The first few months of a new school year have come and gone. Those “First Day of School” pictures you took on your porch back in August were well-liked on Facebook and will be sure to give you a boost of nostalgia when they pop up on your feed in a few years.
Hopefully, all is well, and the shine of a new school year has not yet dulled.
But that’s not always the case. It might start with a comment from a teacher during carpool pickup or a note about an incident of inappropriate behavior. You might get a phone call from the teacher, or, worse yet, the principal, which then starts the process of rocking your world.
At least that’s what happened to me four years ago when my son started kindergarten.
My son has been different from the start, but all children are unique, aren’t they? I immediately fell in love with my beautiful baby, with his shocking amount of dark-blonde hair and deep blue eyes.
As a toddler, he was my world. An only child and stay-at-home mom duo living on the South Carolina coast, we went on playdates, made organic banana pancakes for breakfast, and frequented the beach that was minutes from our house. He had his share of tantrums, but he was adorable, smart, funny, and an early talker. I imagined the world as being his oyster.
When we moved back to North Carolina when he was two and a half years old, I went back to work full-time and things changed. For the obvious reasons, but also that’s when his first daycare providers started to make me aware of his “differences” from the other children. He was impulsive, didn’t pay attention to or participate in instructional time, and could be hyperactive.
I shrugged it off and moved him to a lovely play-based daycare, where he was free to be a kid and not have to abide by structured rules. He occasionally got a time-out for one impulsive act or another, but for the most part, he thrived during the next few years.
Then we hit kindergarten. He now had a baby sister and was thrust into a formal classroom setting that he was not used to. During the first few weeks of school, I got phone calls, emails, and notes – all about the challenging behaviors he was exhibiting.
Like, scooting on his bottom down the hall during bathroom breaks. Teaming up with another boy to race on bean bag chairs, knocking over the classroom bookshelves – books, papers and supplies strewn everywhere. Fidgeting and being disruptive during circle time. Not raising his hand and blurting out answers. Not being “respectful.”
I’d already gotten the name of a child psychologist from his pediatrician and had been working with her for a few months by the time kindergarten started. After I kept getting the bad behavior reports from school, his psychologist, who had already mentioned Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), began the process of testing.
The testing consisted of parent and child interviews, some computer testing for my son, and some detailed forms for parents and the classroom teacher to fill out. The result was that he had ADHD. With his family history (it is thought to have a genetic component), we weren’t surprised.
Surprised or not, I think there’s a certain amount of grief that comes when your child gets a diagnosis like that. I thought back to my tow-headed toddler, running around in the sand on the beach, so full of life and possibilities – and I worried about all the struggles he’d have in elementary school.
And the struggles in high school. And in college. Would he even go to college? The statistics for ADHD are pretty grim – the drop-out rate, suicide rate, substance abuse, and even the divorce rate among parents of children with ADHD are all enough to make you depressed.
So what is ADHD, exactly?
Some of you may be thinking, ADHD is something caused by modern society! If these kids were out working on a farm and weren’t in front of electronic devices all day, there wouldn’t be any such thing. Or, Big Pharma invented ADHD to get kids hooked on medications!
Well, maybe parts of that are true (we could all use more time outdoors, and could all put down our devices more often). But science says otherwise about what ADHD is and isn’t, and I’ll go with science over opinion every time.
Taken from ADDitude, one of the websites I really like:
“ADHD is a complex brain disorder that impacts approximately 11 percent of children and almost 5 percent of adults in the United States. Neuroscience, brain imaging, and clinical research challenge the old understanding of ADHD as a behavior disorder. We now understand that ADHD is a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management system.
Common symptoms include:
- Lack of focus
- Poor time management
- Weak impulse control
- Exaggerated emotions
- And executive dysfunction”
Please read more here (additudemag.com), here (understood.org), here (cdc.gov), here (childmind.org) and here (chadd.org). I also highly recommend reading the book, “Taking Charge of ADHD” by Dr. Russell Barkley for an excellent overview of ADHD for parents and educators.
There is a ton of quality information out there to help parents deal with a diagnosis in their child, including support groups. (As a side note: parents, please take care of yourselves, too!)
If you’re in the same boat
First, welcome – you’re not alone. Second, if you have not gotten a formal diagnosis for your child, you need to.
Blue Cross NC’s Chief of Behavioral Health, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Dr. Kate Hobbs Knutson told me, “If parents are concerned that their child may have ADHD, they should contact their pediatrician. Pediatricians can do all of the necessary testings for an ADHD diagnosis, and they can prescribe medication if needed. If a specialist is required, pediatricians can make recommendations.”
So make that appointment to see your child’s pediatrician, and have a conversation to get the ball rolling. You will also want to educate yourself as much as possible (see the previous section for some websites that have helped me) and know your rights.
And know that it’s going to be okay.
Dr. Hobbs Knutson also assured me not to feel guilty medicating my young child. “Medication for ADHD has been studied extensively, and it is an effective and safe way to help control a child’s ADHD. Those scary statistics that you were talking about? They can help be avoided if your child’s ADHD is effectively treated.”
She recommends checking out the book “Straight Talk about Psychiatric Medications for Kids,” by Dr. Timothy Wilens.
What life is like now
My son is now in fourth grade, at the same school where he once scooted down the hall on his uniformed bottom. He is well-liked by his peers and teachers and makes good grades (as long as he puts some effort into it). The shine of a new school year has not yet dulled.
His teachers know his diagnosis, and allow him some literal wiggle room. He can stand up, even walk around the classroom at his discretion, as long as he’s being respectful and paying attention. He does not currently have a formal 504 Plan or an IEP, but I know we have the legal right to them when needed.
He takes a stimulant medication to help control symptoms. We occasionally have to tweak or change the medication – it’s been a challenge finding that perfect fit, which is not uncommon.
I won’t sugarcoat it, there are good weeks and really bad weeks with ADHD. The right support group is essential – from health care providers to teachers and school administration, to family members and others. Think of it as your child’s ADHD Team, with you at the center. You have to be your child’s most ardent advocate.
My son is incredibly bright, funny, and creative. His little sister looks up to him. A quick Google search will show you some of the world’s most creative minds and true talents are known to have had ADHD. When someone with ADHD puts their mind to something, there’s no stopping them!
With the right treatment, the world can indeed be my son’s for the taking. And your child’s too if they are diagnosed with ADHD.