The Journey from Diagnosis to Acceptance

The Journey from Diagnosis to Acceptance

I’m thrilled to have an article in the Jan/Feb issue of L.A. Parent! What an honor to write an article for a magazine that I turned to so many times in my own parenting journey. When my child was diagnosed with mental health challenges, I wished I’d had a guide or tips to help me with the questions that burned in my mind.

Where do I start? Will other people judge me? Why do I compare my child to neurotypical children? How do I handle my emotions when my child’s behavior feels out-of-control? How do I get out of a negative rut?

These questions and more kept me tossing and turning at night years ago, wishing for more support. So, I wrote this article to answer them, hoping that parents today could use any tips that resonate and find encouragement. Parenting a neurodiverse child takes enormous courage, and seeking help is the best way to start out on your journey.

The Power of Books

The Power of Books

The Power of Books

Over the years in my quest to help my child with ADHD and now complete a memoir about it, I accumulated many books on the subject. Maybe it’s the teacher in me or just my passion for books, but I ended up with a pretty good collection. This month’s blog focuses on some of my favorites.

As a child, I loved nothing better than going down the street with my best friend to our favorite tall, shady bush. We’d pick out a cozy spot underneath the branches, take out the books we’d brought, and read for hours. In the years to come, books would be my way to understand and gain perspective about the world. They were my solace through difficult times and my favorite form of relaxation.

When my child, Lee, was diagnosed with ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and anxiety, I turned to books. My shelves started to fill up with memoirs, books with parenting help, and ones that gave me facts on ADHD, as well as its impact on society.

As you can see from the photo accompanying this blog, I ended up with a full collection and thought I’d share some of my favorites. For a full list of the titles and authors, you can go to my ADDitude page.

A big fan of memoirs, I loved “Raising Will; Surviving the Brilliance and Blues of ADHD.” Katherine Quie’s journey to help her son reminded me so much of my own and the many challenges Lee and I faced. From Quie’s struggles to help Will at home and in the classroom, to the moments when she sees his extraordinary talent as a musician shine, this book is a must for parents raising a child with ADHD.

Another book that resonated with me was “The Essential Guide to Raising Complex Kids with ADHD, Anxiety, and More,” by Elaine Taylor-Klaus. As an ex-teacher, I appreciated her strategies to help kids in the classroom, stressing individual steps over the outcome. As the mother of a complex child, I welcomed the invitation to step into acceptance and create a new perspective. Elaine not only acknowledged the difficulty parents faced, she empowered them to believe in themselves and see the possibilities, instead of the obstacles.

At a conference that focused on ADHD and autism, I met Stephen P. Hinshaw, one of the authors of “The ADHD Explosion; Myths, Medication, Money, and Today’s Push for Performance.” His lecture cited many statistics and facts from the book, written with Richard M. Scheffler, which convinced me it belonged on my bookshelf. “What,” the authors asked, “…is driving the ADHD explosion–parents, doctors, schools, culture, the healthcare system, or Big Pharma?” A compelling question.

These are only a few selections from my collection that turned me into an advocate and changed my life for the better. I hope one of them is just what you need this spring. Knowledge gives us power!

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Communicating With Your ADHD Child

Communicating With Your ADHD Child

Communicating With Your ADHD Child

Even though I’d heard that communication is a skill we learn and practice, no one told me how important that would be in raising my child. Between Lee’s inability to focus, a lot of hyperactivity, and emotions that were hard to regulate, it became my challenge to find a different way to communicate. In this month’s blog, I put together the tips that worked for me over the years. Hope you’ll find one that works for you!

Before my child, Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, I found myself starting far too many sentences with, “Didn’t you remember…” or “How many times have I told you…” Or “What were you thinking…” Then there were the pleas to “Pay Attention!” or “Remember what I told you…” that my child didn’t seem to hear, only serving to make me feel like a terrible mother.

After the diagnosis, I learned why communicating with Lee was so difficult. The child psychologist explained to me that Lee’s inability to regulate focus and tendency to hyperfocus, plus struggles with hyperactivity, made it very challenging for my child to listen to me. Communication would be a skill we would both need to learn and practice.

I can’t say this was easy, and there were times I fell back on those useless questions when my frustration boiled over. But through the years, I found advice to guide me through the worst of days. Here are my favorites:

PATIENCE: The worst time to have a conversation, especially an important one, is when your child is hyperfocused on whatever has their attention at the time. Wait until your child is focused on you. 

STAY PRESENT: Ask questions and be an attentive listener. This was always tough for me as my brain tends to jump ahead and make assumptions. But slowing down and staying in the present moment brought me new insight into my child’s thoughts and improved my parenting.  

TIMING: If your child is feeling anxiety over something, this is the worst time to press a point. Back off, offer coping mechanisms for the anxiety they’re feeling, and try again when they’re calm.

GO SLOW:  Don’t overload your child with a large expectation. One thing at a time always works better. Instead of “Clean Your Room,” start with “Pick up everything that’s yellow,” and so on through the rainbow.

DROP REMEMBER: Asking the question, “Did you remember?” only made my child feel worse. Like Lee, many children with ADHD have memory attention deficit and need tips to remember. One of Lee’s favorite ways to remember our address was to sing it every day. To this day, both of us still remember the tune!

USE FIDGET TOYS: Lee was able to focus better with the use of fidget toys. They served to ease hyperactivity and allowed my child to stay seated and listen more effectively. Whenever I could get a teacher to allow one, Lee’s favorite was squishy balls in jacket pockets. At home, it was every neon shade of slime.  

RESPOND: If you feel your temperature rising in an explosive moment with your child, stop, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Then, respond, don’t react. Repeating what your child has said, reflecting back their own words and naming their emotion, such as, “You must feel angry,” gives you time to collect yourself.

PRAISE: ADHD kids often receive more criticism than their peers. Praise what your child can do, offer help with what she can’t. Celebrate the things she did well that day. A little praise goes a long way in building their self-esteem.         

(For more resources on communication, visit my website at the ADDitude Blog page)

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Situational Awareness 

Situational Awareness 

Situational Awareness 

One of the workshops I loved at last year’s CHADD conference was led by Ryan Wexelblatt, the “ADHD Dude.” A popular speaker, he chose to highlight “Situational Awareness,” and it was an eye-opener. Join me in this month’s blog as I figure out how to keep Lee safe in parking lots, only to find it turned around on me many years later. And a big thanks to Ryan for his words of wisdom that motivated this blog!

One of my favorite workshops this year, at the annual ADHD conference, was given by Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW, also known as the “ADHD Dude.” His topic, situational awareness, zinged home to me when he asked if there were any parents in the room who’d had difficulty with their children in parking lots. My hand shot up as my mind transported back in time to taking my child, Lee, to the market. The second I unbuckled Lee’s seat belt, she wriggled out and was off like a bullet, racing in-between cars and paying no attention to my pleas to stop.

Situational awareness, as defined on Ryan Wexelblatt’s Facebook page, is understanding what’s happening at a certain place, at a certain time, and to help anticipate what the environment will be like. And children with ADHD, like mine, who struggle with paying attention and curbing impulse, can be completely unaware of their environment which makes parking lots very scary for their parents.

When Lee was young, I’d never heard of situational awareness, but I knew I had to develop strategies for getting through a parking lot. First, I plotted the quickest way from my car into the store. Too many distractions could pop up on our way into the market, from picking up lost pennies to collecting dropped coupons. Even worse, if a bluebelly lizard poked out his head in the little grassy areas between the parking aisles, all bets were off as Lee chased him, myself in breathless pursuit, past honking cars.

Once parked, I turned around to give Lee reminders, grateful for childproof locks. As an ex-teacher, I knew the value of repetition and thought it applied to my child’s challenges as well. If I could drill into her mind the rules of a parking lot, we’d both be better off.

“Mom, let me out!”

“In a minute. Where are we going?”

“Into the market.

“What are you going to do?”

“Hold your hand. Now can I get out?”

“What if you see a lizard?”

Lee groaned.  This was the deal breaker. “Let him stay with his family instead of going home in my pocket.”

Before we left the market, I repeated the reminders. If it was a successful trip back to the car, it was time for a reward. Motivation, I thought, for our next trip. And what better motivation than a promise to delay homework so she could chase blue-bellies? No parking lots to navigate and plenty of bushes at home to crawl around in and catch lizards to her heart’s content.

Back in the conference workshop, I was thinking I’d done a pretty good job of teaching my child situational awareness, even though I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time. Then, I remembered last week when Lee, now a young adult, drove us to the market.

As soon as we stepped away from our car, Lee took my arm, looking both ways for traffic. “We’re safe now.” And gave me a little push. “No dawdling. Let’s get to the crosswalk!”

When Ryan Wexelblatt’s workshop was over, I asked him what he thought. Had I caused Lee’s anxiety to worsen in parking lots by being so strict? He asked, “Would you rather have the opposite?”

Of course not. But who likes being treated like a child? Although there was a moment in that market parking lot when I veered to my right to get a basket, oblivious of a car backing out next to it.

Lee made a grab for me. “Mom! Watch where you’re going! You scared me.”

Maybe my own situational awareness needs a little tune-up.

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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 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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