Tuesday, July 28, 2009


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.


  1. Nice post with good examples. However, as with my comments to your earlier blog posting, I think we have to be careful not to ascribe all immature or frustrating behaviors to ADHD.

    For instance, Madison's response: "That's for me to know and you to find out" is one many parents of non-ADHD kids hear. Remember, kids are "tabula rasa." A blank slate. They hear, remember, then echo back what they've heard. All kids do that; that's part of the learning process. So you combine some teenage impishness with a reflection of yourself (I'll bet you've used that same phrase, oh, maybe a few hundred times), and that's what you get.

    Same with the story about Blake. Maybe he HAD packed like that before and gotten away with it. And I've seen plenty of adults--many, I'm sure, without ADHD--protest TSA regulations. And I expect that if you put most young adults into that situation, they'd have reacted pretty much like Blake. I'm not saying he doesn't have ADHD that manifests itself in various ways, just that some behaviors are "normal" behaviors for kids, teens, and young adults regarless of whether they have ADHD.

    Frankly, the most remarkable thing in your story was the helpful American Airlines agent. I know agents are overworked and underpaid, but finding one that was willing to help repack and rearrange baggage is remarkable. But I digress...

    One other thought regarding Blake's experience. The request to speak to the manager--while ineffective when dealing with that situation--actually reflects a couple of positive items. First, it was Blake's recognition that a third party might be able to effectively resolve the impasse. (That third party turned out to be the agent, not the manager.) Second, it shows that Blake's learned about self-advocacy. That's an important trait for everyone, but especially for those with ADHD.

    So, at the risk of repeating myself, while the points made in the posting are absolutely valid regarding raising kids with ADHD, just recognize that much of a child's behavior (even a child with significant ADHD behavior) may stem from being a child.

  2. Does the "dime per chore" chart really work? I have an 8 year old ADHD son and a 5 year old NT son. Chores, especially in the morning, are about to kill us all. ;) We've tried different things, but even with incentives, there's a wee bit more stress that early in the day than I care to have. Thoughts?
    And I love the thought of a Homework Club and will institute that this year. I was worried about how to work with 2 kids on homework for the first time. Homework with just the oldest is hard enough (oftentimes has huge anxiety over it) and I think a Homework Club will work...fingers crossed. Oldest likes to teach youngest, so we'll see. ;)

  3. Dear Nadine and friends,

    I have read twice on this blog about not taking my child with ADHD/language impairment attitude and talking back personally. I recall the advice of QTip. It is so hard to do, but so much more productive when I am able to. So, thanks for this tip.


  4. a comment for laughingatchaos and a general question,

    to help keep relative calm in am routine I get as much prepared as I can the night before and get up quietly before anyone and finish tasks I need to do. So, them am routine is basically eating, dressing, and washing up. For my 8 year old with adhd I have started making a checklist she can take with her to focus on what needs to be done. If she finishes on her own, she gets 3 extra minutes on the nintendo ds. It's not perfect yet, but it's an improved start.

    My question is regarding sleeping difficulties with my 8 year old with adhd,ld. she takes her last dose of short acting focalin about 4pm. she has trouble settling down and falling to sleep without my lying down with her. Often she wakes up at night and needs the same thing. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to handle this?

    Much thanks,


  5. I am encouraged reading this. I have a 13 year old boy with ADD and the attitude and back talk is aweful especially when his medicine wears off or he forgets to take it. I didn't realize or didn't want to accept that he is behind maturity wise but makes sense. Now with this understanding I think my approach with him will be different and hopefully things will be better.

  6. My son was recently tested and diagnosed ADHD- we started him on medication today- wow how many years of the mouth and the impulsivity and all do we have to let roll into our ears and back out- is there any reason to say that although dealing with adhd etc... that that behavior is simply not acceptable and he will have to find a more acceptable way to communicate or am I barking up the wrong tree? With tears in my eyes from being overwhelmed I know I can walk this him and he will be successful but wow! Right now I am just in shock I guess.

  7. I have an 11-year-old girl with ADHD and I am really struggling with her negative moods and rude comments. I would appreciate any suggestions on how to handle thess. Responding to her comments mostly seems to escalate it, but I don't want her to think it is acceptable to be rude. At home I can walk away or send her to her room, but it's really difficult in public. How have other people managed these situations?

  8. Susan,
    My 10 year old has ADHD. She takes Concerta in the morning. By bedtime she is still a little restless. Her dr. perscribed Clonidine to take an hour before bedtime. Works very well.
    Has anyone exp. a problem with their child consuming too much sugar before bedtime and the child having problems falling asleep? My daughter was over at a friends house last night for dinner. After dinner she consumed way too much candy and did not fall asleep until 1am even thought she took clonidine. We usually monitor her intake but since we were not there she took advantage of the situation and went overboard.

  9. I took my child off ADHD medication for the summer. Honestly, the only difference has been how quickly my child falls asleep (an indication that my child was not benefitting from the medication). Finally, after all these years of struggling to fall asleep due to the medication, I am so grateful for the rest we are all getting. My concern is school will be starting up soon and I do not want to put my child back on medication. The statements about ADHD medications and sudden death released back in June scared me and I don’t want to continue to take that risk - but, at what cost to my child’s education, etc. I'm very confused and would appreciate any suggestions/advice.

  10. Thanks for the blog! The title says it all for me - EXHAUSTED! My daughter just turned 6 and was diagnosed with ADHD a few months ago. We are STILL trying to find a medication that reduces her impulsivity and helps her pay attention without affecting her wonderful, lively (but exhausting) personality. She starts kindergarten in two weeks and I had hoped that at least the medication piece would be "worked out" by the time school starts. I think I have to keep reminding myself that although there may be times that are better, it will never all be "worked out." We're meeting with the principal at the end of the week and hopefully her teacher next week. Wish us luck!

  11. Laura,
    I have an 11 year old and we are going through the same thing, attitude, rudeness. We try to over look the behavior only because he dosn't know why he is doing it. His behavior is only a problem at home; he is a perfect gentlemen when he is with his friends or in public.
    We are looking for group counseling for boys with ADHD. The group counseling seems to help. Good luck and know you are not alone.

  12. Get real. He's a gentleman in public because he knows how he should behave. He also knows he can get away with it at home. I don't believe there is such a thing. My kids were all hyperactive just because they're clever kids and of course they challenge things! Why do we persist in branding all kids who behave out of the ordinary as ill for goodness sake.

  13. Bet you don't post it Nadine. You need to allow an alternative view. I've seen it with my nephews and my own children.

  14. 'Anonymous' - I know you're trying to offer another perspective, but it is hurtful and damaging to those who have lived with more than you know, since their children were tiny. THe self doubt, the exhaustion and depression, are enough to deal with, without someone questioning the issue. It's like telling someone who is depressed to cheer the hell up.