ADHD

I am the voice of Christmas future…

I’m coming at this ADHD thing from a variety of angles. I am a grown-up with a diagnosis of ADHD and an anxiety disorder. I am a step-parent to at least one child with ADHD and again, an anxiety disorder (though I would bet money if I had it that we have a second diagnosis coming our way among the children). I am also the wife of a person who also has…drumroll please…ADHD and an anxiety disorder.

As such, I read blogs and online resources for adults with ADHD, for spouses of people with ADHD and for parents of children with ADHD.

When I comment on the first two I am speaking to my peers…but when I comment on blogs for parents, I am among peers, but I also represent something else: the future.

Every child with ADHD is an individual, and every one of those individuals has different challenges, different gifts, and different interactions with the world around them, so I don’t mean to say that I am what and who every parent’s child will turn out to be, but there is something I genuinely wish to offer and that is hope.

Because I am a step-parent, I understand what it feels like to worry that your child will continue to struggle…will continue to have challenges…and to worry that you won’t always be there to help them through these times. But because I also have ADHD I know that there is life beyond these worries.

The best thing you can do is yes, try to help your children, try to teach them how to cope…and as importantly, to give them a little space to have the chance to fail because that’s when they have a chance to show you, and to show themselves, what they’ve learned.

Recently, my stepdaughter seems to have some symptom resurgence, the likes of which we hadn’t seen for many, many months and we (and the family therapist and family doctor) finally realized “what a minute…she’s a child and she’s growing, she may need a higher dose of medication”. And that’s most likely the plan that her father and bio-mom are going to go with. Step-daughter complained recently that she didn’t feel like herself and blamed the medication…but I think the real problem is that she is feeling like she used to before she took medication and can’t think of anything else to blame…because she’s just 9. That’s certainly what her behavior would lead one to suspect anyway…

But this all got me thinking…about how it’s easy to revolve conversations around dosages and negative behaviors, as though it’s a fight between good and evil (and oh, I understand how some days really do feel like a fight between good and evil!). I reflected on how we have also asked her to work to modify her behavior though and suddenly I saw the whole issue in a more lush and articulate way. Yes, she likely needs more medication because she’s a growing girl…but she also deserves audible praise and validation for the positive changes she’s made in her behavior. She deserves to be recognized for not only complying with our request that she stick with the meds, but also for making real, conscious effort at being a more thoughtful member of the family. I wrote a note in red marker on our family white board in the kitchen: “Affirmation chat with C!”. I want to make sure to tell her how proud we are of the changes she’s worked for, and to encourage her to keep working…and heaven knows if we don’t write it down, we may forget, lol.

This is a little girl who was becoming infamous for invading other people’s personal space in an overwhelming way, berating and blaming her brothers incessantly, arguing with parents in the classic total absorption of ADHD…and we have reminded her over and over that she needs to make different choices (and have helped her identify some of these choices), to respect other people by treating them more carefully, and that sometimes she needs to accept that she’s not always right – or that if she believes that she is, she needs to make a different choice about how to address it. In so many ways it’s becoming clear that she DOES hear us when we say these things, and she DOES work to try these new, foreign things – because she DOES care.

Among the moments of insistence and argument and obsession with the imperfections of others, and other calamities of childhood ADHD, there are moments when I see her walk into a room…perhaps not find everything to her liking…and she may choose a book and go find a quiet place to read, instead of picking a fight. She may go outside and play with the dog rather than angrily manipulate her brothers. I had a talk with her recently where I introduced the concept that arguing in the moment is not always effective and often a better choice (ahem, especially when both your father and step-mother ALSO have ADHD) is to walk away for a little while, think about what you want to say, and then pick a quiet moment later to bring it up. She pondered this with far more seriousness than I would have expected of someone just 9 years old…but I remember my own mother sharing strategies like this with me when I was her age, so I suppose I should not be so surprised.

I do have a point here and in my ADHD-way I’m getting to it: your child has a future and that future will likely be as marked by successes as by challenges. Don’t ever forget that and don’t ever let your child forget that. Remember to celebrate their successes…remember to celebrate your own successes.

Children with ADHD grow up to have very interesting lives. Lives that, when attended to with conscious care, can be rich, meaningful, and successful in so many ways. Lives that are unique and surprising…yes, lives filled with lost keys, ridiculous arguments, hungry cats reminding people to feed them, and other sometimes more serious challenges but UNIQUE, and wild and fulfilling. Lives that deserve all of the preparation you can give them, but lives which may require you to let go of your expectations, and allow your children to be essentially themselves, whatever that may mean.

Help them when you can, and celebrate the paths they find…

And in the meantime, if it’s helpful, remember that I’m here, like so many other adults with ADHD, living a surprising, passionate, perplexing, but meaningful life full of learning and love and yes, lost keys (every morning I tell you, every damned morning)…and I’m here. And someday you child will be too.

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