A tired, emotional, stressed-out mom raises her ADHD son, one day at a time.
by Penny Williams
Parenting a child with ADHD is harder than parenting a neurotypical child — and harder than fellow parents who have never walked a day in our shoes realize. It’s more emotional, more physical, more stressful, and more exhausting. I alternate between feelings of hope and sorrow. I’m so very tired!
My son, Ricochet, is now 11 years old and in fifth grade. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was six, after a change in schools and the addition of a fantastic first-grade teacher didn’t halt his school struggles that started on the first day of kindergarten. At that point, I had to open myself up to the fact that there was something different about my boy. I read a great deal on academic struggles and concluded that Ricochet had a learning disability that was also causing unwanted behaviors. I told myself it couldn’t be ADHD, because he could focus a long time on activities he liked. But it is ADHD, and it likely will be for every remaining day of his life.
After the diagnosis, I set out to learn how to parent this smart, quirky, sweet, funny, loyal, inattentive, hyper, impulsive, amazing little boy. I spent hours every day reading books and online articles on ADHD, despite having other responsibilities. I was obsessed with figuring out how to help my son succeed and find happiness.
I was looking for instructions on how to parent a child with ADHD, but there were none to be had, really. Sure, there were articles on the physiology of ADHD, the symptoms of ADHD, potentially beneficial diet changes, classroom accommodations, 504 plans and IEPs, the benefits of therapy, but there wasn’t a manual with step-by-step instructions on how to guide my child with ADHD to a successful adulthood. Nor were there any instructions to guide me through surviving the ups and downs of this special parenthood. Parents of “normal” kids have the What to Expect When You’re Expecting series to guide them through child rearing, but where were my instructions for Ricochet?
Over the first three years of parenting this challenging, awesome kid, I realized I had to create my own guide as I went. Raising a child with ADHD is a trial-by-fire process, and a process to be sure. There was so much to learn about the disorder, and a lot to learn about Ricochet as well. Getting to know my son’s unique needs took lots of time.
I started with the advice from the diagnosing doctor: Give him ADHD medication and ask the school for a 504 plan. I considered the advice he gave me, once the shock and grief wore off. Ricochet’s dad, Mr. T, and I were ignorant when it came to ADHD. We believed that giving a child medication for ADHD was drugging him into submission. But we are open-minded individuals and information freaks, so we quickly learned that wasn’t the case, and decided to try medication for Ricochet. We had to try something to help our sad and defeated little boy.
On the school front, I knew Ricochet needed more help than a list of classroom accommodations scrawled on a 504 form. His teacher was already accommodating him in at least a dozen ways, with little impact. He was behind grade level in every subject and barely getting by with writing. Despite the doctor’s advice to request a 504 Plan, I submitted a letter requesting a full educational evaluation and special services — my momma intuition told me, time and again, that was what Ricochet needed.
That time I was right, but it took the school two years to see it. In the meantime, Ricochet was given a 504 plan and classroom accommodations continued. I kept reading all I could about ADHD and academic struggles, and implemented everything I came across that made sense. We had Ricochet see an occupational therapist when we found out he had sensory processing disorder, and we started seeing a therapist. I learned more about his differences and needs so that I could be more helpful to him. Dr. Ross Greene’s book, The Explosive Child, taught me how to work with Ricochet to get through the frustration, time blindness, inflexibility, and so much more.
I had to make it up as I went. There were no instructions for raising my unique kid. I learned that raising a child with ADHD is like shooting at a moving target — what works right now may not work later, and what he does well today may crumble tomorrow. I’m rewriting my guidebook frequently, continuing to plan for new hurdles and make it up as we go, one day at a time.