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Every Child with ADHD Needs a Miss Ellie

When I found a teacher who cherished the glittering gifts that came with my daughter’s ADHD, I began to see my child’s curious hyperactivity as a rare gift — not an embarrassment or fault. More importantly, she began to see it herself.

A fair-skinned little child / infant, draws with colorful paints against the background of a large panoramic window at home.
A fair-skinned little child / infant, draws with colorful paints against the background of a large panoramic window at home.

My friend, Torrie, and I sat eating sandwiches in a park near the Mommy and Me classroom where she taught. We’d been friends since our kids were in elementary school. Though our kids were young adults now, we’d stayed in touch through the years, grabbing her lunch hour to meet.

“That one’s a handful,” she chuckled, pointing at a little girl behind the fence, barreling down a slide on a jungle gym in front of the school. “Her mom tells me she doesn’t get a moment of rest.”

She probably doesn’t and she probably won’t for a few decades, I thought. The girl on the slide laughed and screamed as 20 years faded away, taking me back to my own little handful.

I was doing my best to help Lee, my four-month-old baby, sit on my lap quietly during circle time in a Mommy and Me class. It was like trying to corral a wild stallion. She kick-boxed me, her tiny fists beating on my chest in rhythm to my pounding heart. When her whimpers erupted into a piercing scream, the other babies followed suit. I beat a hasty retreat, feeling sure we’d never be welcome again.

A year later, I tried a different class. As we stepped into the room, I froze. To our left, the teacher, Miss Connie, sat in a circle, surrounded by a few moms who were holding their quiet children on their laps. To our right, a towering slide stood next to a ball pit, filled to the brim with plastic, colorful balls.

[Read This Next: My Kid Is “That Kid”]

By then, I knew that practically anything could (and would) divert Lee’s attention. I didn’t want to believe my adorable, red-headed toddler had inherited ADHD, but between her hyperactivity and lack of impulse control, my suspicions were growing stronger by the day.

Lee pitched herself into the blue, yellow, and red balls, screaming with delight. I groaned, wishing I had visited this place before signing up. I made a grab for her, and she rolled away, laughing as she threw two balls into the circle. Moms and kids dodged the balls as I reached again, trying to nab her foot. A little yellow sneaker came off in my hand, and the teacher hurried over. “Please join our circle now. Your child can play in the ball pit at the end of class.”

As if I were the one out of control. My face burned and a lump formed in my throat. If only she knew how desperately I wanted to be like the other moms who could make their children behave.

Between the two of us, we dragged Lee into the circle, luring her with a blue Elmo. The second Lee realized Miss Connie was going to read a book, she kicked out of my lap and headed for the forbidden slide. With the velocity of a rocket launch, Lee dove headfirst down the slide, landing smack in the middle of the circle. The other mothers gave me a dirty look. I apologized and made for the door, my head pounding, my arms tightly clutching Lee.

[Download This: Your Free 13-Step Guide to Raising a Child with ADHD]

We stumbled on a chair strategically placed in the parking lot for those mommies who needed to give their children a time-out. I made a run for my car instead.

When Lee turned two, I decided to give Mommy and Me one final try. I found a school with a hands-on, developmental approach. It sounded good, but I held my breath as we walked into the classroom. Our new teacher, Miss Ellie, sat at a table full of kids, a big smile creasing her face.  Lee let out a whoop of delight and streaked over to a tub of purple paint, plunging both hands in and smearing them all over her hair. Miss Ellie let out a hearty laugh. So far, so good. But circle time was sure to come and, even though it was a chilly day, I started to sweat.

When the paints were cleaned up, the teacher led us over to sit on ABC interlocking rubber squares, next to a loft. Curious, my purple-haired daughter crouched for a second, her chubby hands locked around a stuffed bear. Miss Ellie put on soft music and pulled out a book to read. Lee took off for the play kitchen under the loft. I jumped up, mouthing “Sorry,” but Miss Ellie waved a dismissive hand.

“Let her go,” she mouthed back.

I stared at her and stood still, every muscle in my body poised to take flight. Then, I forced myself to sit down and listen. When the story was over, she played “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” encouraging the kids to snap their fingers and tap their toes.

A few minutes later, she whispered, “Jennifer, look!”

Lee was in the kitchen, one hand on a telephone as she busily chatted away, the other hand snapping her fingers, her feet tapping away.

“Talk about special… she can do three things at once!”

Tears stung my eyes and my heart swelled. If only I’d known earlier that my hyperactive, easily distracted toddler wasn’t going to learn sitting still in circle time. She had to be on her feet, juggling everything that caught her attention. That was the moment I knew that, no matter what it took, I would search for teachers like Miss Ellie, the special ones who would find the glittering gifts inside my child’s ADHD.

A school bell rang, bringing me back to the park.

“Got to go,” Torrie said, packing up her sandwich as the kids started to line up outside her classroom.

The little girl I’d been watching stayed on her swing, oblivious to the bell, legs pushing high into the sky, then soaring down.

“Torrie,” I said, gesturing toward the girl. “Take special care of that little handful.”

Hyperactive Girls with ADHD: Next Steps


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Updated on October 14, 2020

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