Tuesday, August 25, 2009
keeping it real
I've gotten a few very nice compliments that I didn't deserve lately and I think it's due to the fact that I only post when I'm in a good mood and I've had a productive enough day to sit down and tell about it. Consequently, most of my posts are about good days and things that are working for me. I suppose those who know me know me well enough to understand that our life is much messier than that and I, like most people, really don't have it all together.
In the spirit of keeping it real, and hopefully opening a few minds, I am going to put myself out there a bit and share something that is a real struggle in my family. Growing up, ADHD was something like the sixth member of my five person family. It affected all of us to some degree, even if it was just by association. Back then, there weren't really labels for it and even when pediatricians and teachers finally recognized it as a real problem, they didn't know what to do about it aside from pushing meds like ritalin on desperate parents. Now, years later, practically everyone says their kid has ADHD and our society has been so inundated with information on it, that no one really takes it seriously anymore. More often than I would like, I've heard people tell me that it's just an excuse not to parent your children, or that it's just another label we put on kids to explain away their bad behavior. To me, it seems like we've gone from bad to worse. ADHD is real, just as real as dyslexia or any other disorder that profoundly affects learning that way. And, despite it's notoriety, it's really misunderstood.
Now, I find myself in a really unexpected role. My son, Dana clearly has ADHD and I am struggling with what to do to encourage and equip him to learn and thrive. Thankfully, Dana is homeschooled and his world has been a fairly safe one so far. At home he has the freedom to be his quirky little self without being ridiculed or bullied. At church, in Sunday school and evening classes, he has to interact with other children and obey his teacher, which has been a needed challenge.
Still, at soccer practice and any other place where there are lots of children and a good amount of noise, he's completely overwhelmed and he shuts down. Poor Matt. He coaches Dana's team and to every other parent watching from the sidelines, it probably looks like we're making the kid play soccer against his will. In reality, Dana begs us to let him play and then by the second or third practice, he refuses to try. Fear of failure and inattention take over and the pep talks begin. Thankfully, we had a great practice tonight. Between Matt coaching and me shouting encouragement from the sideline, Dana was fairly focussed and really proud of himself. At one point, a parent kindly volunteered to step in and assist Matt with the coaching. He started barking orders at Dana and the three other boys he was working with. He spoke so fast and he seemed to be talking over them. Within seconds, Dana was flopping his arms and legs around and walking like a straw man, completely tuning this well-meaning father out. I'll be honest, I was angry and fighting back tears. Thankfully, Dana listened to me as I did my best to repeat the man's instructions and he was able to stay on task. Tonight was a good night, but lately I'm weighed down with the struggles that he'll have to face as he gets older. Especially, because no one seems to care that he's struggling and very few people are willing to accomodate his needs. I know he's not the only kid that struggles with this either.
Lately, I've been spending my spare time learning about what Matt and I can do to help him. Here are my main goals, at least for now:
1- Encouragement... he needs a lot of that, and at the very least, he needs as much encouragement as he gets discipline. There's so much to praise him for anyway. I didn't mention this earlier (shame on me), but ADHD kids have some kick-butt attributes too. They're usually very bright and incredibly creative, not to mention good at problem-solving.
2- Structure... each day needs to be pretty much the same around here, with the exception of friends visiting and Sundays. Dana thrives on routine and I bet most kids do, but when we don't have one, he flounders.
3- Consistent, godly discipline... I need to work on keeping my cool when I'm at my wits' end. Tired or not, he needs to know that no matter what, the rules in our house don't change and neither do the consequences.
4. Diet... this is a work in progress, but gradually, I'm going to try to keep sugary foods out of the house and stick to all natural foods.
5. Exercise... as much as he struggles with it, I really think he needs the social and mental benefit of playing a team sport. It's good for him to learn to work in a team and to stretch himself to persevere when he's tired. Unless he really starts to hate it, we're going to keep plugging away at this. Thankfully, the soccer program he's playing in is really low key and kid-friendly anyway.
6. Open communication... we haven't done it yet, but Matt and I are going to sit down and talk about this with Dana. It's time that he understood why he struggles more than other children do. I'm sure those of you who are anti-labels will have a hard time with this. Why would we put a label on our child? It's simple. He knows he's different and he's struggling with feeling inadequate. He needs us to say, Dana these are your strengths and weaknesses and this is why you are the way you are. God made you this way. He doesn't make mistakes.
Again, keeping it real, I know I'm going to botch this all up over and over again, but here I am again, clinging to my God's hand, asking for mercy along the way. God made us who we are for a purpose and I'm trusting that He knows exactly what He's doing with Dana.
In the meantime, if you have any great insights or resources, send them my way.