Inspiration through Connection at the 2022 CHADD Conference

Inspiration through Connection at the 2022 CHADD Conference

Inspiration through Connection at the 2022 CHADD Conference

Last November, I attended the CHADD conference, the annual international conference on ADHD.  As promised, here’s a blog with my take-aways from some of 2022’s valuable workshops, along with a heartfelt reminder of why the conference is so important to me. 

As my plane touched down in Dallas, my mind traveled back fifteen years to the moment that started this journey. I’d been a weary mother in desperate need of help for Lee, my child who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD, SPD, (sensory processing disorder) and anxiety. I thought I’d receive helpful tips by going to CHADD’s (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) annual conference on ADHD. What I didn’t expect was the community who embraced me and offered a myriad of coping techniques and support.

This year, I was on a hunt for more information, not only as a mother whose child was now a young adult but as a writer. Over the course of the pandemic, I’d stayed behind my computer, blogging my experiences about raising a child with ADHD, then turning them into a book. It was time for me to crawl out of my writer’s cave and reconnect with the ADHD community.

One of the biggest topics this year at the conference was the deep impact that anxiety was having on the ADHD population. Dr. Sharon Saline, a foremost expert on the subject, led a workshop that included parenting tips for children struggling with anxiety.  She highlighted her five “C’s” for parents: self-control, compassion, collaboration, consistency, and celebration. Tools, as she also terms them in her blog on her website, for parents to “…reduce your stress, create peace in your family, and increase cooperation and love all around.” Tools that I could use with Lee, now a young adult, as we navigate our relationship over time.

Another topic that several workshop leaders addressed was communication. In the first lecture I attended on this subject, Dr. Tamara Rosier called many of our family problems “picadilloes.” These were problems that might seem small but can cause bigger ones. It made me think of how the sound of scraping silverware could trigger Lee’s SPD and cause a meltdown. Dr. Rosier recommended that the family discuss the picadillo and how to problem-solve it. Just putting in the effort might keep the problem from escalating.

Dr. Elaine Taylor-Klaus also stressed the importance of problem-solving within the family in her talk on collaborative communication. Similar to Dr. Sharon Saline, she outlined five steps for parents to commit to calm: stay calm, quit taking it personally, be open and transparent, don’t use the word “should,” and ask permission (“would you be willing?”) One of my favorite quotes from her lecture that day was, “Just because we say it, doesn’t mean they heard it. It’s how we say it. Show you’re listening.”  

At the end of the conference, I slipped into a packed elevator with other conference attendees and punched my hotel floor number. The elevator stopped at its first destination, and I stood, waiting, my brain too exhausted from a marathon of back-to-back lectures to pay attention to the floor number flashing.

The woman standing next to me said, “Did someone want the 5th floor?”

That brought my thoughts around and a blush to my cheeks as I tried to step out of the closing doors. Too late, I jumped back and said, “Wake up, Jennifer!” with an embarrassed laugh.

“That’s OK, honey,” the same woman said. “We’ve all got ADHD. You’re in the right elevator.” The other people smiled, and I could feel their warmth and understanding.

I don’t have ADHD, but that didn’t matter. This community has had my back through every misstep or challenge. If your child or you have been recently diagnosed with ADHD, reach out to CHADD for resources and guidance. If you can, go to their annual conference. Their support can be your best ally.

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The CHADD Conference, a Lifeline!

The CHADD Conference, a Lifeline!

The Annual International Conference on ADHD, sponsored by CHADD, takes place this month, from November 17th-19th in Dallas, Texas. If you or someone you know is affected by ADHD, this is the place to find resources, support, and community. In this month’s blog, I share how going to the conference was an invaluable help for my child with ADHD, changing our lives for the better.

It’s fitting that the annual CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) Conference takes place in November, a time of gratitude. I will always give thanks for the support, knowledge, and education I gained from attending throughout the years. 

I first heard about the conference just after my daughter, Lee, was diagnosed with ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and anxiety. At the time, I needed help on how to raise a very hyperactive child who was struggling in school, unable to do her homework. Even though I could Google for advice, it didn’t come close to seeking it in person.

At that first conference, the keynote speaker welcomed us, and the man in front of me stretched out his legs on the empty chair to his right, lying back on the chair to his left. Wow, I mused, he must be tired. Two minutes later, he sat up again, and did the same thing on the other side. His body, like Lee’s, was in perpetual motion. I pulled out my notebook and scribbled, “Lee could use a few chairs in class to stretch for hyperactivity, a good way to cope with sitting through a lecture.”

That was just the beginning of a weekend crammed with researchers, educators, and leading doctors and psychologists. By the end of the morning, I’d found another mom who’d also adopted a child with ADHD. The two of us spent lunch getting to know each other and sharing notes from different lectures. She had the answer to the homework problem. “You’re lucky Lee has an IEP. You can hold an addendum meeting. You have every right to bring up why you think she’s falling behind. It sounds to me like she needs extra time to do homework in the resource room.”

Then our conversation moved from school to home. No matter how many times I asked Lee, my direction to “Clean your room,” was ignored, despite the consequences. My new friend offered a solution she’d just heard from an ADHD parent coach. She explained that Lee’s executive functions were affected by ADHD, making it hard to organize. Instead of saying, “Clean your room,” the workshop leader had given a tip to make it more manageable and fun. Have your child pick up all the red things, then the orange, and so on through the rainbow.

I came home from the conference loaded down with tips, strategies, and information for myself and Lee’s educators. It was knowledge that would turn me into my child’s advocate, or “warrior mom,” as Lee liked to call me. Best of all, I found community and a way to give back. In the exhibit hall, I ran into the representative for ADDitude magazine. It was not long after that I established a running blog for them, bringing together my love for writing with my passion to help my child.

Every November when the CHADD conference rolls around, I feel grateful for the wonderful ADHD community that changed my life. Now that the conference is both in-person and virtual, I hope many other struggling parents can take advantage of this lifeline!

 

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The Moment I Became my Child’s Advocate 

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The Moment I Became my Child’s Advocate 

This month’s blog might sound familiar to parents of a child with ADHD. It was the moment in time I was spurred to advocacy, thanks to a teacher who didn’t believe ADHD was real. His disbelief was my wake-up call, a true gift for the years ahead.

For many parents raising a child with ADHD, I imagine there is a moment when they are spurred to advocacy. I can still remember mine. It came during an IEP meeting with Lee’s third grade teacher who didn’t believe ADHD was real. As I laid out the accommodations my child would need in the coming year, starting with more time on tests, the teacher shifted around in his chair before he spoke.

“Lee doesn’t need more time on tests, she could just use some more self-discipline.”

My cheeks grew hot as thoughts raced through my mind. How could a child who lacked impulse control magically pluck self-discipline out of the air to manage herself? Or soothe her hyperactive body into submission? Or change a deficit of attention to precise focus? Was he mad?

The accommodations I wanted for Lee included: more time on tests, study materials in advance, and dictating homework responses. When Lee took a test, she’d barely make it through a few problems before time was called, her mind wandering out the window to the clouds. Any distraction in the classroom took her attention away from her paper, as did that feeling of failure when she knew how far behind she’d lapsed.

Since ADHD affected Lee’s ability to process information in a timely way, study materials, like notes, outlines, or charts, would give her more understanding before a lesson was taught. Then, she would be better prepared for a quiz or test. And, dictating homework responses to me was a crucial way to survive dysgraphia, her writing disability which made her fingers cramp. Dictating would help ease the strain of gripping a pencil and bring hours of work down to a reasonable time.

This all seemed so logical to me, but I had been educated about ADHD, and given strategies and coping mechanisms to help my child. Her third grade teacher had none of these, just an old-fashioned belief that ADHD, somehow, didn’t exist. And, he seemed to think, if children who had problems keeping up with schoolwork were more self-disciplined, they could perform well on tests, study, and do homework with ease.

Fortunately for Lee, no one in the room that day was on this teacher’s side. His comment about self-discipline fell on deaf ears. But he did give me a gift. I knew in that moment, the fallacy of his thinking could have led to my child’s loss of precious accommodations. From now on, I would be my daughter’s advocate and stand up for her rights in school.

At the end of the IEP meeting, all of the accommodations I requested were granted. It was as if the words, “self-discipline” had disappeared with the teacher when he returned to his classroom. But I knew I would come across other people, in the years to come, who might have similar misguided beliefs. It was my role now to educate and give my child a chance to succeed.

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I stood on the edge of an indoor YMCA pool, every muscle tense, waiting for the whistle. It came shrill and loud, and I crossed my fingers. My daughter, Lee, was hanging on to the edge with one hand at the end of the pool. She glanced up at the clouds rolling overhead.

“Go, Lee, go!” the coach barked through his bullhorn. And my child went, seconds late, causing her team to come in last.

Trying not to let my disappointment show, I reached out an arm and helped her out of the pool. She peeled off her goggles and pointed up.

“Rainclouds!”

By now, Lee was in third grade and had taken occupational therapy, with sensory exercises, along with medication for ADHD. She had better focus and could sit still longer in a classroom. But it didn’t mean she wouldn’t get distracted. After a few months of swim team, she wanted out.

“I just want to swim by myself, without that stupid whistle.”

Frustrated, I dug into articles on the Internet about children with ADHD participating in a sport. Most experts said individual sports were the best way to lower hyperactivity, help with self-discipline, and make friends. So, I turned to karate, which was also reputed to build self-confidence. Thanks to keeping her body in motion with the kicks, yells, and race to get belts, Lee hung in there for nine months. But the last month, I found myself chasing her before practice around the parking lot and into the bushes that held lizards outside the karate studio.

“Lee, we’re going to be late!” 

“This is more fun!” 

First swim, then karate was fitting a pattern of initial enthusiasm, followed by boredom and distraction. Not only was I wasting money, but her complaints were wearing me down. Her impulsivity, difficulty with following directions, and paying attention was making it impossible for her to take part in a sport.

Much to my surprise when Lee was in sixth grade, she showed an interest in the surf team. The coach gave directions, and the kids took their boards into the ocean. They all sat in a group waiting for a wave, except Lee who drifted away, headed down the coast. I took off running, doing my best to keep up and waving my arms. Lee spotted me and paddled in.

“It’s taking too long to find a wave,” she said, ditching her board. She plopped down on the wet sand and dug a gigantic hole, looking for sand crabs.

As I look back now, I realize the signs were already there. Whether she was watching the clouds roll by, or chasing lizards into bushes, or digging for sand crabs, Lee was already choosing her own form of activity. She was happy playing at her own pace without any rules or directions. It wasn’t until she went to nature camp, a summer month spent exploring the Santa Monica Mountains, that Lee found her favorite activity.

If you, too, have a child with ADHD who is having trouble fitting into sports or activities, take note of what she loves to do. What distracts her, causes her to hyperfocus with intensity, and brings a smile to her face? Lee is now a young adult with a job outdoors, surrounded by plants, butterflies, and plenty of lizards. Some things never change.

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Less Than Perfect

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Less Than Perfect

This month’s blog is for all the moms who’ve ever felt like the world’s worst mother at one time or another. And, it’s especially for those of you struggling to parent a young child with ADHD or any other difficult challenges. Balancing your needs with those of your child takes extraordinary strength and confidence. In this blog, I give into my guilt, only to realize how little it matters.

I was running late, really late this time. The traffic light ahead was yellow, and I decided to run it even though I could see the scary blue video light attached. I pushed the pedal to the floorboard and gritted my teeth, barely making it through the intersection before the light turned red. Exhaling, I tried to reassure myself. My daughter, Lee, was happier in preschool, she had friends to play with. It was an extended playdate, I told myself, better than a harried mother. I’d never done it before, but the school offered extra care at four dollars an hour and I’d traded our afternoon together for a pedicure. I felt like the world’s worst mother.

I tailgated the elderly man in front of me. “Go, go, go!” I urged, knowing he wouldn’t. This was ridiculous, I told myself. Lee was supervised, I didn’t have to worry. But an image of Lee from last week filled my mind. There she stood on her little stool in the bathroom, orange cough syrup in one hand, a spoon in the other, triumph written all over her face. “Mommy, I drank my medicine all by myself!” 

Her rosy mouth was ringed in orange and crumpled when I grabbed the medicine away, the liquid shooting out of the bottle high in the air and staining the carpet. My pulse hammered as I stared at the contents in the bottle. I must have left it on the bathroom counter the night before, after I’d given her a dose. How could I have been so forgetful? How much had she drunk?  She stomped her little foot, “Give it back to me. I like medicine!”

There was no time. I hoisted her up in the air and pressed her into my chest, gave her Ipecac to vomit, and raced to the nearest hospital. And boy did she vomit, all the way to the hospital and right into the emergency room. Instead of pumping her stomach, they decided to monitor her vital signs over the next few hours.

When a doctor examined her, she reported that Lee hadn’t ingested enough to do any damage, probably only a teaspoon or two. Then her voice grew stern. “From now on, you must make sure all medicine is out of a child’s reach.” I nodded, a deep red blush spreading across my face. Picking up Lee, I slunk out of the hospital and took her home to sleep it off.

My car’s clock read five minutes after five, and I cursed my pretty, pink toenails. I gunned the pedal to the floor, whizzing past the elderly man. The playground came into view when I made a right into the preschool’s curvy driveway.

Lee was carefully building an enormous sandcastle, stopping to lick the sand off her fingers. I parked, jumped out of the car and dashed toward her. She looked up, her eyes locking on mine. “Mommy!” she screamed. “My mommy is here!”  She ran to the chain link fence that separated us, and we shared a sandy kiss through the opening.

            “I’m sorry I’m late, honey.”

            “That’s OK, you’re the best mommy in the whole wide world.”

My guilt dissipated into the evening breeze. Maybe I wasn’t such a bad mother after all, at least in her eyes, which were the only eyes that really mattered.

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Speak Up!

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Speak Up!

For many children with ADHD, one of the most difficult skills to learn is how to self-advocate. But, it becomes critical when they go to high school and into adult life. In today’s world, where so many kids struggle with anxiety or depression, learning to advocate is a skill not to be underestimated.

As a person with disabilities starting a first job, there are many challenges my twenty-two year-old is confronting.  But I also know Lee has the knowledge and skills to speak up.

“Mom, I can’t handle the walkie-talkie they want me to carry around.”

“Too loud?”

“It’s a shriek that freaks out my sensory.”

“So…”

“I know, I know.  I have to tell my manager.”

When Lee was in grade school, there were no classes to teach children how to self-advocate.  I was her mouthpiece, often dismissed as a troublesome, helicopter mom who just wanted to make up excuses.  But, when Lee’s diagnoses started to mount, I encouraged my child to stand up and use her voice.

“You know, if I do something while you talk, I can hear you better,” she told her second-grade teacher.  And, “Mom says a squeeze toy in my pocket would calm me down.”  Fortunately, the second-grade teacher was open to new ideas and let my child draw during lectures, and bring a squishy ball in her sweatshirt to class.  

Then middle school rolled around, hormones kicked in and social anxiety ratcheted up. Lee’s self-confidence took a bad tumble.  Shy and struggling with learning disabilities, she kept her mouth shut in the classroom.  But at home, she had no problem telling me what she needed. 

“Don’t ask me what I’m going to do after school. We ADHD’ers can’t focus on what to do now, let alone later!”  And, “Mom, I forgot to turn in my homework again.  I need the teacher to remind me, more than one time.  Can you put that accommodation in the IEP?”   

In the classroom, it was a different story.  When she needed to tell her math teacher that staring over her shoulder was triggering her anxiety, or she needed more time to process questions on a test, she lost her voice.

I stayed the spokesperson in middle school, but in high school, I handed over the baton.  Teachers made it clear that I could be there for support, but Lee would have to speak up.  It made sense for her to practice.  In college or working a job, she’d be on her own.

Lee was slow to start, but in eleventh grade, she realized she had power in her voice and gained more self-confidence.  Even then, I wasn’t prepared when I listened to her ask her counselor for another teacher. 

“I have a bad anxiety disorder, and Mr. Peter’s classroom environment and expectations cause my sensory processing to go crazy which makes me nauseous and dizzy.  When I was in his class before, I missed a lot of school.”

The counselor’s eyes grew wide.  A grin split my face.  Not too many kids, I guessed, could self-advocate like that.      

Too many kids go through the school system mute, unable to stand up for themselves.  With anxiety and depression so pervasive in our schools, it seems more important than ever for our children to develop the skills to ask for help.  Then, they will have a shot at finding success in their adult lives. 

Without a walkie-talkie.

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