When I learned that I was pregnant with my first child, and then a few weeks later learned that it was a boy, I could not have been happier!
I knew the timing was right and that I would do everything I possibly could to raise a happy and healthy boy. However, there were some bumps along the way. Within the first few weeks of the pregnancy, we almost lost him. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Conversely, after we learned he was going to be OK, it often felt like I was growing a rugby captain! He was so strong and active!
Was this a sign that he was later going to be diagnosed with ADHD? Maybe. What I do know is that even though I have an elementary education certification and part of that process required me to study special education for a couple of semesters, nothing prepared me for parenting an ADHD child.
Now that he just celebrated his 14th birthday, I can easily compile a list of things I wish I would have known earlier about parenting an ADHD child. I could probably offer a list of at least 30 things, but here are seven in order of most relevance for me at this point in time:
- It’s unlikely that your child is acting inappropriately because he wants to annoy or torment other people. He’s acting this way because he has to. In other words, his brain is not getting what it needs. The norepinephrine neurotransmitter in his brain isn’t the same as in his neurotypical peers. Speaking loudly or without thinking, hugging too hard, bursting into a room like Kramer without knocking even though he is “old enough to know better” are his ways of getting the dopamine stimulation his brain needs.
- Sometimes the adage “You know what’s right for your child” isn’t always true. Or probably more accurately, sometimes it’s harder to tell what’s right for your ADHD child because unless you have another ADHD child, or you’re a trained professional, you have zero clue what’s right for your child. If this is the case, you need to educate yourself and ask for help, and you need to do it expeditiously.
- Sometimes, when you receive advice from professionals, it’s spot on. Sometimes it’s so wrong. A teacher you may dislike might offer the best advice; a teacher you think you love might offer the worst advice. Like the time my son’s first-grade teacher gave us an article about there being fewer cases of ADHD in France than in the U.S. Although he was a patient, kind teacher, the article was later deemed to be grossly inaccurate and unhelpful.
- When searching for the correct educational setting for your child, schools that look exceptional on paper are often far from it when it comes to special education. For instance, when we moved back to Pennsylvania, the “blue ribbon” school district we chose to send our kids to ended up being far from stellar. Don’t get me wrong: for neurotypical kids, it is a great school, but for special ed kids of any sort, it’s shockingly exclusive and archaic.
- Many people with ADHD experience life-changing effects from medication, but not all. Over the years, we’ve tried at least four different ADHD medications, stimulants and nonstimulants. For some reason, none have worked well for our son. This year, at the age of 13, he decided to stop taking his latest prescription because it made him “feel so weird.” And to be honest, his irritability level during the afternoon rebound time was painful and a bit scary to witness. So now we’re encouraging proper eating, sleeping, and physical fitness more than ever. We are also emphasizing that if and when he feels the need to try a new medication, we’ll help him schedule an appointment with a doctor ASAP. If we see a drastic change or drop in positive behaviors, we’ll also strongly encourage him to reconsider medication and therapy again.
- Sometimes you’ll be appalled when you witness teachers, parents and other kids treat your child with such unfairness and cruelty. Sadly, so many people still don’t understand ADHD. They’re grossly uneducated and, frankly, sometimes just don’t care enough to learn more about the condition. In the latter case, remove your child from the setting as quickly as possible. The trauma they can inflict can last a lifetime.
- Having an ADHD child forces you to see who you and your child’s friends really are. It also forces you to see who the best, most compassionate and most well-equipped teachers, coaches and family members are. So, while sometimes you may feel down because your child doesn’t have an abundant number of friends or you believe you’re not getting invited to hang out with the coolest moms on the block because you have a special needs child, remember: Do you really want or need friends like that? As Maya Angelou famously stated, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
These are just a few things I wish I had known before becoming the parent of an ADHD child. I hope you find some of this information helpful if you or someone you know are in a similar situation.
And on your darkest days of parenting an ADHD kid, don’t forget: Some of the most incredible human beings on our planet had or have ADHD. Like Albert Einstein. Musician Dave Grohl. Astronaut Scott Kelly. Gymnast Simone Biles. The list goes on. With a lot of love, encouragement and education, your child could very well end up on this list!
For more posts about parenting and ADHD children, please visit Paulette’s blog, Just Three Pumpkins.