Was It ADHD or Just Normal Preschool Activity?

One mother asks, "Did heredity and prematurity cause my triplets' ADHD? Or should I blame sibling over-stimulation?"

Triplets, Part 2

As I read to them each night before bed, all three rolled around on the floor and slid off the couch. Somehow, each was able to answer my questions about what I had been reading.

Finally—a diagnosis

Once they were in elementary school, it was clear that something was amiss. I knew how funny and bright my children were, but their schoolwork failed to convey either wit or intelligence. They were disorganized, lost things, and couldn’t marshal their thoughts to write coherently. They couldn’t sit still in class, take notes, or find the main ideas in written materials. All were blurters; they couldn’t wait their turn to speak.

I consulted a neuropsychologist. Sure enough, tests revealed that all three have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADD ADHD), and that Lily is dyslexic, as well. Why didn’t I catch this? It was hard to tell that something was “off” with any one child when my entire sample group shared the same disorder.

As we struggled to come to terms with the diagnoses, Lily asked the $64,000 question: “Is it because we're triplets that there’s so much... stuff... in our family?” Was there something about triplet-hood that created the disabilities... or was it just bad luck?

Lily's question spurred me to read up on ADHD. I learned that preemies are much more likely than full-term babies to develop ADHD, and that triplets are more likely to be premature. So, in a sense, the kids’ triplet status did predispose them to ADHD. I also learned that ADHD is largely hereditary. Peering through the branches of our family tree, I identified several forebears who seemed to have had undiagnosed ADHD.

Yet, even with heredity and prematurity as clear causative factors, I couldn’t help wondering what role “nurture” had played in my children’s development. ADHD is about the way the brain responds to external stimuli. Since Lily, Max, and Sam had been over-stimulating each other since conception, I wondered if the true “deficit” had been the fact that they’d never experienced life calmly and quietly, had never really been alone.

Accepting and embracing

Ultimately, I decided I couldn’t answer Lily’s question. I needed to view Lily, Max, and Sam's lifelong group play as a source of strength — and worry less about their relative inability to ever play (or work) alone quietly.

At a time when my husband and I were pulling out our hair, inspiration arrived, inside an enormous box of Playmobil figures I had ordered from eBay. I pulled out the box during a blizzard and produced the Romani Circus. Within minutes, all three kids were drawn in by the high wire, nets, and trapezes. Hours flew by as they focused and got down to the kind of play that Juan had engaged in as a three-year-old. “If only they could do this in school,” I told my husband. “Exactly!” he said, laughing.

Then we got serious. We found schools that allow the kids to rely on the dynamics they've shown from the get-go. They are learning in small classes, where their teachers encourage cooperation, negotiation, lively debate, and participation in hands-on group projects.

In these settings, Lily, Max, and Sam stay focused. They’re motivated to work hard and use the organizational strategies that learning specialists have suggested. At 14, they are not likely to wind up on the wrong side of the teacher’s desk.

Ironically, the kids are doing this in three separate schools, where they are part of groups that don’t include…each other.

Photograph by Eve Gilman. Action figures courtesy of Playmobil®.


This article comes from the February/March 2007 issue of ADDitude.

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