Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hothouse Flowers

Children with ADHD are like hothouse flowers, and more than anything, they need someone who will protect and incubate them and shield them from the frost. They 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 day by day how to live in it.

You, as the parent, are that person. You can allow them to grow where they don’t have to be perfect, where they can make mistakes, where they don’t have to be like everyone else. The rest of the word is already so harsh, so unforgiving to their extraordinary sensibilities. You are going to give them the gift of time and nourishment – and the gift of unconditional love.

We’ve had our share of panics in our household. When Blake and Madison were younger, there were nights when I had to help them finish a math portfolio, due the next day, and mornings when I had to suddenly rifle through my clothes closet and old Halloween costumes to find an outfit for them to wear for a history report to be given that day. Blake once had to appear as Galileo and Madison, years later, as Caesar Augustus. Both had informed me only a short time before we had to leave for school that they had to deliver their report in historic costume. Talk about trying to be creative.

The panics don’t stop as they get older, either. En route to a major book signing and presentation in northern California for his book ADHD & Me, Blake lost his speech. Meanwhile, I was driving back to the San Francisco Bay Area with Madison and her close friend Margaret from a High School Band Festival in southern California when Blake called. “Please, you have to help me reconstruct my speech,” he pleaded. “Blake, I’m driving 75 miles an hour on Interstate 5,” I answered. But we brainstormed and recreated his talking points in time for him to deliver the speech.

At the time, you will feel like ranting and raving, but you shouldn’t. Remember two things:
1) Your son or daughter will not hear your lecture, because he or she is in panic mode because of not fully understanding an assignment or having lost something.
2) Lecturing is not going to solve the immediate problem.
Your best bet is to deal with the situation at hand, show them how to problem-solve, and be as effective as possible. At a later date, go through the scenario with your child and talk about what could have been done differently. How they could have planned better. Organized their things ahead of time, etc.

I have gotten a fair amount of criticism for my particular philosophy. People say, “Let them fail. Let them experience the consequences so they will learn. Don’t save them. Don’t be a safety net. They will depend too much on you. You will not always be there.”

But I am holding firm to my philosophy. Prepare them to face the outside world, while protecting them from it. Give them exposure to the world, while giving them the ability to adjust to it. I believe that children with ADHD have more than their share of criticism. I believe that it is my job as their parent to lighten the load and show them how to do things, how to navigate problems – without all the negative feedback. I don’t need to join the chorus that is already out there.

I believe – and have seen – that once they have that solid foundation, they grow and learn and take on more responsibilities. They will flourish and make choices. Things will backfire, but you will coach them through it, and next time they will know better. You can even laugh about it afterwards.

The night before he was to move into the TKE fraternity, last year, Blake said that he, ugh, forgot to mention that he needed a bed, desk, lamp and chair. “Blake, you didn’t know this before?” I was exasperated, but we ran off to IKEA the next day in Berkeley, bought what he needed and carted it back to his fraternity with the bed frames hanging out of the back of my packed SUV. Last December, Madison forgot. She forgot to tell me that she needed a particular double-barreled nerf gun and a pair of moccasins to contribute to a holiday party at school the next morning. “Where on earth do I find those things?” I asked. Soon, it was off to Toys"R"Us and Target. What can you do? They are young, and they have ADHD, and they are learning.

Oh, I forgot to mention: I used a peter pan collared blouse and a French beret for Galileo, and a gold wreath, sheet and palm frond for Caesar Augustus.

Read more about ADHD on the CHADD website and learn more about a young person’s experience growing up with ADHD on Blake’s website.