Many parents have mixed feelings when their child is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Relief comes from knowing the reason for his disruptive behavior and academic struggles. There is some guilt that the problem wasn’t diagnosed sooner, and there is sadness in knowing that he will face challenges most children don’t have to contend with.
While you may fear what the future holds for him, you also hope that treatment will help.
Beth and Joel had all those feelings after their nine-year-old son, Brian, was diagnosed with ADHD. They became his biggest supporters, and each found that filling that role required lots of work. Beth met with teachers to help Brian keep up with schoolwork. She drove him to weekly appointments with his therapist and to monthly appointments with his physician.
Joel worked with Brian on following rules and sticking with homework and bedtime routines. Both coped with his frequent temper tantrums and helped him find his lost homework assignments and missing socks and underwear every morning.
As Beth watched her son’s behavior slowly change for the better — because of her and Joel’s efforts - she noticed that her behavior was also changing. Not for the better. She was fatigued throughout the day. Her attitude started to turn negative. She didn’t enjoy things she used to relish. She was impatient and critical of her family, including Brian. One afternoon, as she left the office of Brian’s therapist, she couldn’t contain her feelings: She confessed that she and Joel were burnt out. Something had to change soon.
Mental and physical exhaustion are common in parents of special-needs children. When I met with Beth and Joel, it seemed that Brian’s ADHD had trumped the needs of his parents and his brothers and sisters. I explained that this was not Brian’s fault — it was not anything he asked for or had control over. It was Beth and Joel’s job to keep Brian’s ADHD in perspective. I told them that children with special needs don’t want to be treated as “special.” In fact, many of them want reasonable rules and limits, just like their brothers and sisters.
I listened as Beth and Joel shared their worries, and told them that they should go easy on themselves. Here are some of their concerns and my responses:
“We feel guilty about our son’s ADHD. We should have known he had it.”
Attention deficit disorder is a genetic biological condition; it is not anybody’s fault. You are not “guilty” of giving your child ADHD any more than you are guilty of giving him life.
In terms of detecting the ADHD, even professionals sometimes have difficulty diagnosing the disorder.
"We get impatient and upset when Brian acts up."
ADHD cannot be “cured.” It can be managed successfully. When Brian struggles with schoolwork or creates a scene at the grocery store, it doesn’t mean that he is a bad kid or that he has bad parents.
Beth and Joel worked hard to find strategies to improve his schoolwork — would he need an IEP? a tutor? — and to deal with his outbursts (a behavior therapy program targeted his erratic behavior). I told them to be persistent but patient, that they and their child are in for a long haul.
This article comes from the Spring 2009 issue of ADDitude.
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