Turning Judgement into Support

Turning Judgement into Support

Turning Judgement into Support

Recently, ADDitude magazine posted on social media one of my blogs: https://www.additudemag.com/girls-with-adhd-anxiety-spd/.  In the comments, there were angry responses from people saying they’d have walked out on the conversation I had with a friend regarding my daughter’s anxiety. Here’s my response in a blog as to why anger doesn’t work for me, including five steps on how to handle other people’s judgement:

My teenager, Lee, was suffering from anxiety and having trouble making it to her high school classes. Reaching out for support, I met for coffee with a friend Lynn, a teacher whom I thought would understand. Much to my surprise, she told me parents should go tougher, even when their kids had anxiety, and make them go to school.

When ADDitude magazine published my blog about our encounter, several people said they’d have walked out on this conversation. Believe me, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to. But if there’s any lesson I’ve learned over the years after raising a child with ADHD, anxiety, sensory processing disorder, and other disabilities, it always worked out better for me to keep my butt in my seat and try to educate.

It’s hard to change people’s minds, especially when your child looks “normal.” But mental disabilities have a way of making themselves seen, and we parents can often get the worst of people’s judgment. I contacted a therapist and asked how to deal with uneducated comments, like my friend’s at the coffee shop, and she encouraged me to try these five steps:

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  1. Breathe. When you hear judgment barreling your way, take a moment before you respond. You might feel your heart racing, your palms sweating, your breathing coming fast. You want to give the person a piece of your mind and stalk away. Instead, make a conscious effort to take three deep breaths.
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  3. Respond. This is the moment when you are most reactive. Someone has criticized your parenting or your child. But reacting will only make you angrier and take you into a negative mindset. Once you get your breath under control, respond in as calm of a manner as you can muster.
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  5. Keep in Mind. In my experience, most people who make uneducated judgments parent typical kids and don’t have much knowledge of how to raise a child with special needs. There’s a much different skill set that goes with parenting both types of children. You have a chance here to educate and give that person a window into your world—fostering understanding and support—something our kids desperately need.
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  7. Educate. This is your goal. If you can enlighten the other person with information about your child’s struggles, you have a chance of changing a mind. When I gave my friend in the coffee shop a new perspective on parenting a child with anxiety, she agreed to use a more compassionate approach the next time she encountered this situation.
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  9. Don’t judge. After it’s over, especially if you can’t change someone else’s opinion, it’s so tempting to think of that person as ignorant, dumb, or a jerk. Instead, the only way we can come together as an inclusive society is to give people a chance to change. They might think over what you said, surprise you, and become your biggest support!
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    Your child needs you to be his advocate, rooting for him even when it feels like you’ve just been slapped down. If you leave the table, that’s one more uneducated person who will drink her coffee and never change her mind.

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Holiday Tips for Children with ADHD

Holiday Tips for Children with ADHD

Holiday Tips for Children with ADHD

Holidays, for an ADHD child, can quickly turn from a celebration of exhilarating joy to an overstimulated meltdown. Here are some tips experience taught me over the last two decades, as I discovered how to help my child cope with the highs and lows of the festive season:

Help your child stick to a routine on vacation. I like to think of routine as the container the ADHD goes into. The same bed schedule, meds on time, keeping the breakfast hour, and monitoring electronics will help your child’s moods stay on a more stable track.

Over the holidays, there are plenty of places to go. From shopping to restaurants to relatives’ houses, your child needs advance notice to know what’s coming next. Give her plenty of time to transition before you load her into the car. Don’t schedule too many things in one day or it can trigger one doozy of a meltdown!

Let others know about your child’s needs and challenges. If you feel that people are judging you as a parent, ask for support. Often, it’s not that people don’t want to help, it’s that they just don’t know what to do. Share tips that will help them help you.

If your child is sensory-challenged, opening presents can lead to overwhelm, causing the ADHD child to become even more hyperactive. Gifts that involve touch or movement will help a sensory-seeking child occupy himself for hours. You can always bring a fidget toy along to help. One of my favorite websites for sensory-seeking children has tons: https://funandfunction.com/

Designate a place, away from all the bustle, for your child to decompress. Whether you’re at home or another person’s house, a quiet spot to retreat and recharge is essential. My child loved to relax with weighted blankets and even now, as a young adult, uses earplugs to soften acute noises. A little peaceful time on a holiday goes a long way with overstimulated children.

A family with an ADHD child needs both parents on board, working together to help their child cope with holiday stressors. But, both parents also deserve some time by themselves. And, finding time to have a meaningful conversation with family or friends can also be difficult if your child demands all of your attention. Make a plan with your spouse ahead of time so no one person shoulders the load.

Your holiday will be more restful if your child has regular exercise breaks. Hyperactive energy without an outlet can cause anxious behavior with unwelcome consequences. Whether you’re at home or not, arrange a safe place for your child to do activities like running, jumping, or spinning in circles. All of these activities can help ground a hyperactive child.

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 

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My Cup of Tea- ADHD Ways to Cope

My Cup of Tea- ADHD Ways to Cope

My Cup of Tea- ADHD Ways to Cope

When a child is diagnosed with a mental disability, there are solid strategies to help them cope.  And some of these coping mechanisms can also become a way for a young adult to move forward, functioning in a challenging world.

My new blog looks at some of the ways my 22-year-old is coping, although one of them is definitely not my cup of tea.

Finishing a cup of chamomile tea, I gazed out the window at the rosy sunset, trying to take the edge off a stressful day.  The sun dipped below the horizon, and I glanced at my watch. Time to get dinner started.  Moving to the sink, I rinsed my grandmother’s delicate cup.

 “Honk! Honk! Honk!”   

I jumped, catching the cup at the last second before bone china shattered on porcelain.  My eyes shot daggers at my 22-year-old, relaxing in front of me on a couch.  “Lee!  Can’t you find another sound?”  

“Nope.”  Lee crawled out from under a new, soft-weighted blanket, holding up the offending phone with its equally offending reminder: “Take your pill, fool!”

“Well,” I muttered, still shaken, “…that’s one hell of a way to remember your medication.  Good coping mechanism.”

A weighted blanket and pill alarm are just two of the many coping mechanisms my neurodiverse young adult relies on to function throughout the day.  They are much-needed, as well as other strategies, to relieve the stress of functioning in a neurotypical world.  When Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, SPD, and anxiety, I barely knew about medications, let alone physical ways for her to cope.  But I would learn, through occupational therapy, there were strategies we could use. 

A rubber sensory pillow with spikes grounded Lee in first grade, so she could focus.  She also made friends as everyone begged to try it.  When her therapist encouraged Lee to crash her shoulders and hips from one hallway wall at home into the other, it was painful to watch.  But, it always calmed Lee down.  Using the swings at recess increased the blood flow to her head and created a soothing rhythm which helped when she returned to the classroom. 

Then the teenage years came along, and Lee’s anxiety became more internalized and intense.  Taking a longer walk to school eased her hyperactivity and lowered her heart rate.  In the classroom, she had to sit still for longer periods, and paying attention was the path to success.  Desperately seeking a way to cope, Lee pulled out her pencil during lectures and doodled, finding a way to focus.  If a teacher was amenable, she could also use headphones during independent study to drown out distractions. 

As I dried the teacup, Lee ran into the kitchen and took her ADHD medication.  She moved back to the couch and slid under the weighted blanket, holding up a corner for me.  “Want to give it a try, Mom?”

I stepped over, slipped in, and felt the deep compression of the weights pushing me down.  No wonder this eased Lee’s anxiety, I thought, as my bones relaxed.  She had found a coping mechanism that was exactly my cup of tea.

 

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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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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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ADHD Teams Up with SPD

ADHD Teams Up with SPD

ADHD Teams Up with SPD

After Lee was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade, we took her to a neurologist.  She told us that Lee had symptoms of sensory processing disorder (SPD), which often occurs with ADHD.  She explained that SPD occurs due to an imbalance in the central nervous system which causes the senses not to coordinate in unison…

Photo Credit: The Rockin Autism Mom

From the first time I pushed Lee in a stroller, I knew she loved to touch.  My friends’ babies stayed buckled up tight, holding their sippy cups and hugging stuffed animals.  Their little bodies were content for a long ride.  My baby squiggled out of her restraints the minute the wheels started rolling.  Reaching over, her hand skimmed the sidewalk, grabbing for flowers and lizards.  Anything I gave her was good practice to throw.

As her body developed, so did her urge to touch.  One day, when I came to get her in preschool, she’d painted her hair blue, the next, she used the school scissors to cut it off.  Then came the birthday party when she took two boys down to the ground to wrestle.  The three ended up in a tangle of legs, flailing arms, and bruised faces.  When the birthday mom asked us to leave, I dragged my little fighter to the car, wondering why she felt compelled to do such a thing. 

After Lee was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade, we took her to a neurologist.  She told us that Lee had symptoms of sensory processing disorder (SPD), which often occurs with ADHD.  She explained that SPD occurs due to an imbalance in the central nervous system which causes the senses not to coordinate in unison.  I drove Lee over to a Child Development Center in a nearby town for an evaluation.  She passed the SPD test with flying colors, and I was told she needed occupational therapy.

The occupational therapy classroom looked like a glorified playground, complete with a ball pit, gigantic swings with harnesses, sandpits, and trampolines.  As Lee raced into the ball pit and threw herself around, the occupational therapist explained that Lee craved sensations her body was lacking: a sense of gravity, of feeling her body in space, and an under responsivity to touch.  This made her more restless, impulsive, and hyperactive as she sought to find those sensations. 

Occupational therapy came to the rescue, helping Lee learn how to control her body’s urges and sensory exercises to calm down.  She gained strategies and coping mechanisms for her body’s demands.  From a sensory diet which got her ready to focus in school, to sensory aids which helped her sit still, I had an arsenal of help on my hands.    

If you think your child is struggling with sensory problems, your child’s pediatrician should be able to direct you towards an occupational therapist for a diagnosis. 

Here are some helpful resources:

https://childmind.org/article/how-sensory-processing-issues-affect-kids-in-school/

https://www.additudemag.com/sensory-processing-disorder-or-adhd/

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