Guest Blogs

Do They Understand (the Complexity of Kids with ADHD)?

As parents, we must be honest about our children’s struggles with attention deficit and hyperactivity, but it’s equally important for others, especially insurance companies and government-funded health care programs, to understand the many sides of ADHD.

“How’s Natalie?”

“How much time do you have?”

When your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or other mental health conditions, like my daughter Natalie does, “How’s she doin’?” can be a hard question to answer.

When I’m hoping to book a babysitter, I might give an answer with a positive spin: “She loves the new aquatic center! She’ll swim for hours while I sit and read!” Or, while having a glass of sangria at a café with my good friend Sarah I’ll likely let loose with the scary-bad stuff: “She had my kitchen shears in one hand and the cat’s ear in the other…” Both scenarios are true, neither tells the whole story.

Sometimes getting the answer right matters a lot more than it did in those examples. Last Tuesday I answered our case manager’s questions for an hour and half, and my answers will determine whether or not our family continues to receive respite services through Iowa’s Children’s Mental Health Waiver. (Please, please, please say yes!)

In other situations, a parent’s answers might determine whether insurance will cover a certain treatment, or whether the school will go along with a request for accommodations.

It’s important for parents to give the right answers, but, I’ve come to realize that in order to get the answers right, you have to start with the right questions.

I’m impressed beyond measure that the company that manages the behavioral health benefits under our medical insurance plan asks the right questions. Why do I think they are the right questions? Because, when combined with the typical symptoms checklist, their answers tell the whole life-with-ADHD story; reveal the big child-with-mental-health-problems-in-the-family picture.

Our behavior health benefits require that each time I take Natalie to see her psychiatrist, I fill out a “wellness assessment” (apparently to help both the doctor and the insurance company track her progress). It starts with the common symptoms check-up — Does the child destroy property? Does worry prevent her from doing things? Does she struggle to stay seated? Does she have trouble sleeping? — then goes on to ask questions like these:

Do her problems…

  • Interrupt a parent’s personal time?
  • Interrupt family routines?
  • Cause any member of the family to suffer mental or physical problems?
  • Lead to less attention being paid to any family member?
  • Disrupt relationships within the family?
  • Disrupt the family’s social activities?
  • Cause a parent to miss, cut back on, or accomplish less at work?

If you really want to know how Natalie’s doing, those are the questions you need to ask.

Sure, go ahead and ask if Nat would know what to do if there was an emergency. (You do realize that teaching a kid with ADHD to dial 911 necessitates a whole new set of lessons?) And, okay, ask me if she can complete age-appropriate tasks like making a sandwich or emptying the dishwasher. (Sure, she’s able to do so, but that could cause more trouble than it’s worth!)

If you want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth — about how Natalie’s doing, about what life’s like with a child with ADHD in the family — plan to ask the real, the right, the true questions, too.

Has anyone ever bothered to ask you?