Thank you for your many heartfelt comments -- and for your patience as I learn how to do my posts. (I still major on email.)
I asked my daughter Madison to help me with my blog since she has learned all there is to know about websites going back to 3rd grade (We live in Silicon Valley, after all, where all children are weaned on laptops). She concedes to help me a little bit by doing a post for me, carefully hiding exactly how she does it. Then suddenly she scampers out of my office giggling. “Madison, how did you do that?” I ask running after her. “I’m not telling,” she answers mischievously. “It’s for me to know and you to find out!” She disappears into the house. She has one on her mother. So, you see, I’m not learning about blogs as quickly as I’d like. Ah, the delights of a child with ADHD.
Since the topic of high maintenance has stirred up a lot of discussion, I think we should stay on it longer. Also, many stories bubbled up in my mind as I read your comments that I can share with you. What you are going through is incredibly typical; don’t forget, I’ve seen it from both sides of the equation – from having a son and a daughter with ADHD. And this doesn’t include me and my ADHD in the balance. (Now, I know why I’ve always talked so much – it’s hyperactivity, adult style.)
To those of you who asked, “How will I survive the next 15 years?” I answer, “You will!” I am living proof. When Blake was three years old and I noticed his inordinate hyperactivity, I asked his pediatrician, Dr. Lieberman, for advice. Dr. Lieberman understood fully what I was talking about, since every time I brought Blake in for a doctor appointment, Blake would run around startling the doctor’s ten pet birds in their cages in his rural Connecticut office. “You don’t have to worry, he will turn out fine,” Dr. Lieberman said watching the birds fluttering around; their antique cages swinging on their stands. “I have another patient just like Blake, and he is at Dartmouth right now.” I was sitting there with a three-year-old and Dr. Lieberman was talking about an 18-year-old college freshman. I said to Dr. Lieberman, “So, what do I do for the next 15 years?”
Now, I am writing to you, hopefully going to help you to survive the next five, ten or 15 years.
It is a lot of work and it is exhausting, but you will learn how to parent. Understand from the beginning that you will just be much more involved than other parents. Children with ADHD can excel intellectually, artistically or athletically, but lag two to three years behind in maturity. You will not take things for granted, you will be tenacious in how you structure things for your child, question them about what needs to be done, and follow-up. You will get used to it, and it will become automatic. You need to say to yourself, “It just comes with the program, and this is going to be my job.”
I did color-coded daily behavior charts for Blake and Madison, awarding 10 cents for each occasion of brushed teeth, made beds, dog walked, table set, clothes put away. It was a bit laborious, but it was easy to add up all the 10-cent entries. Both Blake and Madison looked on anxiously as I tallied up their totals at the end of each week. It became a competition to see who had earned the most, even though they had agreed to pool their money to buy a Hobie Cat someday for sailing.
In middle school, I had Madison and Blake sit down each evening for “Homework Club” on the kitchen table, and we would go through assignments, organize papers, prepare notes for exams, do outlines, and discuss how to approach an essay assignment. I tested them before quizzes, checked their math problems and had them edit their essays. My husband Ben was watching all of this from the family room and said, “My mother didn’t do anything like this for me when I was growing up, and my mother was a teacher. I turned out all right, and I considered her a good mother.” “You don’t have ADHD, you have dyslexia,” I responded. “You can’t really compare the situations. Besides, you still can’t spell!”
What does parenting a child with ADHD require? As a number of you have said: Patience, sense of humor, discipline and consistency, not taking their attitude to heart, finding ways to motivate them, choosing your battles and understanding that your child, and not the painting with the hole your child put in it, is the most important thing.
Recently, I took Blake to the airport for his flight. He had overstuffed his carry-on luggage with his size-13 shoes. “I don’t think the bag is going to fit on the plane,” I said, looking at the bulge in the red suitcase. Blake assured me he had packed like this before, and it wasn’t going to be a problem. As he was ready to go through security at San Francisco airport, the agent stopped him because his bag did not fit in the metal container and therefore would not fit in the plane’s overhead rack. Blake started protesting that he was going to miss his plane, and he asked to speak to the manager, but the TSA agents stood firm. Luckily, I was there and intervened quickly: “Blake, this is not the time to be asking to speak to a manager. You have to listen to the agents.” I didn’t want him to end up behind the shaded glass. “Let’s get someone to help us from the airline. With the help of an American Airlines agent who thought of re-shuffling the contents of his bag by putting his shoes into his laptop computer satchel and his laptop into the carry-on so it wouldn’t bulge, the luggage got through. Blake made his flight and learned a lesson about stopping to listen for what the issue is, what the agents were concerned about, and how to find a solution that would please everyone.
More than anything else, children with ADHD need someone who is not going to be judgmental – but understanding. Someone who can help “translate” the rest of the world to them and teach them – slowly but surely -- how to live in it.
Read more about ADHD at the CHADD website. If you want to learn more about a young person's experience, go to Blake's website.