My 13 year old son was diagnosed with ADHD-PI at the age of 6. I’ll never forget the day we got that paper from the doctor we’d only met with once. They had evaluated our family life, his educational ability, and our effectiveness as parents and boiled it down to one piece of paper.
I’m pretty sure that single piece of paper scared me more than any other piece of paper I have ever held in my hand. The part that said… the parents state that the child is not trying hard enough but are misunderstanding his abilities stopped me in my tracks and made me cry. I had failed him. I had always self-diagnosed him with “give a crap” disease. I thought if he wanted to do something enough he could have… he was making a choice not to focus, he was spacing out on his handwriting in 1st grade because he was bored or disengaged. I was crushed that I had made him feel inadequate or forced him to do something he was incapable of. I was mortified at myself for the way I had spoken of him to others and to his teachers. It was a parenting rock bottom for me.
I didn’t have anyone to reach out to. I only knew one person who had a kid with ADHD and that child was already 13.
So if you’ve just got that fateful ADHD diagnosis and you’re floating around looking for some solid advice from someone who understands… here’s the top 10 things I wish someone had told me that day.
1. It’s Going to Be Ok:
Life is not over. Your child is no different than the child you’ve been raising all along. Tell all of the fears and thoughts your heart is cooking up to shut up and go away because you, your child, your family, and your future is going to be JUST FINE! I promise!
2. Labels Mean Absolutely NOTHING:
It took me a long time to realize this but those 4 letters DO NOT define your child. Don’t let them. Don’t let OTHER people define your child by those letters either! A diagnosis is not a definition. It’s a starting point to understanding who your kid is. It’s like getting the results of a personality test. And less like the world is ending and my kid will forever be labeled as the bad, weird, stupid, slow kid with ADHD.
3. You Can’t Change It:
For the first several years I thought if I created the right schedule, followed the proper sleep regimen, created the right educational plan that I could “change” the symptoms of ADHD. I had this overachieving parent thing going on. I thought MY kid wasn’t going to act like a kid with ADHD. It took me a long time to figure out that no matter what I did to try to fix the symptoms of ADHD I was never going to stop finding things in the wrong places or having to redirect him every 5 seconds. It just wasn’t going to change. Because that was who he was.
4. It’s Not Your Fault:
No amount of parenting modifications, discipline, or diet could have changed the fact that your child has ADHD. You didn’t birth a defective child. You were gifted with a child whose brain works differently than most others. You didn’t make a bad formula choice. Or have too much wine while breastfeeding. Or cause this by vacination. It wasn’t even the time you weren’t there and your little baby rolled off the couch landing on the floor. Release yourself from the guilt. ADHD is not your fault.
5. There’s Nothing You Can’t Learn:
The internet is a wealth of information. USE IT! Everything you need to know about ADHD can be found online. Research, learn, network, try something different. You can’t change ADHD but you can be a advocate for your child. So get smart! Learn about essential oils, herbal remedies, medications, sleep patterns, fish oil, educational plans, diets. LEARN… soak it all in. Try what feels right for your family. And don’t stop trying until you figure out what works!
6. Find The Right Care:
I can’t stress enough how important it’s going to be for you to find the right doctor/medical care/therapist for your child. Don’t wait. Many doctors that specialize in working with kids with ADHD prefer to start seeing kids early after their diagnoses. The longer the relationship with the therapist is the more information and tools you’ll be equipped with. If you don’t get a good vibe from a provider… MOVE ON! Don’t wait around hoping that you’ll like that person better or that you’ll get the care you need.
7. Help Exists:
You are not on an ADHD island. There are many other parents that are trying to figure all of the same things out that you are. Once I started talking about my needs and struggles to other moms I found a group of people who I could speak candidly with. Who understood my troubles, who could help me find people that knew more than I did, who had experienced situations I hadn’t. These people become a tribe to me. A place to go to get help and people that supported even small successes for my son.
8. Know More Than The School:
When I first got the diagnosis, I existed in a haze. I assumed that the teachers and school administrators understood children with ADHD. He couldn’t have been the ONLY kid in the school with ADHD. I expected that the school would offer the programs and modifications that he needed in order to be successful. MAN, WAS I WRONG! It wasn’t until I got smart about the laws created for kids with special needs that we started gaining traction. If you get nothing else out of this article… please don’t wait for the school to help you get the best education plan for your child.
YOU HAVE TO BE THE ADVOCATE! You have to be the one to call the school out. You have to find the irregularities on the testing. You have to push for what your child needs. You keep emailing or calling until you get the right person who will help you get what your kids needs!
It’s amazing how easy it was to blame things on my kid. You know the kid with ADHD. It’s also pretty easy to blame the ADHD for the kids failing. When you encounter trouble, don’t always believe the person with the complaint (ie: teachers, kids, other moms). There’s always always more to the story. Listen to your kid. Why did they react the way they did? This also goes for any medical or medication decisions you make. Encourage your kid to talk to you about how they feel. What’s going on in their body or in their head. Listen. Don’t assume you know. Your life experiences and your brain don’t work the same as your ADHD kids. You can’t assume that because something worked or felt one way for you that it’s going to be the same for your kid. Listen first and often!
10. Love Them Just The Way They Are:
In high school I had a crush on a boy with ADHD. It always made me crazy when his Mom would say “Oh that’s just Joe!” She sort of brushed it off like some of his crazy behaviors were ok. I really thought that he had a choice. And he just chose to be this way. My son reminds me of Joe in so many ways. All of the things I messed up about being friends with Joe, I’ve learned in raising my ADHD son. Joe’s mom had the right idea. Oh that’s just Joe! We just love him. For all of his quirks, for all of his difficulties, on the good days and the bad days. We love him. That’s what your kid is going to remember about how you handled their ADHD.
Who knows what could have been different if someone had told me these things that day I had that fateful piece of paper in my hand. At the end of the day, it’s going to be ok! Raise your ADHD kid like you would any other kid! But just add a lot of patience. A whole lot of frustration. A giant dose of ingenuity. And a butt tonof courage! You got this!