Up to five out of every 100 Aussie kids live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and behind each one is a parent navigating the, at times, difficult path that the condition brings. Here’s what one such mum wants to tell you.
I’m a mum to three beautiful, exhausting, bright, draining, fantastic, relentless, fun ADHD boys. As such, I am absolutely knackered. Yes, I know exhaustion is a co-requisite for being a mum and yes, I absolutely agree that there are far worse things my boys could have but everyone has something to deal with; this is ours.
Along the rocky, white-knuckle ride we boarded at birth, I have learnt a few things.
1. Your views on my child’s medication need to be zipped
If a parent of an ADHD child decides that medication is the key to enabling their child to live a happier life, then trust me when I say that they did not, could not, have popped along to their GP and merrily pocketed a script for Ritalin, or the like. There’s a whole long process to go through before reaching that stage.
All the parents of ADHD kids I know (and we tend to be a tight-knit community because of all the misinformation, half-truths and judgment out there) went through revolving doors of nutritionists, counsellors, psychiatrists, GPs and paediatricians, while cramming on the side in potential homeopathic and complementary therapies (in short anything), that might help their child.
If after finding dead ends at all the other multiple pathways we’ve been down, medication worked for us then your views against this decision need to stay zipped.
2. ADHD children are not their diagnosis
Kids are not cookie cutters; they do not turn out all the same. If I had a dollar for every ‘well-meaning’ who announced that they simply can not belieeeeeve (the believe is always stretched out over at least three syllables) that two of my boys have ADHD I would be a very rich woman indeed.
Yes, my children have ADHD but they present differently to each other and, more importantly, are so much more than that label. Get to know them. Sure, you’d end up exhausted but I’m pretty confident you’d end up liking them too. You might even learn something.
3. Diets and exercise will not cure ADHD
Listen, if I eat junk food and don’t exercise, I do not function as well as if I eat more ‘cleanly’ and get my saggy bum off the lounge. It’s common sense, right? Treat your body well, fuel it with with nutritious food and your mood and behaviour reflect this. It’s no surprise then that it’s the same with kids. All kids. ADHD or non-ADHD kids. So yes, eating well and expending all that excess energy ADHD kids tend to have will help them. But cure them? No. If it did, I’d have found the golden key to my boys’ happiness years ago.
4. I do not want the name of your unicorn practitioner
The likelihood is I’ll probably take it. I’ll even thank you because I’ve been worn down by years of this sort of encounter and on a bad day, I do not have the energy to deal with you without being rude. But the fact is, my sons have a neurological disorder, one that is successfully managed by their fantastic, highly experienced, world-renowned neurological specialist. And no amount of unicorn glitter or similar will help them. I know you’re only trying to be nice and I know it’s human nature to want to be able to fix other people’s ‘issews’ but please, just shhh. Feel free to put the kettle on and have a cuppa with me though. Now that would be a hit.
5. ADHD is nothing to do with a lack of discipline
You can give all the boundaries, consequences and withdrawal of privileges you want but ADHD kids do not, cannot, learn from them. So your breezy surmisal that ‘they just need a firm hand’ is wrong. And depressing.
What ADHD kids do need is a huge amount of love, help, kindness and understanding.
They get into trouble A LOT. For being distracted, fidgeting, daydreaming, interrupting, being disorganised, not sharing … the list goes on. Can you imagine spending most of your day being in the wrong when all you want to do is to fit in? So many ADHD kids have low self-esteem. That’s one of the reasons I wrote a series of adventure books where the main character has ADHD. I wanted a hero my boys could identify with and be inspired by. A hero that wasn’t a cool dude but one who got mixed up, forgot things, mucked things up – just like they do. But one who dusted himself off and got on with it – just like I’m teaching them to do.
As for the often heard (usually from teachers or coaches) ‘they can focus when they want to’, yes, they can. It’s called hyperfocus and you’re as likely to be able to drag them away from whatever has caught their attention than you are to shift a pyramid with your shoulder.
A huge part of parenting ADHD children for me has been learning to accept it and work with it, instead of against it. To celebrate all the many great aspects of an ADHD brain and watch gorgeous young boys struggling with ADHD become fabulous young men successfully navigating the world – men who just happen to have ADHD too.
Ruth Devine is the author of The Chronicles of Jack McCool adventure series. The first installment, The Amulet of Athlone, is in all good bookshops now. Visit jackmccool.com for more information.