ADHD, Our Family and What I’m Learning

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Do you have a child with attention issues?

I’ve wondered for years if my oldest daughter had attention issues. She almost always had a difficult time focusing but sometimes could focus intently for hours. I thought I would wait and see how she did in school before investigating any farther. But, recently she’s been having more trouble — taking a lot longer to get things done than her classmates but more than that, I was seeing a level of defiance and rudeness that concerned me.

When we spoke about this behavior, she told me she felt like she was outside herself watching but couldn’t stop it.

Was this just an excuse? I wanted to have compassion yet high behavior expectations so I set about to learn more information before I decided how to react to her behavior.

I knew it was time to get up to speed on ADHD.

(*As a teacher, I knew for sure that ADHD was a very real diagnosis — not to label a child, but to help children better understand how their brain works and find helpful strategies for learning.)

I spoke with an ADHD expert who said yes, the defiance could very well be a symptom of ADHD. (!!) I had no idea.

Shocked, I wanted to learn more.

The Family ADHD Solution

So, I read The Family ADHD Solution by Mark Bertin, MD — and it was life-changing.

But before I tell you about it, I want to tell you that discovering that my husband had ADHD literally saved our marriage. Because once I realized that his intention wasn’t to be disrespectful, that his brain was easily distracted, and he really loved me, we had something from which we could build. (Talk about life-changing!) I found out that ADHD often runs in the family, or at least children whose parents are ADHD are more pre-disposed to having it. I also discovered that a lot of adults with ADHD are entrepreneurs and very creative. Cool, huh?

Back to the book.

I gained a broader understanding of ADHD.

Frontal Lobes

ADHD is not just a focusing issue.  “ADHD is a disorder of self-regulation and a set of skills called “executive function.”  With ADHD, the frontal lobes are under-active and easily overwhelmed by tasks that seem easy to others. Add that to not great executive function and you get behaviors like melt-downs, impulsive behaviors, and poor motivation. (Would that explain my daughter’s feeling that she wasn’t able to control what came out of her mouth?)

Oh, and remember how I noticed my daughter could focus for longer periods of time? Well, it turns out that like I’d seen in my husband, people with ADHD can hyperfocus, or over focus. Hmmmm. Interesting stuff.

Bertin writes, “ADHD is as frustrating for the children who have it as it is for adults trying to raise them.” (Feeling compassion, not annoyance now.)

But it is hard for parents.”To teach a child with ADHD skills and change behaviors, parents must maintain their resolve over far longer stretches of time than they would with other children.” (That’s for sure!)

Besides attention management struggles, we also can see that people with ADHD have challenges with: task management, effort and motivation, emotional regulation, working memory, and self-monitoring.

More Lessons on ADHD

The book shares how mindfulness meditation can benefit children with ADHD as well as their adult caretakers — emphasizing how as parents, we must take care of ourselves so that we can be consistent with the boundaries and structures.

I liked how Bertin focused on helping children with one thing at a time and also making sure we go back to the skills the child needs — without skipping ahead on the developmental continuum and not seeing results. Crawl before Walk before Run.

One thing I knew I could do better to help my daughter, whether she has ADHD or not, was to create a list of tasks to do before school and after school. That way she doesn’t have to try to keep it all in her memory – which is really hard for her and usually means that I end up nagging. Boo to that! Here are my lists if you want to use them, too.

Morning List – .docx
Evening List – .docx

I stuck the lists in a clear plastic pocket, gave her a dry-erase marker, and now she only has to remember to check her task list.

Next Steps

I’m changing pediatricians but when that’s finished, I’ll take her to be evaluated. They’ll give me and the teachers a checklist like this one or this one.

As far as medication goes, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I realize that sometimes medication can be a gift to help us be our best selves.

The ADHD Family Solution book says that a combination of medication and behavior therapy gets the best outcomes according to studies. It mentions how medication can help children develop executive function skills.

Your Story

I would like to hear from you. What is your experience with ADHD? Do you recommend any other books or resources?

UPDATE: (1/2018)

After getting my daughter tested, we learned that she is super smart. (Which is cool! I need to give her more credit. #parentinggoals) Our biggest ah-ha that I wanted to tell you was that while ADHD is an issue for her, her bigger struggle is with VERY slow processing. (Like the 1%.)

It makes a lot of sense now that we know this. I can see why her attention would drifts– because it takes her so long to access information or think something through. Can you imagine trying to solve a problem, read a sentence, or answer a question but you can’t quite get make your brain process fast enough?

And now that she gets extra time to do work and tests, her grades are much better!

39 Responses

  1. Christine says:

    I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to read through all these posts and find people that can relate to having a child with ADHD! I recently ran into someone that I hadn’t seen in awhile and didn’t realize when we did the “how are your kids doing” that his son also had ADHD. It was the first time that I had talked to another parent (besides my husband :)) that had a child with ADHD – it was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had!

    My son is almost 9 and has ADHD. My husband and I suspected for some time that he did but had him officially tested about 2 years ago. He gets services through school to help aide him but we felt that he needed something more so we started him on medication. He has made great strides with his focus at school but still struggles with impulsiveness and social skills.

    Our daughter (11 years old) struggles with understanding her brother’s ADHD – I was wondering if anyone had any book recommendations for siblings of kids with ADHD? She is a very kind and patient girl but understandably gets frustrated at times and struggles – I think she could do better if she understood better how his mind works. Thanks!

    1. Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance and The Lemonade Hurricane by Licia Morelli both are about mindfulness but also really contrast that with a mind that is constantly busy or bouncing around from one thing to the next.

  2. I’ve just started reading “The Organized Student” by Donna Goldberg. Although it does specifically address ADHD, it has many organization methods that can help those students who struggle with executive function. I’ve applied some methods in my homework coach sessions and seen good results!

  3. Hi, I’ve known I have ADHD for most of my life, and I’ve known that it contributes to my struggles with school work, but this is the first time I’ve ever been offered a solution besides throwing meds at me, or being told that there’s ‘nothing actually wrong with your brain – if you’d just try harder/weren’t so lazy/stopped making excuses, you’d be better.’ So yeah. Thanks for 1) acknowledging that people with ADHD exist and work hard to ‘be normal’, and 2) for offering an actual idea that could actually help me.

  4. Hi
    Thank you for your thoughts and for sharing. I am looking forward to reading the book myself. My son has ADHD, and it’s been quite the journey for us. He is now on meds, and oh my what a difference they make in both his and our lives. He is now at a point where he can feel the difference himself, and notices when the meds weren’t taken. We are still working on routines. We have the morning routine in place, and he is good at getting ready in the morning. We have a lot of learning as far as homework and after school routines go, remembering to bring things home from school etc.
    I was very touched by what you said about how finding out about your husband’s ADHD saved your marriage. The more I read and learn about this, the more I realize that I am the one with the ADHD in the family, and I start to make sense of a lot of my reactions, or short memory etc. I loved how your daughter described her reactions as being outside herself, watching, but not being able to do anything about it. That is really what it feels like. I have an inner irritability, that isn’t really caused by anything, but which lingers there, and surfaces unexpectedly, without very good reasons. Since I’ve come to realization that I might also have ADD, I also started practicing Yoga and Meditation, and it’s been a tremendous help. It’s like all of a sudden you can see clearly…..
    Good luck with your journey, and please keep sharing.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story, I am going through the process of diagnosis and I am really struggling. It is so helpful to read about other parents experiences and to know I’m not alone. Thank you.

  6. Samantha Cloward says:

    I have 9 year old twin boys who were both diagnosed last Spring (one severe ADHD+mood disorder and the other ADD+hyper sensitive nervous system). They are both on Medication while in school and also in behavior therapy. I am just starting to research and am excited to interact with other parents who are in the same boat. Thank you so much for the information!

    1. Christine says:

      I have a son who is almost 9 and has ADHD. We started medication with him after we felt we exhausted all other options without it. He is doing so much better in terms of focus at school but still struggles with his emotions at times, is impulsive and has trouble navigating social situations. We are really trying to focus on the social aspect so he can build friendships with his peers as he grows up with them in school.
      I’m really curious about behavior therapy – I feel like it might be something that our son could benefit from. If you’re willing to share your experience, I would love to hear about it. Thanks!

      1. We did cognitive behavior therapy WAY too early. I wasted lots of money and time on something that really isn’t helpful until you can be a more abstract thinker. In hindsight, I should have done play therapy.

        We are currently trying neurofeedback in combination with talk therapy which has been really helpful so far. I can’t say for sure because my daughter has some other medical issues that are interfering with her brain big time. Once we get the mold out of her body (mold toxicity from our house) I’m really thinking we’ll see even more dramatic results from the neurofeedback. Also, she’s not on medication because she has a double gene mutation (MTHFR) which makes medications not work.

  7. Heather Brown Henderson says:

    I’ve just started reading “Smart but Scattered” by Drs. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. The first paragraph of the introduction described my daughter to a “t”. That paragraph ends with, “Your friends’ children don’t forget permission slips, lose expensive coats, or fall apart in public. Why does yours?” From there, they describe executive function in a way that’s easily understandable, and go on to help parents evaluate their child’s (and their own) strengths and challenges, and then teach their child to build and use executive function skills.

  8. rochellebarlow says:

    My older and younger brothers have ADHD but no one ever thought I had it. In talking to my older brother we are EXACTLY the same — we have the hyperfocus and then inattentiveness, there’s a ton of things that we have similar, yet I’ve never done anything about it. I’ve struggled with it all my life thinking I was lazy or unmotivated, or just lame. I didn’t realize until this conversation with my brother that it was ADHD. Now I’m seeing it in my oldest boy and I have got to do something about it. Most of the ADHD symptom “checklists” don’t seem to talk about hyperfocus. My kid can focus in on legos or sharks, or video games forever, but anything else and it is impossible. I have got to read this book and then really evaluate what we can do for him. I worry about the medicines, I’ve heard so many things about them it makes me nervous. Thank you for sharing your story and I love your checklists. I think these will really help my son. Checklists definitely help me get through the day.

  9. Lenka Vodicka says:

    Thank you for noting the hyperfocus on the spectrum. I am a teacher, too, and I often hear, “But he can focus. On Legos.” This becomes proof that a child should focus on anything. I share that we all have a focus-spectrum. I can read a novel for hours, but a car manual? No thanks 🙂
    I always say that we are all different. Information is power. It can be tough, but knowing our own story or a child’s story can help us write the story with grace. We can meet the real needs instead of getting angry about things out of our control. Thank you for sharing your own family’s story!

  10. Hi. I am a figure skating instructor blessed with two girls with ADHD. Do you have any advice on listening and focus skills for them?

  11. Hallie Doyle says:

    Common Sense Media just did a post about apps to help kids be more responsible. We haven’t tried them yet, but I’m curious (and my sons are motivated by all electronic, especially since I limit it pretty much. I LOVE your idea of a.m./p.m. lists, and one of the apps discussed includes some lists. I love all the ideas shared in this discussion–very thankful for these great insights! Here’s the link to the apps:

    http://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/7-apps-to-help-your-kid-be-more-responsible?utm_source=042513_Parent&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly

  12. Hi Melissa,

    I generally talk to you about kids apps. Today I am going to share. My son has ADHD + mulitple learning disabilities. I have read this book. It is a vault of information. And I am fortunate enought to live in NY and Dr. Bertin is our developmental pediatrician. We see him once a month. And with Dr Bertin’s help we are getting a handle on my son’s ADHD.

    Feel free to email me if you ever need.
    -Joey

    1. thank you for sharing & your kind offer. How great that you have such an expert to help you!!

      1. I know I got really lucky that he is near by. Life is quite a journey and having a child with ADHD makes it very interesting. Good luck, you are off to a great start!

  13. Excellent post, had chance to hear Dr. Bertin at CHADD conference on ADHD where he presented a balanced discussion on media use in kids with ADHD. If readers are interested in teaching their chidren about executive functions (EFs) or learning more for themselves, we have a number of free resources at http://learningworksforkids.com/kids-zone/what-is-organization/ and in many other places on the site . Our work suggests that EFs are often best thought of as skills that can be taught, albeit, sometimes slowly with children with ADHD.

    1. slowly – yes, I think that’s my learning curve — to not expect immediate results. Along with the checklist, I made a checkout sheet to make sure she was only getting 30 minutes of tech time / day. So far so good. Thanks for the link, also!

  14. JDaniel4smom Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I love your checklists. My son has trouble multi-tasking they will be great for him. I have pinned this post.

  15. Hallie Doyle says:

    Wonderful (and timely) post, Melissa! I really needed the reminder about how anger is connected with ADHD and isn’t simply a matter of “disrespect”. The anger really can kick in when the “hyper-focusing” is in force. There is not really and “arrival” with the managing of this because the novelty (of strategies) wears off, and new strategies need to be implemented (or rotated through). So, your checklist idea for morning/afternoon-evening is a good idea (a shift from the paper list). Our counselor has really helped us see (big learning curve to break these habits) the importance to sit on your hands when it comes to reminding because these children can become VERY prompt dependent. As she and Love and Logic have taught, let the “consequences speak” more than hounding, and add novelty to things. I recommend books by Edward Hallowell as well as his website, http://www.drhallowell.com/. I also recommend an author who doesn’t specifically speak about only ADHD, but he is SO informative on how the girl and boy brains (specifically) work–Michael Gurian who wrote “The Minds of Boys”, “The Wonder of Girls” and several other books. Finally…EXERCISE! It helps so much! The ideas on these comments are wonderful…thank you all!

    1. Hallie, thank you — forgot to think about exercise! I can add that in, too. And go read those suggestions, thanks!

      1. Yes, exercise has helped a lot with my boys too. We had them all join a swim team last year and they do a lot of activities at the YMCA.

    1. Oh I love Parenting Children with ADHD! I recommend it to many people when they are getting their children tested. I have twin boys with ADHD. One is hyperactive and the other is Inattentive. So I’m working all sorts of strategies over here in our little teapot. I love the weekly webinars sponsored by ADDitude magazine- very helpful and full spectrum )diet changes to latest research findings to strategies for homework).

  16. RealKid_Stuff says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for sharing your story it was full of good info and I am going to use your morning and evening checklist (brilliant!). We have similar
    issues with our older daughter and found out it was that she was gifted
    with a learning disability. It’s one of the trickiest designations for a kid since most teachers don’t focus on the gifted but just the LD and kids just shut down. Similar symptoms with the meltdowns, forgetting everything, disorganized and the emotional roller coaster, that along with pre-tweendom makes life a constant challenge.

    We’re trying to give our daughter skills to get her through life since this is an item that she’ll need to manage for life and realizing that most gifted/LD adults tend to be leaders and visionaries we want to encourage all the good and manage the challenges. Good luck! I’ll look forward to hearing how the diagnosis goes if you plan on sharing later.

    Stefanie

    http://www.realkidstuff.com

    1. I can imagine how hard it has been — and have also found that many school systems don’t have ways to work with twice exceptional students. Have you found a good place for her to learn? and I’ll let you know what we find out!

  17. Thank you. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Great, rational explanation and I really appreciate the way you tie this to your marriage too. I am divorced and my child’s father is very resistant to any kind of “label’ or drug for our child, yet he is having a lot of trouble being organized and starting to see his grades slip as he struggles with spelling, grammar and overall organization. I am sending this post to my ex and hopeful he will be more open to exploring options. Thank you!

    1. I totally understand his position and can tell you 2 big things that changed my thinking. First, I had debilitating anxiety where it was a huge challenge to even leave the house. I refused medication for quite awhile. When I finally gave it a try, it was unbelievable – I could be myself again and function. Then, my youngest started having seizures – long, long seizures that could have damaged her brain. After the 4th one, she got a diagnosis of seizure disorder and medication to control them. I cried for days but was grateful for the diagnosis which gave her the medication so she could live a normal life. Anyway, all that to say, if your ex reads this, maybe it will help him understand how some medication can be very beneficial.

  18. My husband and I both have ADHD type issues and we have two of three boys with executive function issues covered by various acronyms – one evaluator told us for lack of knowing what to diagnose him with that our one son was ‘just wired differently’ – they ended up calling it executive function impairment. The Family ADHD Solution is by far the most helpful book that I’ve read on the subjects of ADHD and executive function. I love that it addresses parents and parental stress because often it’s harder on us than it is on them. I homeschool my boys, and my husband has worked toward running his own business – we have found we function better when we’re able to have control of our own schedule and focus on the things we’re passionate about. My oldest is 13 too with inattentive type ADHD and we have found the increasing academic expectations and workload (not to mention puberty) to be a difficult transition for him.

    1. Alison, thanks! I can really see how puberty + ADHD + school workload is like the perfect storm.

  19. I have had ADD for also 20 years, i now have a five year old son with it too. Our story kind of sucks but they are kind of the same. My mother and father split when i was three (same for my son). My father was in and out of my life a lot then i got a step father (in my mind that didnt help if any thing made my ADD worse). My mother was told to put me on pills, from second grade all the way till eight i was on the oh so nasty Ritalin. I went from having my liver tested once every three months to once every three weeks. i knew something wasnt right even being ten at the time, also the fact that i would get stomach pains so bad that once i passed out from it. it took a great math teacher to see that i was having a very very hard time in every thing. She pushed to get me in to see a dear friend of hers. I was in tenth grade when i finally got help with my reading. I to this day still cant sound out words or spell that well my brain just doesnt get why we have a letter that can same sound as another. I was sent to a tutor once a week. she had me do sight words ( at the time they scared me), she also had me read the Hobbit. it took me an hour to read a page, i will never forget the book that changed my life it is Look for me by Moonlight by Mary downing Hahn. i read that book only knowing half of the words, the ones i didnt know i wrote down and they got turned into sight words. i worked my little brain like crazy that year i spent so much time in the library at my school i got in trouble cause they thought i was skipping class. My teachers all noticed the change but i still was failing most of my classes, till one day a teacher noticed that all my prep tests i passed but when i retook them in class i failed. He then would send me to the library to do all of my test and i began to pass all of them. i did this in all of my classes, some teachers didnt like it but once they seen the grade i made i was okay. I say all this cause my mom when i was first told about the ADD did nothing. i was pulled out of all the classes that could help me. Now at 25 i have read so many books that the library is my home away from home. My five year old son loves books and the library but it always hasnt been this way. When he turned three he was a crazy kid and i say that lovingly. I was told by his doctor that most ADHD in kids doesnt show up till six or seven but my son had it. I was in a way thankful that he was so little cause they couldnt give him any form of meds. so what did i do i cut out all sugary treats but fruit no soda which he never got. He now carries a water bottle every where and drinks more then most adults. if he wants a snack he gets fruit fresh or dried no fake crap that is filled with dies. by the time he was four it was like a light switch went off. Now if he does have candy or soda its a mad house fighting yelling melt downs. so we try our hardest to stay clear. ( its hard when others by to give him it and make me out to be the bad guy then when he acts out its some how my fault cause i didnt warn them when i do.) I also have had to learn the differences between my ADD and my sons ADHD and the fact that we will butt heads now and then its what we do after that matters. I do know one thing that helps me is my vitamins. i was told i was self medicating with soda and sugar ( soda had about a fourth of caffeine that Ritalin did.) so i talked to my wonderful doctor that feels all natural should be the first step in any treatment. I have to take 400 mg a day of B-2 and Magnesium then 100 mg of butterbur free of alkaloids. it has helped with my headaches and my ADD. i dont know if it will work for others but watching what i eat and my son eats has helped in so many ways. One both of our ADD and ADHD has gotten better and two my headaches are no longer every day, and three and in my mind a huge one we get sick once a year if that. So my way of dealing with this hidden what other believe isnt there is with food, less TV understanding, time, and books. I even have used the tricks that got me to read with kids i am around now. My way of paying it forward and helping others understand this ADD and ADHD can be handled its not a curse. Most people i know with it are so smart once they find a way to work with it instead of against it.

    i also wanted to say thank you, i didnt know about the attitude that comes with ADHD that explains why my five year old can have the mouth of a 13 year old.

    1. Thank you for your story. All the info has helped me.

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