Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Children with ADHD Bring New Meaning to the Term “High Maintenance”

Welcome to my blog!

I am, like you, a parent of children with ADHD, and I am learning as I go. Of course, as parents, we are always learning, but it seems as if there is just more to learn with children affected by ADHD and less we can take for granted. It is trial and error and still uncharted territory.

The term “high maintenance” has taken on new meaning for me. Before, I thought the term applied to marriages and specifically to young trophy wives who had to be pampered by older husbands. Now, as the mother of two teenage children with ADHD—my son Blake, who just turned 20 and my daughter Madison who is 17, I realize that “high maintenance” means being a life support system for them, ready to guide, advise, step in, advocate for and play interference for them, as they need you—or, as they will also tell you, when they “don’t need” you. I realize too this may be going on for well after they are launched into their adulthood.

My daughter Madison spent hours on her high school English project analyzing the main character in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Her four-part assignment was to do a psychological analysis by answering a number of essay questions followed up by a letter to a psychologist of her findings. “Go through all the assignment instructions,” I coached her, “and underline what the teacher wants. After you finish, go back and check that you have satisfied all the requirements of the assignment.” “I will, I will,” she answered in her teenage-exasperated voice. “You don’t have to tell me,” she pleaded. “I can check it for you, after you finish, if you want,” I offered. “No, that won’t be necessary,” she said.

A week later, when the assignment came back, her teacher, Mr. Holderman, complimented Madison, saying that her thorough and perceptive analysis was the best in the class, but then indicated that she had missed the entire last part of the assignment—the writing of the letter to summarize findings. And for this reason, she only earned a “B.” I talked with Madison about slowing down, focusing, not taking things for granted and the importance of checking and follow-up. I explained that you can do a very good job on something but if it does not meet all the requirements, if it is not completed, the work—and the grade—can be compromised.

Being a parent of children with ADHD means having broader responsibility. Whereas parents of other children can easily let their children assume responsibilities, parents of children with ADHD have to do it more slowly, and in a more calculated manner. Sometimes, it is two steps forward and one back. You always have to be on the ready to step in. As one father, whose son Jeremy is in his late twenties, told me, “I need to guide Jeremy in everything. I need to be his safety net,” he said. “Get used to it; it will be like this.”

My son Blake was registering for his sophomore year college courses at UC Berkeley. “Be careful not to overload yourself,” I warned. “You are taking Organic Chemistry, which is a killer course. It will be an enormous amount of work.” Again, I heard the “I know; I know.” Around mid-semester, when Blake was complaining about the inordinate workload, I asked him if I could help him plan to reduce the workload. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m taking 19 credits.” “What do you mean you are taking 19 credits?” I was shocked. “I thought you were going to take a lighter course load.” “I didn’t look at the number of credits for each course,” Blake admitted, somewhat sheepishly. “Blake, before you sign up for a course, there are two things you need to do: Learn about the professor and look at the number of credits!” Another longer discussion and another lesson learned.

Is it a lack of common sense? We assume our child will know something because it is obvious, but, of course, to a child affected by ADHD it is not obvious. Another mother told me, “It is like you have to share the pre-frontal cortex of your brain (the part that controls executive function such as planning and understanding consequences) with your child.”

I think once we accept this fact about our children, our reactions will be tempered, our expectations will be adjusted, and the rest will become easier.

Join me, Blake and Madison as we all try to figure things out.