Situational Awareness 

by | Feb 22, 2023 | ADHD, ADHD Education | 0 comments

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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