Tuesday, October 20, 2015
When children are younger, it is somewhat easier to disclose that they have ADHD. Some experts feel that keeping a child's ADHD secret contributes to stigma. I’ve heard a special education attorney assert that children may think they have something shameful if during school meetings they hear their parents ask whether information is kept confidential or if the IEP is kept in a locked file cabinet.
The way their peers reacted to my children’s ADHD surprised me a few times. Once a group of boys let my son use a dictionary during a Scrabble game because they knew that spelling was difficult for him. Who would have thought of that — an accommodation for a board game!
When my children became teenagers, I felt they were entitled to confidentiality, and they could choose whom to tell and whom not to tell. Some teens are more comfortable about their ADHD diagnosis than others — I’ve heard psychologists say that during a treatment session a teen will answer a cell phone with "Dude, I'm in therapy. Can I call you right back?"
When you disclose, you may be surprised at how many other people also have the disorder and would like to talk to you about it. But if you are holding back, then your instinct may be telling you that you are dealing with some potentially judgmental people.
Last week I wrote about typical scenarios people with ADHD face when they are put in a position to defend the disorder and how they manage it. Here are some additional examples.
Doubts about adult diagnosis: "You didn't have a problem as a kid, why do you have this now?"
Depending on how old an adult is now, the diagnosis may not have been very common back when he or she was a child or adolescent. Baby boomers certainly had the symptoms, but didn't receive accurate diagnosis and treatment. But regardless of a person’s generation, many supports were in place during their childhood years. Because they had fewer responsibilities and managed fewer details, their childhood ADHD was easier to manage.
Assertions like: “If more kids played outside, there would be fewer diagnoses of ADHD, which is caused because kids watch TV too much.”
There have been some studies indicating that children with ADHD see improvement when they participate in outdoor activities. John Ratey’s book Spark looks at the effects of exercise on the brain, and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv makes a strong case for the importance of unstructured outdoor activities for child development.
You could respond, “There have been headlines about too much TV causing trouble with attention span and distraction, but they were talking about the distractibility we all struggle with. A diagnosis of ADHD means that symptoms of inattention and inability to tune out distraction are severe enough to be an impairment and occur in a variety of settings. That’s very different from the effects of too much technology.”
What if the naysayer is your spouse? And doesn’t want your child labeled—or treated?
People are afraid of labels, sometimes with good reason. But the child has ADHD whether we acknowledge it or not. Often the best route is to have a third party try to educate your spouse; most likely he or she is tired of hearing it from you.
You could try to have your spouse talk it over with someone he or she respects or go to a well-regarded professional. Perhaps you could introduce some reading material on the subject. When I was a new mom and wanted my husband to read articles on parenting, someone told me to take all the sports magazines out of the bathroom and replace them with books about babies.
You could also bargain for open-mindedness on this topic in exchange for the same deal on the topic of your spouse’s choice. For instance, your spouse will read some literature or watch a video on ADHD for a specific amount of time and you will do the same on the topic of his or her choice.
I have found adults with ADHD to be a good source of insight about childhood issues. Often they inspire a sense of urgency to address ADHD symptoms in childhood because of the impact that the lack of a timely diagnosis had on their lives. There are several books and videos by adults with ADHD on the market, and adults with ADHD often speak at CHADD meetings and conferences.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
It is really hard to deal with naysayers, isn't it? I often have to decide is if trying to convince them is worth my time and energy. We all know people who have strong political opinions and will not listen to any other points of view.
Would your time be better spent managing the ADHD instead of trying to convince someone who will never hear you? Can you limit the amount of time you have to spend with people like this? Shorten the duration of mandatory visits— stop in for dessert at holidays instead of the entire meal? If these are people you are required to spend a lot of time with, can you counterbalance by spending time with supportive people?
These are the questions I ask myself when I'm deciding whether to respond to naysayers. The trick is to balance whom to tell about your ADHD and how to say it in a way that gives them a better understanding. And you may want to tailor your responses to the specific remark made, as in the examples below.
In business circles, the rule of thumb is “praise in public; correct in private.” So if you need to let someone close to you know that their remarks are hurtful to you, it is best to do this in private, rather than as an angry reaction in front of others. At the very least you may be able to get the other person to agree to disagree and not make these remarks in your presence.
"ADD is just an excuse!" or "Everyone is ADD!"
I might say something like, “I probably would have said something similar BEFORE my child (or self, spouse, friend, etc.) was diagnosed with ADHD. I feel very differently now.” Or I might acknowledge their perspective by saying something like, "I know it sometimes seems that way. But look at the number of organizations that have determined that ADHD is real. Real science defines ADHD as real disorder.”
"ADHD is an explanation, but not an excuse" is a response that demonstrates that while there may be occasional slip-ups and glitches, the person is actively managing the disorder and doing the best he or she can.
And sometimes I say something along the lines of, "How fortunate that you aren't affected by the disease and have the luxury of disbelief." You might ask them if they would have this reaction to a physical illness.
Perhaps you can use an analogy to help others display more sensitivity and compassion: “It is so hard when those with Alzheimer’s face memory and organization issues toward the end of their lives. Can you imagine if you had these struggles from day one?”
Rude comments about medication, such as: "Of course your house is quiet! You drug all your kids!"
Sometimes I like to use the word “compassion” in my response. No one likes to be thought of as uncompassionate. And being compassionate doesn’t necessarily mean that one agrees or approve of something, just that one is taking a nonjudgmental stance.
You could perhaps point out that the individual has a documented medical condition that is being helped by medication. You can point out that using the word "drugs" in that fashion is very stigmatizing. Not to mention that a true friend wouldn't want your life to be any more difficult.
"Others have been successful with ADHD, why haven't you?"
The general public doesn't understand that ADHD has "severities." People tend to understand only the type of ADHD that they’ve been exposed to. Some people have mild ADHD and no co-occurring conditions while others have a severe case of ADHD and very limiting co-occurring conditions.
It can be helpful to point out that people with ADHD have the same rate of having successful lives as the rest of the population. And each individual defines success in his or her own unique way.
Analogies can show similar situations. If you know the person has been affected by any of these conditions, it can help to highlight the individual circumstances of those with ADHD. You might say:
• Some people manage diabetes with diet and exercise; others need an insulin pump installed in their bodies.
• Some people with asthma occasionally use an inhaler; others need to be hospitalized.
• Some people with arthritis can do yoga and take nutritional supplements, while others are in a wheelchair.
• Some cancers can be managed with watchful waiting, while others require aggressive treatment or surgery.
These are just a few common scenarios and possible responses. I’ll share more next week.
Marie Paxson, a past president of CHADD, is the mother of two grown children with ADHD. Over the years, she has been on the receiving end of many myths, misconceptions, and judgmental remarks. Sometimes these were handled with diplomacy, sometimes not.