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.


Carl Herder said...


Thanks for your openness. As you and I recently discussed, I'm finally taking my own ADHD seriously and exploring treatment options.

The book that was recommended to me by a few different people is called, "Delivered from Distraction" by Ned Hallowell. It is an update from his original "Driven to Distraction" from the '80s. I've been reading it for the last few weeks, on and off (its the ADD way!) and have found it extremely helpful. You would appreciate the resources in the back of the book, as it lists support groups, professionals, organizations, and other books on ADHD. Did you know there are ADHD support groups? A National Support Organization for people with ADHD (ADD.org)??? In addition, there's a lot of information on dietary supplements and exercise suggestions for people with ADHD.

I agree, that we're practically in a worse situation than when we were kids, with the stigma ADHD has taken on. When I bring up ADHD with parents of the kids I evaluate as a possible issue, the parents nearly always respond negatively. There are so many misconceptions. People don't realize that there are far more children with ADHD that are undiagnosed than children who are misdiagnosed. Even further, think about our prison system... probably loaded with men and women with undiagnosed ADHD.

Also, so many people think the only way to treat ADHD is with medication. However, there are so many other things people can do. I love the strategies that you listed. Can medication help? Absolutely. But its not the only option. Even when it is used, it shouldn't be used as the only treatment strategy.

One thing I've realized in the last few months is that only through clarity can we create a true change. If I don't understand my ADHD, I can't change it. If you continue plugging away at this, trying different things, seeking information, and getting back up whenever you misstep... Dana will thrive. No doubt in my mind.

Love you Karen.

Keri said...

Wow, Karen. Thanks for sharing that. I know this isn't a "quick fix," but I did see an episode of the doctors this summer and they were talking about artifiical colors in foods and they said that yellow #5 especially affects kids with ADHD and exacerbates their behavior, along with red, blue and caramel colorings. It's worth a shot anyway. :&

linda said...

Great posts Karen. It makes me excited to start with Juden. Your kids are lucky to have you and I'll pray for Dana and for you as you teach him.

Timmy's Girl @ Luv My Quiver Full Of Arrows said...

Karen, thank you for the insight. My BIL has ADHD, however, I have not come into contact with any children that have it, so reading about it really informed me. Lifting you all up in prayer tonight!

xoxo, Veronica

Rick Herder said...

What a wonderful family!
The ADD looks really important for Dana right now... and it is... but as you said, he has many other gifts that outweigh, and what is a liability in some contexts can be a benefit in others.

Sarah said...

Karen, I know this is quite a bit after you posted but I just found your blogsite. Anyway, as a teacher in the classroom, some things that helped with my ADHD students was to give them both written and oral instructions. That way they could go back and look when they were ready for the next step. I also had to simplify "steps" so that they truly were one step at a time (I was teaching math). Actually it was really good for all my students :) I know it has to be hard - my biggest struggle as a teacher was trying to discern what motivated each child to learn and where the "hold-up" was for those that struggled. I can't wait to home school my own children - it must be wonderful to intimately know your "students" as opposed to trying to know 90-100 students. I still have a couple more years yet :)