For my second interview of the week, I’ve spoken with a mother of two ADHD sons and asked to hear her story. Chelle maintains a day job, but is also an ongoing psychology student so she offers us a very unique perspective!
Here’s what she had to say:
How many children do you have with ADHD?
Two. My oldest son, Kameron, is almost eleven. My younger son, Patrick, is almost seven.
Were both boys diagnosed at the same time, or were they diagnosed separately?
Kameron was diagnosed first. His journey was a lot harder. By the time Patrick came along, I knew what to look out for.
How old was Kameron when he was diagnosed?
First, let me say there’s a fine line between an energetic child who needs a few more boundaries and a child that is truly suffering. My oldest son, Kameron, was really suffering.
We didn’t understand what was going on with him until he was about school aged. He was officially diagnosed at the age of six. That’s a lot of years to be in the dark about how your child’s brain is operating.
And when was Patrick diagnosed?
He was diagnosed at six as well (the youngest they’ll medically diagnose), but we knew what was going on with him a lot sooner. We knew the signs from going through it with our oldest.
How do you manage their ADHD symptoms? Are either of them on medication?
Kameron is on medication because that’s what has worked best for him. We tried behavioral therapy, but it didn’t change anything. Medication helps a lot and we can tell a difference when he forgets to take it. His ADHD is more severe than a lot of children’s so we have to treat him accordingly.
His is so severe, in fact, that he actually displayed ticks before being put on medication. Whenever he ticked… boom… it was like pushing a reset button. He suddenly couldn’t keep track of anything.
Patrick is very different, though. Whereas Kameron is inattentive, Patrick is hyperactive. Most people don’t know that there’s a difference. Patrick’s symptoms aren’t as severe as Kameron’s, and at-home behavioral management has actually worked with him, so we’ve chosen not to put him on medication at this point.
Actually, Patrick can sit and read or be productive at school pretty well on his own. I’ve taught him to shake his leg or roll a pencil in his fingers to keep his little body busy while he’s in class. Then he gets to go to his favorite part of the school day (physical education), which allows him to run and release all that pent-up energy. It’s like is safe haven for him.
We’ve also removed all red dye from both the boys’ diets, which makes a huge difference. Whenever they consume red dye, we can pinpoint almost exactly when it wears off because it affects them that strongly. Diet is a great way to manage ADHD symptoms.
Tell me about your oldest son. What’s it like to live life with him?
Kameron loves having the day planned out. We do everything in routines. If those routines need to change, we don’t inform him until it’s necessary. ADHD children can experience a lot of anxiety over things like that.
In our case, Kameron worries that any change will be a chance for him to “get in trouble” again. He sees our comments and lessons (meant to teach him how to reign himself in) as criticism. It worries him because he’s so desperate to show us what he’s capable of that he often finds himself in a tizzy over it.
This leads to even more difficulty concentrating and focusing on what we’re doing. Fortunately, with medication and changes in his diet, these problems have significantly decreased.
What about Patrick? Tell me about him.
My middle son, Patrick, also has ADHD, but he isn’t inattentive like his older brother. Patrick is just busy (I prefer “busy” instead of hyper-active). He doesn’t require as much control or planning. We just have to allow him the opportunity to work out some of his energy so he can concentrate a little better later on. He can run for hours on end.
The only speed he knows is FAST, and the only time he knows is NOW.
Waiting is grueling for him. He never gets informed of plans. It’s just too much for him…too exciting…so much to think about!
I used to tell him we were going to the park to get our “fidgets out,” just so he could run and be free. Then if we had to go to a birthday party or something, I’d tell him, “I need you to hold onto those fidgets for later, okay?”
He wasn’t always successful, but he did HIS best, which is all I could ever ask.
So they both have ADHD, but their symptoms manifest in different ways. Can you give me a specific scenario where their different “brands” of ADHD would cause them to react differently?
Okay… let’s say both boys (at different times) have the same thought run through their minds about disobeying a rule. Let’s say that rule is to not break things in the house.
Patrick (who is hyperactive) might walk past a glass potted plant in the house, and think, “Hmm… I wonder what’ll happen if I kick that?” He’ll have a brief moment to consider whether or not it’s a good idea, but then his impulsiveness will take over and he’ll kick the plant.
(This is just a scenario. My children do not run around kicking plants.)
Kameron, however, (who is inattentive and hyperactive) would kick the plant and shatter it before his brain even thought to question the morality behind it.
When Kameron was younger, before he was on medication, he always felt horrible about mistakes he made. He was always the first to “clean up” whatever he’d done, but no matter how many times it happened, he still couldn’t control the impulse. There was no delay between thought and action for him.
Patrick had the delay, but it was very short. It was just long enough for us to work with him on slowing down and thinking harder before making decisions.
Kameron wouldn’t be able to do that no matter how long we worked at it. That’s what the meds do for him. He’s on a very low dose non-stimulate, which is just enough to help slow down and make better decisions. The rest of his improvements came from behavioral therapy and diet changes.
What advice would you give to a parent that has recently had a child diagnosed with ADHD?
Be patient. You know your child better than any one. Know your child and know what works for them.
Ignore the looks from parents that think that you need to “get control of your kid,” or the stares you get at Wal-Mart when you ignore a small infraction your child has made because you know they’ve fought hard to be “good” that day.
When your child fights every moment of every day to keep themselves in line, working against the natural flows of their minds and bodies, just to make you proud of them… YOU have to work hard to fight for them.
On the opposite side, be aware of the boundaries you set for each of your children, and pay attention to how lenient/disciplined you are in those decisions.
Consistency is CRITICAL.
Be kind and understanding with your child, but don’t let them use ADHD as an excuse. Teach them to know their own struggles and limitations, but provide them with enough faith in themselves to think they can become better. Help them believe that they can achieve the unthinkable.
Pay enough attention to know when your child is acting out and when they’re just tired from a long day of battling impulses. Use your best judgment when it comes to your kids because you know them better than any neigh-sayer or doctor out there.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up when you fail them. You will a thousand times, just as I have. You will fail and your kids will fail and all of that is okay.
There have been so many times when I reached my breaking point and just needed everything around me to be still for a few minutes. I’ve yelled and cried and made a lot of mistakes. There’ve been days I’ve had to accept that nothing would get done (that really needed to get done) because it wasn’t within my kids’ reach that day. Or mine.
I’ve disciplined my children out of exhaustion and frustration before, and later come to realize I was too harsh. I’ve listened to my kids tell me they weren’t trying to make me angry, they were just having a hard day.
We all fail. We just have to be open to correction and growth.