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

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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

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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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In my recent interview on Building Blocks Parenting, Carlee Krichmar asked me if there was one take away, a piece of advice I could give other parents raising children with ADHD.  Three words popped into my head that had given me the way forward and taught me how to believe in myself again. 

 “Knowledge is Power.” 

I’d been so scared.  When my child’s diagnoses started piling up on top of each other, like a stack of teetering stones, I kept trying to hide them, deny them out of existence, and pretend everything was normal.  It felt as if I was hanging onto the side of a steep mountain, too afraid to take the next step.  If I didn’t hold tight to my old beliefs, sheltered by my worst fears, then I’d tumble blindly into space. 

         

But the day came when my child, spinning out of control, said, “Mommy, my body moves too fast and my brain can’t stop it.”

Hearing her words broke through my wall of doubt and shame.  To hell with what other people thought or the obstacles I might face along the way.  I signed up for the CHADD conference and my world did a 180.  From doctors, to psychologists, to educators, to other moms in support groups, I found my ADHD community.        

The knowledge I gained gave me the power to come back and give my daughter’s teachers new ways for her to keep up in class.  I found activities she could do outside of school to build her self-esteem.  And I was honest with other parents, asking for their understanding.  Armed with knowledge, I now had the key to help my daughter with strategies and tools to succeed.

Yesterday, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a mother who had given up hope in her child.  Her worries of having her child labeled and the stigma of being judged had left her hanging on the side of that same mountain.  What she didn’t realize, I thought, is what she would feel if she reached out for help.  A solid foothold.  The kind that only comes when you give yourself the gift of navigating a new way ahead.

 

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