Dealing with ADHD: One Woman's Story
My own experience with special needs has been learning to cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). My older daughter was always different from other children her age. Of course, as her mom, I always viewed her as being interesting, creative, and more fun than other children. I still do. But all the while, she was coping with undiagnosed ADHD. Actually, as of the writing of this book we are still in the throes of solving the puzzle of accurate diagnosis. Sometimes special needs are not only one thing and must be approached from several perspectives.
The Creative Side of ADHD
All her life, my daughter kept unusual collections of things and enjoyed exploring topics that were not typical for a child her age. Instead of fairy tales she would beg for books on dinosaurs. Instead of dollies she would ask for lizards and snakes. Not only did she ask for them, she knew all about them and could tell any grown-up a thing or two about their care.
During her early years my daughter was shuttled between her “earth mother's” farm environment—50 acres of frogs, snakes, and other assorted creatures—and her father's immaculate home in the center of an upscale, closely knit community. It was a difficult time for us in the sense that I felt ostracized and my daughter was constantly put in the middle of some fairly rigorous parental competition.
The First Signs Become Apparent
Then, in addition to all this parental strife, my daughter became a difficult child. She was showing early signs of ADHD, but because she was not hyperactive, it was very difficult to pinpoint any set of symptoms as being caused by anything other than the stress of being from a divorced home. She could be a very unpleasant child. Other people might say she could be a little monster, but since she is my beloved child I will only say she could get on your nerves. She was demanding, easily agitated, and often very argumentative.
As she got older we tried different things—but nothing seemed to help. She did a slow crash and burn, developed extreme performance anxiety in school, and started to do poorly. The more the blame was focused in my direction, the more protective I became of her and of myself, and the more the vicious cycle continued.
Looking for Clues
I knew something was wrong with my child as soon as she started exhibiting signs of anxiety. I thought it was because her father was so critical and I did not admit that it might not be completely his fault. I now know that a biochemical disorder can be exacerbated by certain environmental factors, but those factors don't cause the condition. Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and other biochemical disorders are inborn, not cultivated. So there's no point in laying blame. The focus should be on how to help the child. And the greater the cooperation between the parents, the better for the child.
Be vigilant in seeking solutions, instead of looking to place blame, when your child shows serious problems in school. Too often a real disability is left undiagnosed because teachers—and parents—are too quick to assume the child just isn't trying hard enough.
The problem with our situation—and it's a very common problem—was that there were enough external factors confusing the issue that no one thought to check our daughter's biochemistry. I had testing done on her through the school but the outcome was inconclusive. Still, the test results contained a lot of the information we could have used to arrive at a proper diagnosis, if only we had been looking in that direction. Instead, we continued the futile argument about which environment would be better for her, my creative one or her father's more controlled household.
Although I felt very frustrated and often depressed about the situation, I didn't give up the search for answers. That old mother's intuition thing would nag at me to always look for something else to explain things.
The Clues Mount Up
This child had a special spark, but something inside her was preventing her from reaching her potential. Although she wanted a more relaxed environment, and it was having a positive effect, it was not changing her performance in school. That remained consistently awful. Every time there would be a teacher conference I would hear the same dreaded comment: This child is not working to her potential.
One day I realized that the issue was not just her environment—it was now a serious issue of her health. I felt it my mission to discover what would help her to simply be a happy, functioning kid. Under the circumstances, I was very alone. The child, at twelve, was refusing to go to school, and I was accused of coddling her. I tried everything to get her to school short of calling in a police officer. I tried to tell people that I thought her extreme phobia had to indicate a serious problem, but all I was told was to get her to school.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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