I am honored to be writing today for Allyson, one of the people I am grateful to have “met” through this strange and beautiful online blogoverse.
When I was trying to decide what to write about for her, I knew almost immediately what it would be. Since she shares so much of her life journey with us, about what it is like raising a child like Logan, I thought I would share a piece of my journey in parenting as well.
I have four children, two of which have ADHD. Though it’s a condition more often associated in many people’s minds with boys, the girls are the ones in my family that struggle with it, which makes sense considering the fact that I most likely have it even though I have never been formally diagnosed.
My oldest daughter has the hyperactive version of ADHD, which basically means that her internal motor runs a bit faster than the rest of us. She rarely sits still for any length of time, and never has. When she was a toddler, she never actually sat anywhere. She perched herself on chairs in strange positions at times, but I wouldn’t call much of what she ever did sitting.
She was a difficult toddler, often struggling with the ability to control her impulses. I’m thankful that she is a naturally cautious person because without that tendency, she probably would have hurt herself a lot more than she did. For years she was a walking bruise as it is.
When she started school, she learned very quickly that if she didn’t control herself that she would be picked on, even by friends. Her teachers weren’t sure quite what to do with her because her activity demands were closer to the boys in the class than any of the girls. She did good controlling it almost all the time, except for the rare occasions when she would jump up on her desk like a frog without warning or kick her legs out like a donkey in the middle of a lesson.
She worked so hard to control her impulses during the school day that the hours after she got out of school became horrendous at times. She lashed out, usually at me, often violently. She yelled, she screamed. It was literally as though the cork was removed and all the pent up bubbles had to come out at once. This went on for years, but I tolerated it because I knew I had to. She had (and she still has) the ability to control herself at school unmedicated…it just means that I may have to deal with the Tasmanian Devil for a while after the day ends.
I learned a long time ago that she can’t do homework right after school. She needs to unwind first, and for her that means she needs to run until her lungs burn. In a cruel twist of irony, she is the one with severe asthma. Hyperactivity + asthma = some very interesting days in our lives.
I also learned that when she gets that glazed look in her eye, she just needs to run. I know she won’t listen right then because she can’t. So I let her go. Fortunately, as she has aged, her symptoms have lessened. Either that, or she just does a better and better job of controlling it.
My younger daughter has the other version of ADHD, the inattentive type. This is the same version of it that I have. I’m sure looking back that I’ve always had it, I was just able to rely on my intelligence to mask it. She did the same for many years until she couldn’t anymore.
Starting in Kindergarten, she fell further and further behind in reading. An obviously highly intelligent child, we were all a little frustrated that she struggled so much with something like that. She was put on literacy plans. We tried reading with her at home all the time, but she fought us tooth and nail. Her stubbornness made it almost impossible to make any real progress.
After a while, it became obvious that she was glancing at the first letter of each word, then just guessing what the word was. It wasn’t until about six months ago that I realized what was actually happening. Instead of reading along with her, I stopped watching the page and started watching her face. Her eyes darted everywhere, never actually looking at the words for more than a fraction of a second at a time.
As soon as I saw that, I knew. She wasn’t even reading. She WAS guessing. And she was doing it because her brain wouldn’t let her even look at the page long enough to read the words. I kicked myself heartily for not figuring it out sooner.
Once I saw it, I had my husband, her teachers and her doctors all watch for it. Everyone was in agreement. She had inattentive type ADHD, and any behavioral therapy to try and reduce it wouldn’t help. She’d already been pulled out for small reading groups, away from the classroom setting for years. We’d already reduced every possible distraction at home, and for naught. She needed medication.
It was a decision I came to reluctantly, particularly after having already parented a child with ADHD unmedicated for years, but it was one that I knew I had to make. To reassure me, her doctor reminded me that we could just do a trial run and see how it went. If the medication didn’t work, then it wasn’t ADHD. If it worked, it would help her.
The first day she took it, she sat down and read.
There was no avoiding the summer school that she was inevitably being sent to this year, but she has become a passionate reader now. She’s just about at grade level, which is remarkable considering how far behind she was. As a parent, I beat myself up a bit for not figuring it all out sooner, but I know that we are doing what we need to do for her now.
I’ve been roundly criticized by many people for not medicating one of my children, for medicating the other. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. I don’t honestly care what anyone else says. I do what I need to for the children I am responsible for, and I don’t expect anyone else to really understand what our situation is. They aren’t in my house, they aren’t the mother of these girls.
I’ve been told that they are “just kids” and that they will outgrow it. Then I take a look in the mirror and I know that even if they get better at controlling it, they are never going to outgrow it.
I’ve been told everything would be better if we just eliminated x,y, or z from our diets or if we just took this supplement or that. What those people don’t understand is that we have done a lot of diet elimination already, we’ve supplemented, we’ve exhausted all of that.
I look at my girls and I know that they are amazing. They are smart and funny and quirky and talented. They have already overcome so much in their short lives, and they are thriving. ADHD isn’t a curse. Quite the opposite. If you look at it the right way, it’s an opportunity. I’ve had to parent my girls more because of it. I’ve had to interact with them more. I’ve had to learn more about them. They’ve had to learn more about themselves, and there is no possible way that’s a bad thing.
You’ll have to forgive us, all three of us girls in this house, if we need a few moments to refocus from time to time. It’ll be worth the wait. I promise.