About Me

My photo
My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Realities of ADHD

This is the blog I've been dying to write, but hesitant to do. By writing about troubles in the parenting department, I open myself up to all sorts of criticism. And, well, thanks, but no thanks. I have plenty of people advising me. Don't really want more.

This blog is about the reality of having a kid who doesn't behave the way he "should," or the way I want him to. About having a kid that stands out for his rudeness, his defiant behavior, his chronic underperformance in school, and his inability to blend easily in a group, his inability to go with the flow, or cooperate in general. He's the kind of kid I would have simply labeled a "brat" before I became a parent and learned that behavior is NOT all due to parents. He's the kind of kid I couldn't stand when I was one myself, because *I* had no problem following rules, working hard, staying focused, making friends and I was so sure that *those* kinds of kids should just behave better! (Dammit!) He's the kind of kid that drove me to distraction as a Sunday School teacher (and his kind of kid is really THE reason I decided I did not want a career as an elementary school teacher). Bless their hearts, teachers have to put up with the difficult kids, too. And because they're generally discouraged from throwing the darlings against the classroom wall, they tend to do so with gritted teeth and a smile. (We parents get away with the gritted teeth, no smile, and occasionally regretted words and actions.) Classrooms are rarely uniformly comprised of the easy kids. (If they were, I would have finished that M.Ed. I started so many years ago.)

I suppose it's karma that I got a difficult kid. I was, except for my chronic anxiety, an "easy" kid. My parents simply told me to go to bed, and up the stairs I went. I did my homework without being asked and my piano and flute practice too. (My parents, by the way, remember me this way, too.) I always brushed my teeth because I was scared of getting a cavity. I always checked things twice (or three times) because I wanted things to be RIGHT, and I didn't want to be in trouble. I was, in many ways, the opposite of my son. I was hyper-vigilant, obsessive to a degree, a hard worker, and honest. He really doesn't pay much attention to rules and finds it hard to accept blame for his mistakes (he does, eventually). And I would NEVER call him a hard worker. He likes the easy road. Unless it's baseball. He will work hard on that.

His official diagnosis is ADHD, combined type. In case any of you out there think that all ADHD involves is an active, restless kid, please re-evaluate your misinformation. There are three main types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive and combined type (both inattention and hyperactive). The latter type, which we deal with 24 hours a day, is quite an involved disorder, as I have so unhappily discovered (officially during the past two and a half years, since his diagnosis, though, in reality, during his entire lifetime). He was a demanding and colicky baby who was only happy when being held. By 18 months he was in CONSTANT -- and I do not use that term lightly, for my other two kids are active, too -- motion. He never walked; he ran. He climbed; he threw; he poked; he took apart. At that stage, we just joked that he was "all boy." (There is quite a bit of overlap between typical boy behavior and ADHD behaviors, and I do believe that more kids -- particularly boys -- are diagnosed than actually have ADHD. However, ADHD is more than activity.)

He never sat still or did imaginative play; never did a puzzle; hardly even watched TV. He was truly incapable of entertaining himself and constantly required our attention. (When he did "learn" to watch TV, at about age four, we were overjoyed. Any parent with a hyperactive child will identify with our experience.)

By the time he was four, it was blatantly obvious that he was wired differently than other kids. His preschool teacher (a very lovely, very experienced, patient woman) said he was "a nudge," and that he "had problems being part of the group." She also ackowledged that he was also quite brilliant, for he knew how to read long before he "should" have.

As a preschooler, in addition to his activity level and inability to follow directions, he showed signs of Aspergers (a high functioning form of autism, which, by the way, he no longer seems to have). He knew numbers through 1000 by the time he was three; he was reading rhyming words at that age and "writing" sentences with magnets by four. (His first magnet sentence was "If I were a big crab, I'd be at the beach.") Once, at a Gymboree class shortly after his second birthday, one of his classmates looked down at the gym mat and, seeing the Gymboree logo, said to her proud Dad, "Look Daddy! ABCs!" My son ran over and said, "No. No. No. G-y-m-b-o-r-e-e!" And then he ran off, leaving the Dad to ask me, "How old is he?" and "Did you teach him that?" No, I didn't. I still don't know how he learned his alphabet so early (lower and upper case letters).

We have many such stories of our son's intellectual ability, though his test scores remain only average. That, too, is typical of ADHD kids: once they know something they KNOW it (crystalized memory), but novel information is very hard for them to deal with (their working memory SUCKS). So, you can tell my son the rules and he can tell you he's heard you and that he understands, but five minutes later he messes up, often to the utter consternation of the kids who have no problems playing by the rules.

Before I understood his disorder, I would get so angry at him when he would repeatedly say to me, "I'm just so forgetful." Turns out, he is! But try explaining that to a parent of a child who has no problem taking turns, following rules, and understanding that "fair" means "equal chance," not "it benefits me." The kids actually handle this kind of thing better than the parents.

He has other disorders, too. His auditory processing is literally in the 5th percentile. That means 95% of kids his age (nine) process what they hear with more accuracy than he does. He also has a similar vision problem (convergence insufficiency) which we are working on through expensive-not-covered-by-insurance therapy (which, of course, he despises). And he's on meds for the ADHD itself, which has helped him behave better in school, so at least *that* part of the problem is (currently) under control.

He also can't ride a bike or pump a swing (balance issues, which turn out to be connected to the vision stuff). He is very bossy and very prone to temper tantrums, which some therapists simply see as his need to control an environment that seems so hard for him to understand (if your body doesn't give you correct sensory input, it's not hard to understand why the world is difficult).

The latest in the list of possible diagnoses: he might have a non-verbal learning disorder. I'm only learning about this now, but from the little bit I've read about it, it seems to fit. (Or at least, it fits as well as the other labels he's been given; diagnosis isn't actually the strong suit of mental health.)

He CAN be a lovely kid, and he has made great strides in recent years. This past school year was our best ever, and he had a mutual love for his teacher. (That ALWAYS helps!) But there is never an easy day with him. Honestly, it's hard to be him. We try to do the obvious (praise the good, ignore the bad, punish only the worst offenses). If we tried to punish all that he did wrong, we'd only be punishing. And we've found out that doesn't work. To an outside observer, however, it looks as though we just let a whole lot slide. That's true. We do. But there's a reason for it. To borrow a phrase from the theater, there IS a method to our madness.

The hardest part of having a kid with this kind of disability is that it isn't obvious, and we look *really bad* to those parents who are lucky enough to have kids who can consistently act approrpriately. He isn't blind (though his eyes don't work right); he isn't deaf (though his ears don't work right). He isn't crippled or mentally retarded. He's quite handsome. And he performs "high enough" to not warrant an IEP. Simply put, he often acts like a brat.

But it turns out, this kind of brattiness is not simply due to inept parenting (not that I'm claiming any kind of perfect ability, here). Parenting him has been such a humbling experience that I no longer assume, when I see a child misbehaving, that it really has anything to do with the parent at all. I *DO* get upset if I see a parent mistreat a child. But I no longer assume that behavior is always so neatly tied to parental actions. I used to always assume it always was.

Are you raising the perfect kid? Or, at least the kid who, most days, does most things you ask of her without too much of a fuss? If you are, congratulate the kid. Not yourself. Parents are part of the equation, but I think the kids that turn out well need to take a lot more of the credit. Being able to behave makes parenting a lot easier. I wish my kid was better able to behave.

I'd look like a better parent. And he'd be a happier kid.


  1. There are no easy answers for parents and teachers. As I get older, I realize that more and more.

  2. There was an article a while ago about a school that was trying desks where the students could rock, sit or stand. I saw it on the NYT site and I think the school was in Missouri. I wonder if that would be helpful or even available to try. Not that that solves everything, perhaps even nothing.

    The other day at work someone belittled all the changes in the school system that hopefully help students with ADHD..I cringed and thought of you. As he said "just smack them on the head" I wanted to give him a taste of his own advice!


Politeness is always appreciated.