The ADHD roller coaster is a nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching series of social victories and defeats that often leaves both Natalie and I feeling queasy -- especially on days like this one.
by Kay Marner
People often compare living with ADHD, or parenting a child with ADHD, to enduring a thrill ride: One minute you’re up, suddenly you drop, and surprises wait around every curve. Social problems have seat-belted my daughter, Natalie, onto that friendship roller coaster for several days now, and my emotions have been riding right alongside her.
Natalie had one particularly difficult day last week. First, something (no one knows what, including Natalie) set her off while she was in her general education classroom, and she had a big outburst.
The teacher asked her to leave the room for a break, and she refused (couldn’t organize herself) to do so. The teacher ended up clearing the rest of the kids out of the room until Natalie regained control of herself instead. Since my daughter spends much of her time in the special ed room, many of her classmates hadn’t witnessed Natalie having this type of difficulty, and it made an impression.
Later that same day, she had a nasty run-in with a group of kids on the playground. The details of the story are sketchy, but it goes something like this: A group of kids was engrossed in some game when Natalie approached. She misread their social cues to get lost — she wasn’t welcome to join them. I don’t know if she stood for too long and watched them, or if she made a face or a comment, but suddenly they all rushed her, and hit and kicked her. She managed to kick one of the boys where it really hurts before teachers intervened in the melee, although it appears she honestly doesn’t remember doing so.
School personnel handled the situation skillfully and thoughtfully. They spent a good portion of two days sorting through the incident, from start to finish. I found one outcome of the debriefing process especially heartbreaking. Several kids reportedly said that they were just starting to think they could be Natalie’s friend — and then this happened. I don’t know if “this” was the blow-up in the classroom, or the bully attack on the playground, but it’s safe to say neither helped her social standing.
To counteract all of the bad news, Natalie’s special education teacher made a point of telling me that Natalie made a new friend at school. A girl who was new to the school this fall asked Natalie to play with her at recess. She says the girl is a sweetheart, that she’ll be good for Natalie.
When we arrived home after school that day, Natalie jumped out of the car and ran straight to the back yard to blow off steam. I headed for the front door. I bent automatically to pick up a crumpled purple sticky note on the porch by the door, and for some reason decided to take a look at it instead of throwing it straight into the trash can.
“Natalie you are stupid. From the people who hate you,” it said. I turned it over. “You are stupid. I wish you died.”
I know exactly who wrote it -- the two neighborhood boys who I saw playing outside together earlier. They saw me leave to take Natalie’s big brother to the high school to watch a football game, and to pick Natalie up from Tae Kwon Do. They left the note while I was gone. One is the boy who Nat kicked in an unfortunate location during the gang attack on the playground. The other is the little brother of the girl who lead the attack. I am sooo glad I found the note before Natalie could see it -- and respond to the teasing.
A few minutes later I go outside to check on Natalie. She’s on the front porch.
"Mom, did you find a note? _ and _ asked me if I found the purple note they left me."
I see that the two had just ridden past on their bikes.
“Yes, I found it,” I said.
“Let me see it! What did it say?” Natalie demanded.
I try to talk my way out of telling her anything, but she’s persistent.
"It was mean. You don’t need to see it. Just forget it," I said.
I'm all for building resilience, but it was more than enough that she knew the note was negative.
A neighbor calls. Her daughter, who is one year older than Natalie and who plays the clarinet, has agreed to help Natalie learn to play by being her practice buddy. She’ll come over two or three times a week for a half hour and work with Natalie. She’s not just willing to do this, she’s excited and can’t wait to get started. She’s a kind, athletic, smart, popular girl who will be a great role model for Natalie. First a new friend, and now a new mentor.
We’ll be just fine without those other kids (the unenlightened, immature, mean ones) in our lives. I decide to forgive them, to take the high road. We’ll just try to steer clear of them, and pretend nothing happened. Later that evening, the two boys don’t respond when I smile and wave at them as we drive past their lemonade stand.
The Ride Continues It’s Monday morning. Nat works through her social anxiety about facing another school day through imaginative play as I drive her to school.
“That’s in the past. It’s a new day,” she says in her imagined scenario.
“That’s exactly right,” I say, “it is a new day.” A new day, another roller coaster ride for my sweet girl with ADHD — and for the mother who loves her.