When your child is the target #ADHD

The social life of a kid with ADHD, Autism Spectrum or other special needs can be brutal. And in this day and age of Instagram and Snapchat, it is a time when your child’s social fails are constantly in her face. It used to be that if friends got together and didn’t want you there, you may have never known about it.  But now, your child can see it in real time. “Hey, look! Here we are playing in the snow without you! Weeee, look how much fun we are having.” The video posts are so clearly kids’ way of grandstanding their social status: I’m having lots of fun with my friends. I am well-loved. It reinforces one child’s self-esteem, often at the expense of another’s.

Humans have a herd instinct. To survive, you need to be part of the herd, the tribe. If you are shunned, on the outskirts, you might die. It kicks in at a young age, causing kids to scramble for a solid place in the social stratosphere. For boys, it often means excelling at sports or humor. For girls, it is an artful elevation of one’s self by demeaning a weaker girl. Relational aggression is rampant among girls and starts younger and younger. For a child with ADHD or other related attentional issues (auditory processing, autism), he/she often doesn’t have the innate social savvy to keep up and is quickly targeted as the weakest link. If we shun this kid, our own social standing will be assured, and we will survive to see another day. Relational aggression is often covert: eye-rolls, groans, closing the circle, hugging one girl and not the other, walking away, not enough room at the lunch table, talking about a party not everyone is invited to, whispering, telling inside jokes, last in schoolyard picks, never being asked to partner up in PE or science labs. If your kid speaks up about it, it is easy for the well-loved kids to deny it is even happening. Because your kid is the target, the only one who even notices it.

I have long since lamented the fact that schools don’t teach a class on social-emotional intelligence. It should be as important in the curriculum as math and reading. Because we need it to get along, and we don’t come into the world understanding how it works. All you need to do is look at the amount of bullying, teen suicide, divorce—and on a larger scale political infighting and war—to see that effective communication is not a skill we are born with. But when I point this out, I am so often met with lame responses like “Girls will be girls!” “Middle school sucks.” “Kids need to learn to tough it out on their own.” Adults seem to think that intervention in the mixed up and painful tangle of adolescent relationships is somehow wrong. As if we should let the blind not only lead the blind, but also do so with knives and swords at their back, self-esteem and long-term impact be damned!!

So, how can you help your kid when they are shunned, ditched and left feeling like a loser? I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you try to intervene by enlisting the support of other mothers, your efforts may unfortunately not be welcome and you could wind up being a target yourself. She’s too involved in their relationship, she needs to let them work it out. This is an easy statement to make if yours is the well-loved child. But if yours is the shunned child, it is painful (and wrong!) to simply step back and watch as your child is decimated. So what do we do? We reinforce our kids’ sense of self-worth, [UPDATE: I have a new, unusual intervention to do this, which has worked miracles. Too controversial to post here, but if you want to know what I did, PM me and I’ll tell you.] Get them counseling, we help them find new friends, take them off social media(!), maybe we move them to a new school—and we blog about it. So that others know they’re not alone. And so that the moms of the well-loved kids who don’t come home crying every day—the ones that may be causing your kid pain—have a little empathy for the moms of the struggling kids when/if they reach out for support.

Advertisements

#ADHD Guilt

 

When dear daughter number one is born—destined for a diagnosis of ADHD that was evident even in her first year of life—I don’t feel the motherly joy my friends do. My baby is HARD. My baby seems to have too much energy, mood swings, difficulty eating and sleeping. I secretly sometimes regret this decision. Am I just not cut out for this? I’m a terrible person.

The guilt begins.

In her toddler years, a new guilt arrives. I need time away from her. I HAVE to get away or I’ll go insane. Coffee with a friend, a walk by myself, an overnight with or without hubby. And (oh, the guilt), I don’t miss her when I leave. Not at all. I love every minute of it, and jones for the next free-time fix. I’m such a crappy mom.

Later, my failure is obvious to everyone—as evidenced by the so many calls, emails and meetings with the school suggesting I do something about my child’s behavior in class, as evidenced by the yet-again phone call from another child’s mom that my kid is tantrum-ing under the table because someone cut ahead of her in the piñata line, as evidenced by the fact that my second grader still can’t read and Sally Smith’s kid just finished Harry Potter, as evidenced by the fact that her friends are starting to ditch her because they think she’s difficult too. But mostly evidenced by the fact that I’m disappointed in my own kid. I didn’t get the kid I was supposed to get. How can I feel this way, and actually be a decent human being, never mind a decent parent?

The guilt rages on.

More proof that I’m a crap parent—for years she subsists on Shelton’s All Natural Hot Dogs and canned kidney beans doused in balsamic vinegar. As with numerous ADHD kids, even pre-medication, they don’t eat. Some ADHD kids are “super-tasters” –yes, they have per capita a bazillion times more taste buds that us mere mortals. Which puts them in the “super-finicky” category, and hard to feed. I don’t know this, I just think “my kid won’t eat”, so out-the-window go my dreams of an organic, well-balanced, farm-to-table diet and in come frozen, canned and soaked in soy sauce—just to get her some calories. I suck, seriously.

Major guilt.

Then comes the diagnosis. Crap. But I’m not really buying it, what does it even mean? Surely she can behave well if she tried. Surely her impulsivity, her stubborn attitude, her lies, her lack of motivation, her freaking over the top energy are a result of either terrible parenting or some personality flaw (inherited from hubby’s side of the family, no doubt). It can’t be caused by this ADHD thing that the media is telling me is hyped-up and over-diagnosed.

Then I learn more about ADHD. Then I learn a ton about ADHD. I get a masters in psychology and go to work with kids that have it, in a school and in private practice. And I realize that all these years, I haven’t been fair to my kid. That I’d expected her to control something completely outside her control. That what she needed from me most was unconditional love and positive regard no matter that she just chucked a toy tractor across the room and nearly gave her brother a concussion. That I could/should have been able to help her so much more, rather than fighting her on all her behavior.

And the guilt piles high.

Then, for many as it was for me, perhaps the biggest guilt of all: that for my kid to function as required in school, in society—for her to become a family member the rest of us didn’t want to avoid—she needs a dose of meds with the word “meth” in it. I willingly and with pleasure offer my child speed each morning with her Frosted Flakes. And I love the results. And because the New York Times says so, I’m a shitty person for it. I’m so full of guilt at this point, I’m ready to lock myself away in parent-prison. (Ha! Actually, even prison seems like an appealing escape, that’s how bad it is at times.)

I can’t wait for her to go to college (As if she’d ever get in!) or leave the house to go do whatever menial job she can get to take care of herself. Because even though I finally understand why she’s so hard, even though she’s now on meds, it doesn’t make the behavior go away completely. I still have to put up with her moods, her mess, her energy, her noises, her forgetfulness, her impulses, her inability to get anything done on her own. Oh, the day when I won’t have to do that anymore! It can’t come soon enough. I’m a bad, bad person.

More guilt.

And then, something happens. She gets older. Her elusive and under-functioning pre-frontal cortex comes online for the first time. Whoa. Who is this person? She’s…more regulated. More motivated. Less impulsive. Hey—wait. Did I just see her being kind to her little sister? This kid is really creative, kind of whacky, but really…cool.

Oh my gosh. I really, really like her.

And now, I don’t want her to leave at all.

I feel guilty for ever thinking it in the first place.

What a waste of time. I get it now. I did the best I could, and everything was justified. It was hard–harder than parenting a neurotypical kid. I did need time away, to put on my oxygen mask before everyone else’s, while the plane was going down. She ate crap, but at least she ate. The school should have known better than to shame me. The other moms were doing the best they could too, and knew as little about my kid’s ADHD as I did. The medication helped her recognize “normal”, so she could wean off it as she got older. As soon as I knew better, I showered her with love and understanding instead of the previous relentless message that she needed to be different and that I was disappointed.

Instead of guilt, I wish I’d known what would have served me so much better.

Compassion.

But, luckily, I don’t feel guilty that I hadn’t known that.

Taking down the #ADHD Scaffold

 

Those of us with ADHD kids know the term “to scaffold” well. And if you don’t, you probably should. Because our kids’ brains aren’t naturally wired to plan, organize, remember, pace stimulation and impulse, think of consequences before action—we need to do it for them. To model the behavior continuously for them, so that—hopefully—with enough exposure and practice, they will begin to do it on their own.

But sometimes a scaffold can turn into a helicopter. And this does no one any good. With a scaffold, the child is supported by first watching what you do, then doing it with your assistance, then doing it on their own. A scaffold can often sprout blades and a motor due to our fear of the child failing when they try it on their own (oh—and they WILL fail, mark my words.) You start by going through the homework folder when they are in elementary school (IF they remember to bring it home. If not, you email the teacher.) You sit them down and do the homework with them (because, let’s face it, that’s the only way it will get done). You pack the folder in their backpack (because 99% of the time, it will get left on their bedroom floor). You remind them as they walk out the door to turn the homework in (this reminder is like a garnish on their plate, barely noticed and mostly useless)  and you email the teacher telling her the homework is done and in his pack, in case he forgets to turn it in. What’s supposed to happen is that as they get older, you begin to dismantle the scaffold. They go through their homework folder/planner on their own. They start to do their homework on their own. They pack it in their pack themselves. They turn it in, no prompt, no email. Yes—eventually, they CAN do this. But, oh ye of little faith—instead of breaking down the scaffold, you’ve morphed it into a military copter on steroids. You do EVERYTHING for them—cuz, hey, otherwise, it just doesn’t get done. But it’s a paradox. They never learn to do it, because YOU DO EVERYTHING FOR THEM!! It’s called “learned helplessness” and it’s rampant with ADHD kids.

So, let them fail. It’s the best thing for them. When they fail, go over what went wrong and why. How they can do it differently next time. Remind them that some things are more difficult because of their ADHD, but it doesn’t mean they’re stupid, or bad, or a failure. They’ll get it next time. If it was a whopper of a failure, maybe the scaffold needs to go back up—but only for a bit.

The following are things to start with (and you’d be surprised how early you can start – 4~5th grade):  making their own breakfast & lunch, doing their own laundry, advocating for themselves with teachers (that’s a BIG one), regular chores, learning to cook, learning to shop,  picking out and wrapping presents, packing for trips, making playdates. And so much more!

Where can you start to take down your scaffold?

#ADHD: The dread of a new school year…

AAaaah, a new school year. Exciting in so many ways. First, the silence in the house is just…yummy. Second, it is a fresh start for your crazy ADHD kid. Maybe this will be the year his behavior issues calm down. Maybe this teacher will “get” him. Maybe he’ll sit next to someone new and make a new friend he doesn’t annoy. Maybe he’ll magically decide that doing homework is exactly how he wants to spend his afternoons, and we won’t fight about it.

Maybe…not.

Not that I want to be Debbie Downer, but the reality is things don’t just “go away”. We (all) have to put things in place to make sure our ADHD bags of energy are ready to fight the good fight. So here’s my advice to get you ready:

BEWARE THE TRANSITION.

September is the WORSE MONTH OF THE YEAR. Especially if you have ADHD. Something new is coming at you every day. A new schedule, new classroom, new teachers, new expectations, new classmates, new team mates, new practice days, new, new, new. Aaaaahhhh! How is an executive-functioning-deprived brain supposed to process, plan, organize all this new-ness!!??

It shuts down, that’s how. It tantrums. It rebels. It regresses.

So you can help your kid by GETTING ON TOP OF THE ORGANIZING. How can you best help your kid? They’re all different. Perhaps you need to whiteboard a calendar so he can visualize each day. Maybe you need to organize your older child’s binder, and walk him through his agenda at the end of every school day. Lay out his clothes the night before. Write down a list of what he needs to do in the morning to get ready. Set up a new reward system when he accomplishes the list.

BEWARE THE SHINY NEW OBJECT

Other ADHD kids LOVE the start of the new year. Because EVERYTHING IS NEW! And for some, this is awesome. They are able to pay attention to everything, because it is all exciting! And you are lulled into this false sense of “Wow! This is going to be a great year! Finally!!” Then BLAM!

The new-ness wears off after not too long and Oh, dear. Those old behaviors settle in. Teachers start calling home. There’s acting-out in class. Grades falling. Annoying behavior. Irritability. Maybe even depression. (yours?) Don’t let this catch you off-guard. It is really, really normal. Because shiny, new object has lost its shine and has become dull, boring object for your child. There’s no getting around this. Just know that it might be coming and be prepared to scaffold the executive functioning that suddenly vanishes into thin air. (see paragraph: BEWARE THE TRANSITION)

BE PATIENT AND SLOW DOWN

Recognize this time may be hard for your child. Don’t expect too much. Don’t set up a million play-dates for the first few weeks, even if he’s begging. Arrange quiet time with a protein-filled snack when he gets home from school. Don’t insist homework is done right away – he needs a break. That might be quiet play in his room. Or running it all off at the park. Early to bed. No screen time right before. Quiet, sit-down family dinner. Try to limit your own evening activities. Even skip the Back To School Night – you can meet the teachers separately. Avoid the crazy week-end back-to-school bbq’s. If he’s grumpy and irritable, reflect aloud how difficult this time must be, what a great job he’s doing, and ask how you can support him.

COMMUNICATE

Even if your child has an IEP or 504 Plan, try to get in to see the teacher right away. Be honest and open about your child, his needs, his challenges. Talk to the teacher about what has and has not worked in the past. Be aware that teachers talk, and this teacher might have some pre-conceived notions about your kid based on someone else’s experience of him. Enlist the teacher’s help in making this a pivotal year for your child. Ask for frequent communication. Beg for rewards instead of consequences.

FIND AN APPROPRIATE ACTIVITY

So far, evidence-based practices that seem to impact ADHD symptoms (aside from medication and behavior therapy) are yoga, martial arts and aerobic activity. If you can, arrange for your child to participate regularly in something like that. Hopefully it will help.

GOOD LUCK. BEST WISHES FOR A SMOOOOOOTH NEW SCHOOL YEAR.

ADHD: the great Self-Esteem Suck

When my oldest was born, I knew almost immediately she’d give me a run for my money. She refused to nurse. Or sleep. Other moms talked about how they fell instantly in love with their newborns. Mine felt like an alien, a complicated machine whose instruction manual was in Chinese. Eventually she learned to nurse–but not before losing way too much weight—and then wound up refusing both a bottle and solid food!

As a toddler, she ruled. I couldn’t go near her head with a brush, she ate only three things but only when she felt like it, and whirled around the house at speeds that would put a Tasmanian devil to shame. Sleep was unacceptable. Exhausted and exasperated, my husband and I duct-taped the cardboard from our new fridge around her crib, making a four-foot high wall so she couldn’t escape. She still did.

At age four, she terrorized her younger siblings, “accidentally” whacking them when I wasn’t looking. Her creativity began to emerge—she had a talent for drawing. So when she took crayons to her newly painted bedroom wall, I could only sit back in awe at the life-like swirl of the mermaid’s hair in water. Markers, crayons, colored pencils were everywhere, uncapped and dry or ground into the carpet.

In school, she couldn’t learn to read and quickly fell behind her peers. She’d be found in the front of the class, staring at nothing. Or under the desk, tantruming, if she couldn’t have her favorite pink scissors. We consulted a “pro” who advised us to squeeze her between sofa cushions to regulate her sensory experience if she seemed too wired! We visited chiropractors, cranial-sacral workers, acupuncturists, allergists, occupational therapists, homeopaths—because she was just…difficult. Her bedroom was a natural disaster inside a hurricane inside an atom bomb.

We eventually got an unhelpful IEP. We took her out of public school because her friends no longer liked her—and she seemed not to like herself much. Two years in a Waldorf school gave her a breather, but put her farther behind in reading and math. We pulled her from school altogether and tried a full-time Lindamood-Bell reading program…and Cogmed…and visual convergence therapy. Then put her back in public school with another IEP. On ADHD medication.

Slowly. She. Found. Her. Way.

She’s 17 now. She drives, has a boyfriend. Is kind (mostly) to her siblings. She rides and trains horses, waking at 7am on Sundays to go to the barn when other kids are sleeping in. She takes an afterschool art class for credit. She loves science and wants to be a vet. She spends Thursdays and Fridays after school directing plays in advanced drama. She stayed up until 2 am studying for her history final because she really wanted a B in that class. She did it. She went to Thailand to work with elephants. She spent six weeks in France last summer, taking the bus to the train for her two hour round-trip commute to class. She babysits and the families love her.

She will never be an above average student. She may have to start at a community college and transfer, but she wants to go to college. She still hates to read, and never does for pleasure. But she’s figured out cliff notes, and I applaud her ability to problem solve. She still doesn’t eat. But it’s a conversation instead of a conflict now, as she slowly takes control of her life. She’s a little shy, but she’s found friends who think she’s funny when she’s off her meds.

If I could go back and do it all over…Oh, how I wish I could have known it would all be okay. That the one thing that would suffer most in all of this—not her appetite, her sleep, her relations with her siblings, her inability to focus or read—the biggest, hardest hit, would be her self-esteem.  I would go back and praise her, over and over and over. I would stop focusing on all the things she couldn’t do and revel in the ways she excelled. Sure, she could never read well. But in second grade she memorized all the California dry-grasses, earning a fourth grade Audubon Junior Botanist Certificate! Man, that’s awesome. I would have stopped focusing on the ways she was difficult and unlike my friends’ perfect kids. And find ways to tell her every day how special she is. Because she’s still difficult. And still unlike my friends’ kids.

But she’s so, so special.

So, if you can, relax. Breathe. And go tell your crazy kid how special she is.

Blame it on the ADD

I frequently get asked by clients and friends whose kids are diagnosed with ADHD for clues to distinguish when the behavior is caused by ADHD and when it is caused by general naughtiness. Child hasn’t cleaned up his toys or her room even after you’ve asked umpteen times. ADHD or a kid who plain ole’ doesn’t feel like cleaning up? Child just whacked brother across head with a tonka truck because he was mad. ADHD or an angry kid who should’ve known better?

I think what the question is really asking is: Should I be forgiving of this behavior because it is outside my child’s control or am I allowed to get angry at him?

It is pretty hard not to get angry at behavior like that, no matter what the cause. And if we examine the anger for a minute, where does it come from? I think it comes from feeling disrespected. You asked a million times for something to get cleaned and it didn’t. You feel disrespected. You’ve said “no hitting your brother” another million times and he did anyway. You feel disrespected.

People get really angry when they feel disrespected. We recently visited my husband’s family and discovered a number of his siblings are squabbling over the family cabin. The squabbles center on beds not being made correctly, firewood not being left, advice not being taken on how best to reconfigure the outhouse (yes, there is an outhouse at the family cabin. Joy.) But the squabbles aren’t about any of those things. They are really about each person feeling disrespected by another.

Which leads me to intentionality. I wonder if the siblings understood that the beds got made wrong unintentionally, and the firewood was an oversight by someone who simply forgot, and the potty advice didn’t get taken because the group felt pressured into taking different advice, if they’d wind up being so mad. Because we all do stupid stuff unintentionally. We all forget. We all can make a bed wrong (especially if we let our 9-year-olds make the bed). We’ve all felt peer pressure. Probably none of those things were done while someone thought “I’m going to mess this up on purpose.” Does it still feel like disrespect then? In fact, the real disrespect comes via the accusation that the other did, in fact, do it wrong on purpose.

So back to your naughty kid. I’m going to say, Yes. She is probably not cleaning her room intentionally. But—her ADHD makes it extremely difficult to wrap her mind around organizing that room, so she’s probably too overwhelmed to figure out where to start. If you want the room clean, you are going to have to scaffold room cleaning (do it with her) for a long time. And, No. He probably didn’t whack his brother intentionally. How can you tell the difference? Timing. The whack was quick, likely impulsive.

But—neither are meant in disrespect. Both are cries for help in different ways. The ignoring what you asked a million times is your kid’s way of saying “I just don’t know how to do it.” And the whacking is your kid’s way of working out his own feelings of being disrespected by his brother. He needs a better coping skill. Maybe my husband’s family does too…

#ADHD Bad Habits or Bad Environment?

My soon-to-be 14 year old son looks like a man. Tall, broad, deep voice, man-hair all over. But he has ADHD, so developmentally he often acts more like he’s 11. It can get very confusing for him, as the rest of the world expects him to act like he’s 17. Sometimes even his family does too (oops).

He’s very bright and interested in cool things like meteorology and knows baseball stats going back to the beginning of time. But he’s got straight C’s in seventh grade. He couldn’t care less about what he’s studying, so most of the time, he finds it difficult to concentrate in class. When it comes time to do homework, he’d much rather track that tornado online.

I waffle between pushing him harder to fall in line with school expectations vs. accepting the fact that when he’s bored, his brain won’t cooperate. After all, he’s only in seventh grade so who cares if he’s getting C’s? He doesn’t.

But is that a problem? If my message is, “Hey son, I accept who you are and what you’re capable of in this snapshot of time, so take it easy and do what you can” am I signaling him that he never has to try when he’s bored? That’s my fear.

Here’s my other fear. If I push him and my message is “Hey son, I know you’re bored but if we let you slack now you’ll develop bad habits the rest of your life and never know how to push through difficult jobs” then he’ll stress and beat himself up and feel like a failure because he will likely not be able to live up to whatever executive functioning expectations the world (school, parents) puts on him right now.

Aaaaaah!!! So what is the right thing to do? Parents of ADHD kids often face this dilemma if their child isn’t doing well in school. We know they are bright. We also know that traditional school often isn’t the best way to teach them. They learn by doing, exploring, experiencing. They need to be fully engaged and care about what they’re learning. Worksheets, lectures and projects on Egypt or Missouri just don’t cut it. Sometimes I feel like if he could just zoom straight to college, he’d be fine. But of course, with straight C’s, what college would have him!?

So for now, the answer is somewhere in the middle, which sometimes feels like a cop-out. We try not to pressure and at the same time we scaffold the EF he doesn’t have by checking his agenda, structuring homework time, having him work in small chunks and do the best he can. We can’t control if his mind wanders off at school, but we can control how we help at home and how we react to his grades. And we can cross fingers that it is more an issue of engagement in the subject than of bad habits. Your thoughts?