!”
He struggles with self-doubt and negative thoughts.
Negative thoughts are never far. “I can’t do this!” is often heard around our house. He tells me that he isn’t good enough and there are lots and lots of tears shed daily. I am constantly striving to teach him to change his mindset, to think positively, to change the “can’t” to “not yet.” I’ve learned that if I make anything a “challenge” or “race” he is more likely to cooperate.
He doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions.
Consequences don’t mean much to his ADHD brain. Kids with ADHD often have difficulty delaying or inhibiting their responses. Instead, they tend to live in the moment, reacting immediately to that moment without thought. In order for a child to make a connection between a specific behavior and consequence, he needs to be able to stop himself, think through, weigh the consequences of the behavior, and then allow these thoughts to guide his decision making about the behavior.
He is the same person on medication that he is off.
The ADHD medication that he takes helps him to hone his mind so that he is better able to focus and express his thoughts. It’s like getting a purer version of his true self, without all of the excess noise. When we made the decision to pursue medication as a treatment, I worried that he would become a zombie or a shadow of himself. That hasn’t been the case, and I am so grateful for the chance to be his mom.