By Carole Nickerson
When I was about 2 or 3, my mother took me to the doctor due to my extreme behavior. I had violent temper tantrums, had a seemingly raw abundance of pure energy and got into everything I could get my hands on. I was a terror, a menace, chaos on legs. She knew something was wrong. So did the doctors. They reported that they had never seen a child so completely out of control in all their years. It's still unclear if this was determined before or after I tried to jump out the 4th floor window.
I officially received my diagnosis of ADHD. That was almost 30 years ago.
Growing up with ADHD was difficult. At that time, there didn't seem to be any other children in my school who had it and teachers were less than sympathetic. After all, this was still largely unknown to the general population at the time and not readily accepted as a valid condition.
But it wasn't the teacher's lack of understanding or the isolation of being the only one in the class with ADHD that affected me. It was my own mother. From the moment I was diagnosed, I was thrust into a circus of humiliation and embarrassment. Whenever the topic turned to me, my problems with ADHD followed, along with her eagerness to share examples of my behavior. This would often prompt strange looks from the listener in my direction. And when you consider the fact that there are very little 'positive' things to say about ADHD behavior, you get an idea of just how humiliating and isolating it is to know that everyone views you as a sideshow freak. Look at it this way - If you had a raging case of hemorrhoids and your husband or wife talked about it, in detail, to everyone right in front of you, then you would feel pretty embarrassed. In the mind of a child though, the impact runs deeper and affects you at the core of your being. Self-esteem and self-worth plummet, you want to hide away from people and as you grow older, the negativity builds into resentment and anger begins to surface.
In my mother's defense, she, like anyone else, was simply seeking support and someone to listen. She wasn't intentionally trying to embarrass me. She just wanted people to understand. She wanted a voice. There were no support groups at that time, nor was there even an internet. She was very much isolated too.
You love your child, we all do. I am now a mother myself to a boy with his own unique needs. But sometimes, despite best intentions, we do things that cause more harm than good. Here are a 10 things to consider when raising a child with special needs such as ADHD. Trust me, I lived it. If you can extract one small wisdom from this article, then my job is done.
1. Don't discuss the child's behaviors and problems with other people in front of the child.
There is absolutely no benefit to the child in doing this and is harmful to their self-esteem. If you need to talk about it, join a support group, go online, whatever you need to do - just keep it away from the child. Believe it or not, the ADHD child can be deeply affected by their own behavior, sometimes even traumatized by the things they do despite how it may look on the outside. They don't understand why they can't control themselves and often feel like an outsider. When you "highlight" their behavioral events freely to others, you are only adding to the embarrassment and frustration. If you make the whole ADHD problem a "big deal", then you are inviting a great amount of burden upon them. I can't stress the importance of this enough.
2. Talk to your child about their symptoms and behaviors in a friendly and loving way, and encourage them to talk to you.
Emotions, thoughts and feelings are running a mile per second in the mind of an ADHD child. While it may appear they have a very short attention span, the reality is that they WILL hear every word you say, whether they acknowledge it or not. Communication is essential in coping and will not only stengthen your ability to "reach" them, but in their own willingness to reach for you.
3. Don't push them to be "normal".
I guarantee, you will fail. ADHD children think differently and process information in their own unique way, usually at lightning speeds. They also have unique behaviors and ways of doing things. Unless it is something harmful or grossly inappropriate, just let them be themselves. They may want to paste pictures all over the walls and sleep under the bed. There's no harm in that. It doesn't affect you. Let them feel like they have SOME control in a situation where their minds give them very little as it is. By letting them have that small sense of "control", even in small doses, you are encouraging to take MORE control over themselves and that is a positive thing.
4. Highlight the positive, downplay the negative.
If you are saying more negative things to your child in the run of a day than you are positive things - then there is a huge problem indeed, and you're the one with the problem. Negative talk breeds negative behaviors. To a child with ADHD, it's like adding gas to a fire. If you're not careful, the whole house will burn down. Remember, they have little impulse control and are secretly embarrassed enough by their own behavior. Deliver punishments with empathy and compassion, and praise with abundance and sincerity.
5. Focus on who they are, not the disorder.
You need to be able to separate the behavior from the child and encourage them to develop a sense of identity independent of the ADHD label. They need to know that you place more value on who they are as individuals, rather than the disorder.
6. Let them live, breath and do for themselves.
The best way to help improve your child’s behavior is to help them learn how to do it themselves. They know they are different, they know they have unique problems. Encourage them to come up with preventative measures and ways to cope. If you are depending solely on medication to "fix" their problems, or even trying to control every behavior yourself, they will never learn how to cope on their own as adults. Learning how to live with themselves and do for themselves is a key ingredient in them learning to get things under control. Remember the old Chinese Proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
7. Creative Outlets
Children with ADHD (any children for that matter) need more creative outlets than entertainment outlets. Entertainment based activities produce an excess of stimulation they just can't manage easily. Creative outlets allow the mind to work at something and enjoy the rewards of accomplishment. Stimulation is paced and balanced. It is a training ground for learning how to focus, so the more they 'practice', the more effective they become at learning how to work within the confines of their chaotic minds. Movies, video games, and toys may provide instant gratification, but creative projects will always be the greatest true source of entertainment and self-expression for an ADHD child.
8. Don't squeeze them into a mold.
While ADHD presents certain key characteristics shared by all who are diagnosed, every child is unique and may not always fit the mold outlined in a psychiatric textbook. Don't over-analyze your child or look for problems where there aren't any. It's also important to not get too obsessive over every detail of ADHD information you find in books or on the web. What might work for one child, won't for another - and that's ok.
9. Take responsibility and teach responsibility.
You can't blame every behavior on the ADHD. Some things are a normal part of growing up, while other problems can be directly linked to family issues. Divorce, death, abuse, stressed parents all can cause their own set of emotional problems. You need to take responsibility for your own issues which may be causing some problems for the child. Another part of this is teaching the child to take responsibility for their own condition and behavior. If they do something bad or inappropriate, don't make excuses for them and let them off the hook. At some point they will be adults, and to live in an adult world, we must take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, whether those actions are intentional or not. Make no mistake, if you DO let them get away with things, they just have more reason to continue bad behavior separate of ADHD symptoms, knowing full well that you'll just blame the ADHD.
They need to know that being different is not just 'ok', but to be celebrated. If they are having difficulty learning something in a conventional way, explore other options. Help them discover their own unique way of learning and expression. Teach them to turn negative experiences into positives, guide them to become aware of their unique gifts. Help them find solutions that work for them, and always make sure that you weigh a psychiatrist's opinion with your own awareness of your child. They, after all, are the ones living with the disorder.
Please note that this article is based on personal experience, both as an individual who suffered with ADHD since childhood for 30 years, and as the parent of child with unique needs. I do believe that medications are not enough, and that there is a tendency to over-correct and even re-build children's minds so that they meet with certain standards and sense of 'normalcy'. ADHD children aren't flawed, they are just different. It's your job to figure out what their unique needs are and figure out how to adapt and evolve with ADHD. It is impossible to extract it from them or fix it completely, but with time, you can learn to live with it, and so will they.
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