Summer Camp, Hands-On!

Summer Camp, Hands-On!

Summer Camp, Hands-On!

Camp seemed like a given for my child with ADHD.  What could be better than the freedom to chase lizards on a nature trail, splash in a pool, or do arts and crafts with other campers?  At least, that’s what I thought until Lee’s first day. Join me in a blog where Lee and I discover what it takes for a camp to engage a child with ADHD

Dust rose as I nosed my car into a tight space in a small dirt parking lot. Day one of nature camp in the Santa Monica Mountains, advertised as a place “where children could interact and learn about nature” had come to an end.  Rolling up my windows, I sat in the quiet, thinking of a year ago.

My husband and I’d enrolled Lee in a day camp that emphasized hiking, arts and crafts, and swimming in the community pool.  It had seemed the perfect fit for our hands-on 11-year-old daughter with ADHD who loved nature.  Then she returned from her first day, and our bubble burst.

“Mom, I tried, I really did.  But they wouldn’t let me leave the trail, even to catch a lizard.  They said it’s against the rules!”

“Maybe if you give it time…”

“I won’t go back!”

Another casualty from Lee’s sensory processing disorder, commonly associated with ADHD.  Her hyper-tactile sense, that desperate need to hold lizards, skim her fingers over rosemary bushes, or inspect a toad, had ruined camp.  She spent the summer in our back yard, on her hands and knees, free to explore.  Still, I wanted her to experience camp and the greater outdoors, as I had done in the Sequoias so many years before.  

I left my car and walked over to rickety stairs that led into an old historic house, the camp’s headquarters.  Lee caught sight of me and ran over, her hands full.  “Mom, mom!  Look what I found.”  She opened her hands to reveal a tiny skull.  “It’s a vole.” 

Connie, the camp counselor and conservationist in charge of the kids. walked over, her boots clomping on the old wood floor.  “Your daughter is something else,” she said. 

I tensed.  Had Lee lost control of her impulses?  Had she wandered off the trail away from the group, found the skull, and stuck it in her pocket?

“She showed all of us things on the trail we never would have seen otherwise.  A hawk’s nest, a praying mantis case high in a tree, snake tracks…you name it, Scout found it.”

My shoulders relaxed.  “Scout?”

“Come on, you never thought of it before?  She’s Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird, sure as I’m standing here.”

“Mom, we dissected owl pellets,” Lee exclaimed.  “And there were pieces of mice in the pellets the owls had eaten!”

By the end of camp, Scout was assisting the group, shoulder to shoulder with Connie.  She’d made emergency shelters from wood branches for survival and helped clean up a Malibu beach.  Her backpack held a jumble of bones, rocks, feathers, and turtle shells or treasures, as she called them.  With a summer full of hiking in the mountains and swimming in the ocean, Lee was in her element.  In the years that followed, she became a camp counselor there.

If your ADHD child is also hypertactile and you’re struggling with finding the right camp, consider looking for one which allows her hands-on learning and discovery.  Here’s a link for The Complete ADHD Camp Guide from ADDitude magazine:

https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-camp-and-school-guide/?src=embed_link

 

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From Denial to Acceptance

From Denial to Acceptance

...A letter her birthmother had sent me came into my mind.  The words, “ADHD runs in the family” jumped out at me, like a snake, coiled and ready to strike.  No, I told myself.  I wouldn’t accept any labels besides curious and energetic. ​..."The day I set foot in my...

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Written in the Stars

Written in the Stars

Today marks what would have been my mother and father’s 72nd anniversary.  Talk about a love story!  They met acting in summer stock at the Boothbay Playhouse in Maine.  As Dad put it in his memoir, Any Way I Can; 50 Years in Show Business: “My third summer at the...

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From Denial to Acceptance

From Denial to Acceptance

From Denial to Acceptance

…A letter her birthmother had sent me came into my mind.  The words, “ADHD runs in the family” jumped out at me, like a snake, coiled and ready to strike.  No, I told myself.  I wouldn’t accept any labels besides curious and energetic. ​…”

The day I set foot in my daughter’s first grade class, I saw my world shift on its axis.  All of the children were quiet, noses in their books.  I scanned the room, but couldn’t find Lee.  The teacher turned from the whiteboard to me and pointed under one of the tables.  There was my child, crouched like an animal, rocking back and forth.  Kneeling down, I held out my arms, and she moved into them.

“I want to go home, Mommy.”  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “I’m the dumbest person in the class.”

My heart splintered, and I hugged her close.  “You can do this,” I whispered, helping her into a chair.  But the truth was she couldn’t, and it was time for me to seek help.

I’d done my best for years to deny that my child had ADHD and kept myself in blissful ignorance.  I was a pro at making excuses for her atypical behavior, until something awful happened.  The differences between my child and other children were noticeable when Lee was only eighteen months old.  At a Mommy and Me class with a ball pit and slide, she had no intention of joining circle time.  When Lee rode down the slide right into the circle, we were scolded and sent outside to sit in a chair for time-out.

As Lee struggled to get out of my lap, a letter her birthmother had sent me came into my mind.  The words, “ADHD runs in the family” jumped out at me, like a snake, coiled and ready to strike.  No, I told myself.  I wouldn’t accept any labels besides curious and energetic. 

I put more time into choosing a preschool and found one with optional circle time and lots of play.  One day, I was helping in the art corner when a mom, who’d been volunteering outside, came over to me.  She looked down, clearing her throat. 

“Your daughter reminds me of mine.  The two of them were wildcats on their tricycles today and wouldn’t listen to the dad trying to get them to stop.”

“Sounds like Lee,” I said, shaking it off with a hollow laugh. 

 “Oh hell, I don’t know how to say this, but maybe you should consider that she has ADHD.  Our daughter’s been diagnosed with it, and she’s seeing a child psychologist.  I can get you a name if you want.” 

I stood still, feeling like I’d been slapped.  When I recovered, I added strong-willed to curious and energetic and did my best to let it go at that. 

Even though the preschool director recommended another year, I enrolled Lee in Kindergarten at the age of five.  She’d catch up, I told myself.  After a couple of weeks, I signed up to volunteer and went to the classroom.  I heard the teacher tell the kids there was a hidden “B”, and if they saw it, not to point it out until she was done talking.  She said, “Here are some words that start with B: boy, boat…”

“I see it…the B!” Lee shouted.  Her body trembled with excitement as she pointed at a card on a high shelf behind the tables. 

The teacher gave her a stern reminder that she was not to be interrupted.  Lee’s trembling turned to cowering. 

What was wrong with this teacher, I thought.  How could a kid help themselves from calling out when they found the buried treasure?  But somewhere inside myself, I knew I could have when I was that age.  And the other kids in her class seemed to know how to wait, also.     

There were other moments when the truth fell into place like a stack of dominoes.  If you have a child with ADHD, you’ve probably felt them, too.  Accepting your child’s ADHD and finding help is a gift of love for her that you’ll never regret.  There is a world of organizations that can help.  Here are just a few of them:

CHADD is a national nonprofit organization that improves the lives of people affected by ADHD through education, advocacy, and support.  I highly recommend their annual conference!

The nation’s leading source of important news, expert advice, and judgment-free understanding for families and adults living with attention deficit disorder.  And, the home for most of my blogs. 

ADHD Aware empowers people with ADHD while raising awareness and changing public opinion about this serious disease.

The Attention Deficit Disorder Association provides information, resources and networking opportunities to help adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder lead better lives.

Totally ADD liberates people from fear, shame, and stigma.  Through education, humor, and social interaction, Totally ADD provides the tools and support people need to create a life they love.

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Written in the Stars

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Market Fiasco

Market Fiasco

Market Fiasco

…After Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, I found out that SPD often accompanied it.  We went to an occupational therapist who taught us that a trip to the market wasn’t to be taken lightly.  It was a transition for Lee’s brain and body, from one place to the other, and time to process the change was necessary.  As Lee put it at a later age, “Cars are like time machines.  You watch the world go by, but your brain’s still at home even if you’re at the store…”

“Lee, I’m going to the market.  Want anything?”

            “No.  But I’ll drive you.  Need a change of scenery.”

            We drove down to the market and found a parking place.

            I said, “Coming in?”

            “Nah.  Didn’t plan on going.”

            After 21 years of living with a child who had ADHD and sensory processing disorder (SPD), this made perfect sense.  Before Lee’s diagnosis at the age of six, we went to the market according to my schedule, which was usually rushed.  Little did I know that I was setting into place a sequence of events that would turn into a fiasco.

It started when we got into the market, and I plopped her in the basket.  Marketing was like navigating a crowded freeway, as I tried to steer down the middle of the aisle.  The minute my cart veered to the right or left, her little fingers set to work grabbing the coupons from the machines sticking out from the shelf.  Before we got very far, the coupons were dropped in favor of a bright, shiny package of cookies, fun to put in her mouth.  By the time the cookies were back on the shelf, my toddler was leaning over the basket, trying to pick the topmost can off a display case.

            When Lee was old enough to walk beside the basket, she ran.  I followed at top speed, dodging those display cases, hoping she wouldn’t crash into one.  But too often, a tower of cans flew onto the floor with a huge bang, leaving my face burning with embarrassment.  When we got into the checkout lane, I reminded Lee to stand back and give the customer in front of us room to check out.  My words floated in one ear and out the other, as she sidled up close to the stranger like she was her mother.  Pulling Lee back to my side, I unloaded my groceries, only to have it happen again.

After Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, I found out that SPD often accompanied it.  We went to an occupational therapist who taught us that a trip to the market wasn’t to be taken lightly.  It was a transition for Lee’s brain and body, from one place to the other, and time to process the change was necessary.  As Lee put it at a later age, “Cars are like time machines.  You watch the world go by, but your brain’s still at home even if you’re at the store.”

The occupational therapist explained that if my child didn’t have a chance to transition, then the market could trigger reactions.  First, Lee’s hypo-tactile sense was on high alert, her need to touch everything in sight, or put it in her mouth, too urgent to resist.  Then, the vestibular jumped right in, the body’s sense of gravity, so out of whack from the new environment that it was likely to crash into nearby objects.  The proprioceptive sense, her body’s awareness of where she was in space, joined in at the checkout line, and a considerate distance vanished into thin air.   

Advance notice that we were going to the market proved necessary, as were exercises before we went, like spinning, for grounding the vestibular sense.  She wore a weighted backpack to help the proprioceptive sense, and always held a fidget toy in her busy hands.  If I could, I made the trips to the market with her as short as possible.

Bringing my thoughts back to the present, I looked over at Lee in the car, who was putting in earbuds, eyes fluttering closed. 

I said, “Be back soon.”

“I’m safe here, Mom.  Take your time.”   

 

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A Serious Decision – Teen ADHD Driving

A Serious Decision – Teen ADHD Driving

A Serious Decision – Teen ADHD Driving

…When we told Lee she would have to wait until she was 18 to drive, she was angry.  But when her anxiety grew worse in tenth grade, she became fearful.  My husband and I went from reassuring her it could wait to encouraging her to give it a try when she turned 18.  As the time grew closer, I researched driving schools in our area and found one that had classes onsite for the written exam, versus doing it online.  Like many ADHD students, Lee needed guidance and help staying on task, plus reminders of what she’d learned. 

 

“Pull a U, Lee.”

“I don’t know how to!”

“Just make a sharp left turn!”

The next thing I knew, our front tires were on the sidewalk, the back of the car blocking the right lane of oncoming traffic.  Fear broke out in silent ripples across Lee’s body.  My heart was racing.  I’d just given the keys to a two-ton SUV to my daughter, who struggled with ADHD and anxiety.  Was I insane?

We lived in California and driving was a skill that cannot be underestimated.  But recent statistics prove I was right to be concerned.  A Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia study, published in May of 2019, stated that teens with ADHD have a 62% higher crash risk the first month after getting licensed.  To top that off, 37% of people with ADHD, regardless of their age when licensed, have a higher crash risk in the first four years after getting licensed.  Distractibility, Impulsivity, Hyperactivity…all good reasons why allowing your teen with ADHD to drive is a very serious decision.    

When we told Lee she would have to wait until she was 18 to drive, she was angry.  But when her anxiety grew worse in tenth grade, she became fearful.  My husband and I went from reassuring her it could wait to encouraging her to give it a try when she turned 18.  As the time grew closer, I researched driving schools in our area and found one that had classes onsite for the written exam, versus doing it online.  Like many ADHD students, Lee needed guidance and help staying on task, plus reminders of what she’d learned. 

The driving school teacher not only made it fun, but he repeated himself over and over.  He drilled the important facts until Lee had them memorized, passing the written exam.  Then, the driving training began and getting Lee out of the house and into the car was the challenge.  We went through four instructors who were all, for the most part, kind and aware of Lee’s anxiety.  Still, whether Lee would get into the car with them was hit or miss.  Finally, Holly arrived, a mom who had fostered many children with special needs and knew how to toe the line between compassion and strength.

Lee and I made it off that sidewalk, but that experience and others convinced her to go at her own pace.  It took two permits over the course of a year and four months for Lee to get her license.  But when she did, she had more experience than the average teen, to say the least.  When it came time for Lee to choose a car, the decision was easy.  The new smart cars with their flashing warning systems, despite their sticker tag, were great back-up.

 When we saw her take off down our street for the first time, we felt she could handle it.  The longer period of time before she drove allowed time for her brain to develop.  Extra experience behind the wheel allowed Lee to gain confidence and cope as a driver when she felt anxiety.  If you have a child with ADHD who is about to drive, below is the link for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia study.  It’s worth the read!

https://www.chop.edu/news/teens-adhd-get-more-traffic-violations-risky-driving-have-higher-crash-risk-regardless-age-when

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A Milestone

A Milestone

A Milestone

…I leaned back in my chair, feeling my heart swell.  If I had known, when Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, that one day I’d hear these words, it would have given me so much hope.  

“Mom, Alex and I had an argument.”  Lee plopped into a chair across from me at the kitchen table.

I paused, mid-bite, and put my sandwich down.  A shared confidence from my 21-year-old was like unwrapping a Christmas present. 

“What are those things called again?  You know, the problem I have with time.”

            Boy did I know the answer to that one.  “Executive functions.”

            “Yeah.  He wanted me to drop the game we were playing online and join this group chat.  But I need time to process the change.  I can’t transition that fast.”

I leaned back in my chair, feeling my heart swell.  If I had known, when Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, that one day I’d hear these words, it would have given me so much hope.  A self-awareness of executive function problems, whether it be organization, prioritization, time management, or follow-through was crucial to regulating them.  And, for Lee, time management was the worst of all.

            “Let’s make a bubble chart with executive functions on top, then time under it, the reasons it’s hard for me under that, and the coping mechanisms I need.”  Lee ran from the room and came back a few seconds later, skidding to a stop. Colored markers and paper spilled onto the table.  “I’m going to use this chart to teach Alex so he understands.”

            I had to laugh.  Lee was a mini-me in motion.  How many times had I tried to explain to teachers when she was in grade school that Lee wasn’t lazy; she was a slow processor.  Give her more time, I pleaded, more prompts to turn in homework, more prompts to write it down.  Present the information not just on the board, but verbally.  And, I begged for more time for any testing. 

At home, I started a new system of time.  Family activities were written on a magnetic calendar, stuck right on the kitchen refrigerator.  The fewer surprises for Lee, the better.  When we went somewhere, I added in extra time before we left.  If necessary, time to sit in the car before entering the sensory onslaught of a mall, a doctor’s office or even playdates. 

            I looked at Lee’s chart, now filled with different colored bubbles.  “Executive Functions” was in a pink bubble on the top.  Under it, a line led to a blue one for “Time Management.”  Another line beneath that one led to an orange bubble, “Slow Processor,” with three green bubbles underneath for coping mechanisms. 

            “So, here’s the ways I deal with time problems, Mom.  Reminders, lists, and advance notice.  That’s what I needed today.”  True, I thought.  When Lee was in high school, she used a black sharpie on her hand for reminders, but today it was a phone alarm or a post-it.  Often, I found post-its on my desk in the morning, reminding me to remind Lee as a back-up to the alarm.  When there were a lot of daily activities, we made lists and added check boxes.  Always, I knew to give advance notice, both written and verbally.

            Lee grabbed the chart and said, “Thanks, Mom.  Alex just needs to understand the way I function.  People who don’t have ADHD just don’t get it.”

            What a milestone, I thought.  What a great way to start this new year.

 

 

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Writing About My Child

Writing About My Child

Writing About My Child

When Lee was thirteen, I went to a conference for people with ADHD and met the representative for ADDitude magazine, a leading resource for the ADHD community.  Without a doubt, I knew this was the place I wanted to submit an essay.  The ADDitude representative bounced me to the editor, who offered me a running blog on their website.  I felt a little nudge inside my heart.  I saw those steel-grey eyes.  Now, it was time to get my child’s consent.

“Will it help other kids?” Lee said a hopeful smile

“Does your daughter know you’re writing about her?”  The man spit out his words, his steel-grey eyes drilling into me.  My fellow writers shifted in their chairs.  I felt like a bug pinned under a microscope.  No one had ever asked me this question in all the previous conferences I’d attended.  I shook my head no.  My cheeks burned under his gaze. 

The workshop leader said, “If you have personal questions for Jennifer, please ask her after our class.” 

I’d just read an essay of a morning when my child’s ADHD had spun out of control.  Desperate to cope, I’d written the story, looking for perspective.  Now, I felt my struggles had been human, might give other parents hope, and this workshop was my way to see if other writers agreed with me.  But, I hadn’t thought to show it to Lee, who was only nine years old.    

When the bell rang for lunch, the man leapt out of his seat and came over to me.  “You should wait until your daughter is old enough to give you consent.  She may never forgive you for writing about her disabilities.  Think about it.”  He strode out of the door.

As I watched him leave, I wondered if he was right.  My heart hammered, and a wave of shame rippled through me.  I pushed out of my chair.  If I kept my child’s ADHD a secret, under lock and key, then what message was I giving to her as her mother?  Lee needed courage, not fear, to face her challenges. 

I’m not here to sweep Lee’s disability under the rug, I’m writing to advocate. 

I returned home and told Lee I was writing about raising a child with ADHD, the ups and downs of our days together.  Since it wasn’t going anywhere yet, I didn’t see why I had to ask her approval.  Over time, my essays piled up, and I started to look for a place to publish them. 

When Lee was thirteen, I went to a conference for people with ADHD and met the representative for ADDitude magazine, a leading resource for the ADHD community.  Without a doubt, I knew this was the place I wanted to submit an essay.  The ADDitude representative bounced me to the editor, who offered me a running blog on their website.  I felt a little nudge inside my heart.  I saw those steel-grey eyes.  Now, it was time to get my child’s consent.

“Will it help other kids?” Lee said a hopeful smile.

“More like the moms and dads.  But I won’t do it without your permission.  And, I’ll give you a pseudonym.”

In my attempt to find ways to parent my child and understand her ADHD, I’ve written over fifty blogs.  I’ve gone public on social media and been interviewed on Instagram.  Lee is now 21, and not a day goes by that I don’t feel gratitude for her support.  Any shame I ever felt has long been forgiven.

 

 

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Today marks what would have been my mother and father’s 72nd anniversary.  Talk about a love story!  They met acting in summer stock at the Boothbay Playhouse in Maine.  As Dad put it in his memoir, Any Way I Can; 50 Years in Show Business: “My third summer at the...

read more