When most people think of ADHD, they think of someone with too much energy and too little concentration. (“Hi, I’m Dory.”)
Many people don’t realize there’s another equally devastating symptom of ADHD. It’s called “impulsivity,” and it’s one of the most troublesome issues they deal with.
Impulsivity is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, “Doing things, or tending to do things, suddenly and without careful thought.”
Kids with ADHD aren’t capable of stopping to think before they act. Some of them can pause for a moment… but it usually isn’t long enough to keep them from acting on an irrational idea.
One of the main reasons they struggle with impulsivity is because their brains function different. For example, the frontal lobes of their brains are often slightly smaller than those of their peers due to slowed growth patterns. This causes impairment with any action that is controlled by that part of the brain, such as the ability to concentrate, the ability to sit still, and the ability to think before acting.
As a result, children with ADHD often end up in bad situations without really understanding how they got there. They know the rules, and they want to obey, but for some reason, they’re still more likely than their peers to make poor decisions. Impulsiveness is real, and it causes ADHD brains to ignore what they know about right and wrong.
While babysitting my nephew this past week (he’s almost five and has ADHD), I got a giant dose of just how real his impulsiveness is. I’ve known he was impulsive since he was old enough to walk, but I don’t think I really understood it until this week.
While putting a Band-Aid on his third boo-boo of the night, I suddenly realized… this happens to him all the time. This is what his life is like. It’s constant action, constant impulse, and constant injury.
Once I started thinking about it, I began to remember all the stories I’d heard from my sister (his mom) about all the times he’d gotten hurt over the years.
I remembered her telling me about the weekend he stayed at his grandma’s house and came home with a layer of his nose peeled away. She’d opened the door to take him outside to play, and he’d dove head-first off the porch before she could ever think to keep him safe.
Then I remembered my sister telling me about the time my nephew was with a babysitter and jumped off her porch. That day, he earned himself a giant goose-egg on the head.
Then I remembered something about a fireplace and something about an ash poker and something about a facial injury. The memories of bumps and bruises and cuts he’d earned over the years started to run together.
And then it dawned on me just how many of those incidences happened when he was with caretakers besides his parents. He was with people who loved him more than words can say, but people who aren’t with him every single day. Friends and family members who don’t understand his ADHD as well as his mom and dad do. He was with people who allowed him to have the freedom of a normal kid his age.
As pure as our intentions are… and as much as we love him… we, as temporary caretakers, will never truly understand what it’s like to live with a child who has ADHD. We’ll always have a hard time figuring out when to let him run free and when to hold him back. We’ll never really “get” his idiosyncrasies quite as well as we want to.
My goal for the coming year is to study Felix’s disorder more. To study him more. To spend more time with him so I can learn they way he’ll react (or not react) in certain situations. I want to make less assumptions about his lifestyle and make more memories with him. I want to stop holding him to the standards of “normal” kids, even in the tiny details. I want to acknowledge that just because an average five year old can spend twenty seconds alone without getting hurt, that doesn’t mean my nephew can, too.
Felix is an individual with extreme impulsivity, and I want to start treating him that way. I don’t want stick negative labels on him, but I do want to be realistic about his capabilities so that I can keep him safe.
As the new year rolls in, I want to resolve to be more invested in my nephew’s life. I can’t love him any more than I already to, but I can love him better.
In 2016, I want to learn to love my ADHD family member better.