The busy life of a full time employee, student, mom and wife

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Unsung struggles of parenting an ADHD child

My son was only 9 months old when he started to walk. At birth, he had colic and wasn't satisfied just sitting; he had to be entertained, constantly. As first time parents my husband and I didn't think much of it, we just thought he was a needy baby. Now looking back, I realize that many of these traits are early indicators that your child may have ADHD. Please don't misunderstand, these things don't always indicate ADHD, but they can. It wasn't until a few months ago when we put our now four year old son in tee ball that we really realized the difference between him and other kids his age. While the other children were somewhat distracted (they are four year olds after all!) most of them at least grasped the concept of what was going on. They were distracted, but present. Our son, however, was just plain distracted. No matter how much coaching he received he never really seemed to grasp any of it. He just went through the motions as he was told to do. We saw a great difference between him and the kids around him. We saw him struggle with simple tasks and directions, though not for lack of trying or being obstinate. We quickly learned that his struggles, while they seemed so small, were monumental to him. We learned that life with him would be much different than we expected.
When I brought up this observation to his daycare provider she mentioned that she had wondered for a while if he might have ADHD. With his first year of school looming ahead my husband and I were faced with a decision: do we get him an official diagnosis before he starts school and give his teacher that information right away? Or do we give him a chance to figure it out and adjust to school on his own and see how he does? We ultimately decided to let him go into school as any other kid would, and see how he did. The first week or so went really well, but after that it was downhill. He was struggling with staying in his seat, finishing his school work, and communicating effectively with other kids, which resulted in him hitting out of frustration. At our first parent teacher conference the teacher let us know that he was "extra wiggly" and "had a very short attention span". She let us know that, while she wasn't a doctor, as his teacher she might recommend that we get him checked for ADHD. We trusted her opinion over that of many people around us. After all she works with children his age all day, year after year, and should have a good idea of what average is. After that, we had a consultation with a behavioral specialist who was able to officially diagnose him with ADHD, suggest some therapy for us, and give us a little more insight into our son's mind.
This is where life starts to get a lot more complicated. Now ADHD is more than just a wiggly kid, this is my child. My child, who is coming home from school crying because he's sad he got in trouble. My child, who wants so badly to be successful in school and please us, but sometimes he literally cannot help himself. His struggles in school were already so real. I recall one night he was particularly down, so I asked him what was wrong. After a little prodding he burst into tears and declared he didn't know how to be good while standing in line. Small things in school, like standing in line, that came as second nature to other kids were a very real struggle for him. We were faced with a new struggle of our own at this time: how do we punish him for things he fails to control due to his ADHD? His issue of standing in line often turn into him pushing the student in front of him, which would result in him getting sent home with a "red card". My husband and I were at a loss of how to handle this. We didn't want to punish him for something he couldn't help, but we also had to let him know that those actions weren't okay. So how do you punish a child for something they can't, or don't know how to, control? We have been walking this very thin, very complicated line. We have learned that it's important to let him know that his actions weren't okay, let him know that he handled his feelings poorly but don't always necessarily punish for his indiscretion.
After seeing his struggles in school we were faced with another hard decision; should we look in to medication or not? We had no idea where to even start with the option of medicating him or not. An internet search revealed there are a plethora of options on the matter. This created almost an over saturation of information, making a lot of good information hard to find. We initially were absolutely against medication. We would try any natural remedy in the book but we had all but closed the door on the option of medicating. But every natural remedy we tried fell flat. And once his struggles in school became more intense, we re-evaluated. Was it fair to him for us to deny him of something that might help him? Clearly he was struggling, and his struggles were very hard and very real to him, so why would we deny him the opportunity to clear some of that stress away? Before we had to parent a child with ADHD we thought that we would make a decision and that would be final, we never considered that something we were so sure of might not be the best decision. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that we didn't have a clear image of what was best for our child.
Upon our search for what was the best route for our son we discovered that many people don't take ADHD seriously. A staggering amount of people shame parents for having their kids diagnosed and/or medicated. They believe that the parent is just too lazy to deal with their children's behavior issues so they medicate them into submission. Some people take it as a joke, and think that ADHD is something to laugh about. Some people just plain don't believe ADHD is real. That is what cuts the deepest for me as a parent of an ADHD child. My child is struggling through real issues that are very hard for him, and my husband and I have struggled through decisions we have had to make regarding our sons care, and some people just write it off as fake or judge us as lazy parents. People are discrediting the hardships that our family has, and continue to, go through. They fail to see the very real struggles that are associated with ADHD. People need to understand that ADHD is indeed real, and is more than just a wiggly, spazzy child. It comes with real struggles, tears, and hurdles that other children and parents don't have to deal with. We could all benefit from being more understanding and compassionate to people who are going through a struggle that we might not understand.
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