Guest Blogs

A Major ADHD Meltdown

I feel like a terrible parent when my child has a blowout in public or at school in front of teachers.

Yesterday was full of incidents that, each building on the one before, pushed Nat beyond her capacity to cope. Nat ended up miserable. I ended up looking and feeling like a terrible parent. I’m not as bad at parenting as all the witnesses to yesterday’s debacles must think (see assorted excuses and explanations below). My biggest mistake was in trying too hard — not knowing when to call it quits.

The day started with me having a heck of a time getting Natalie to wake up. As I’ve written before, like other kids with ADHD, Nat often has trouble getting to sleep, and the night before was one of those nights. So, strike one for the day — Nat started out the day tired.

I took her to occupational therapy, where we learned that Summer, her usual therapist, was home with her sick toddler. A new therapist was filling in. She was wonderful with Natalie, but that didn’t keep Natalie from being anxious and scared. She started to act out as the session ended-jumping in the ball pit-several times — without permission — and with her shoes on, which she knows is against the rules-and ignoring directions that the session was over and it was time to leave the therapy gym.

“Jennifer was really nice, wasn’t she?” I asked, once I’d herded Natalie to the car.

“Yeah, but I thought she was going to be mean.” Natalie said.

Strike two — unexpectedly working with a nice, but potentially scary, new therapist.

The part that made me feel stupid . . . When it was time for Nat to put her shoes back on at the end of the session, she tried to take off her socks first.

“You have to leave your socks on,” I said.

“Are they bothering you?” Jennifer asked, and she had Nat put them on inside out, figuring out immediately that the seams are problematic for this kid with Sensory Processing Disorder.

Duh, I thought. She’s known Natalie for 45 minutes. I’ve been her mom for 5 ½ years. I’m well aware of her sensory issues. I should have realized that.

Gayle, Nat’s therapist, picked her up from daycare, and brought her home. We met with my niece Hannah, a college student with an interest in education, who Gayle has hired to work with Natalie. Hannah has babysat Natalie a lot, and has spent time with her at family gatherings, but had never witnessed her behavior problems. She got an eyeful, and an earful, during this meeting.

I could just imagine how the conversation would go when she joined her parents for supper after the meeting.

“She never acts that way for me. It must be bad parenting.”

It would look that way to anyone. It looks that way to me! But I (try to) believe that Nat holds in her feelings, and holds her behavior together for other people, then lets loose around me because she feels safe. And, that her really deplorable, disrespectful, testing behavior when Gayle is around is because Gayle’s talking with her about tough topics-her feelings and her behavior.

Strike three — Nat’s wound up from seeing Gayle.

And the night’s not over yet!

Next, Nat suffered a huge disappointment. Her friend Casey, who moved away after the two got to know each other in kindergarten, called to say she’d be visiting our area this weekend, and would love to sleep over at our house. Nat was devastated to hear that we have a respite weekend planned. She’ll be at Aunt Ann’s, and we are NOT willing to change our plans.

She cried, begged, growled.

Didn’t eat any supper.

And then it was time for…no, not bed, but the Open House and Book Fair at school!

Anger and disappointment that she wouldn’t see Casey — strike 4.

Hunger — strike 5.

Wait a minute — three strikes and you’re out, right? We should have called the game right then, and stayed home, but we didn’t. (We’re trying to be a normal family, remember?)

In the frenzied, hot, crowded, noisy school — strikes 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 — Nat completely loses control. She’s on the floor of the media center, bawling, screaming, crying, kicking. Biting Don’s leg — hard — and not letting go. We can’t get her to stop. We can’t pick her up and carry her out. Parents we know are watching. Kids Natalie knows are watching. The P.E. teacher, holding her new baby. The media specialists. I’m embarrassed. Don’s embarrassed and angry.

“Want some help?” says last year’s special ed teacher. Don and I walked away, and a few minutes later, the teacher and a still tearful Natalie met us at the front door.

I imagined the conversation in the teacher’s lounge. “We don’t have any trouble with her behavior at school. It must be the parents.”

So I made a mistake, and it was a big one — wanting Nat to be able to enjoy her school open house, like her peers, when I should have known she couldn’t do it. Am I a terrible parent? Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. I wish I didn’t care if other people think so, but do, damn it. I do.