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Seatbelt On? The Rollercoaster Ride of Raising a Child with ADHD

Raising a child with ADHD has all the ups, downs, and loop-de-loops of a roller coaster. Here’s how I learned to enjoy the ride.

I feel like changing the lyrics of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song to “Your ADHD is like a roller coaster, baby,” because that is exactly what raising my child with ADHD feels like. Let me explain.

The Beginning: At the start of a roller coaster ride, particularly if it is your first time, you feel anxious and nervous, because you don’t know what to expect. Although my husband and I had our suspicions that our then five-year-old daughter had ADHD, I was nervous as hell to hear the doctor’s official diagnosis. I had no idea how to handle my daughter’s ADHD and, for the first time as a parent, I was scared out of my mind, because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to help her.

The Dips: When you are plunging down the steep rails of a roller coaster track, most people are screaming at the top of their lungs-and that would be me. Most people who had their hands up, cheering, at the top, are now clutching the bar and holding on for dear life on the way down. ADHD can be difficult to manage at times, and even though a person with ADHD may have the best intentions, he often gets distracted and loses focus.

My husband has ADHD. I met him when he was 14 years old, which was when he decided to stop taking his medication. Through the years, he learned what worked-and didn’t work-to manage his ADHD without medication. I know everyone isn’t able to do this, but, in my husband’s case, ADHD got easier for him as he got older.

Children with ADHD, however, have a difficult time understanding and managing their symptoms, because it is new to them. So when they experience chaos in their lives, they don’t know how to handle it. They rely on their parents, teachers, and doctors (we are the “bar” protecting them) for help, support, and guidance. With time, our children will learn how to manage “the dips” on their own and trust that the “bar” will always be there when they need it. Maybe, just maybe, our children will learn to face those steep dips head-on, and enjoy the ride by letting go of the bar and putting their hands up in wild celebration.

The Ups: You know that fun sensation you get on a roller coaster when you feel like you are flying? In ADHD land, those moments are what I call successes. There are many success stories I can tell you about my child and her ADHD. Some are small and some are large, but when it comes to ADHD, any size success is an important one.

For example, even though it felt like I used up a year’s worth of patience to help her study for her spelling and social studies test a couple of weeks ago, she aced them and even got the bonus spelling word correct. She has had success in other areas too. She had this habit of interrupting her friends when they were talking, which annoyed her friends and left my daughter feeling embarrassed. After doing some role playing with her and reading her the story, My Mouth Is a Volcano, a couple of times (a great book for young children with ADHD, by the way), she learned to control her impulsivity and to wait for her turn to talk.

The Upside-Downs: I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love loops and corkscrews on roller coasters! Why? Because they are fun and different! Children are silly by nature, but I noticed that children with ADHD are extra silly, which is one of my favorite qualities about my child. Brains of children with ADHD are wired differently, so it’s no surprise to me that they act differently than other children, too. I want to be clear here: When I say “differently,” I mean it in a good way. My daughter was blessed with the combined type of ADHD, which means that, in addition to me having to repeat myself the entire day (“Love you, sweetie!”), she is always on the move and doing things in unconventional ways. You will find her upside down sometimes. One of her favorite ways to read books is lying on the couch upside down.

The End: Raising a child with ADHD is a wild ride, but it is a ride worth getting on with your child. There is never a dull moment in our lives. Yes, there are many “dips,” some steeper than others, but there are also many “ups.” Enjoy those ups (and upside-downs). Embrace and enjoy your child, and most important, embrace and enjoy the wild ride together.