Caregiver Blogs

“From Toddler Leashes to Doctors on Speed Dial”

Raising a child with ADHD means having a front row seat to symptoms’ varied presentations. Here, a parent’s comical perspective on the four traits that defined their child’s ADHD.

Child's knees with cuts and bruises and sticking plaster.
Jill Tindal/Getty Images

It’s one thing to have a general understanding of ADHD, but it’s quite another to witness the unique and peculiar ways that symptoms manifest in your child. When I think back to what it was like to raise my son, now a teen, these experiences stand out as the “soft signs” of ADHD.

Does My Child Have ADHD? The 4 “Soft Signs”

1. You Use a Toddler Leash

If you see a child with a leash, please don’t assume that the parents are horribly controlling — or negligent. Assume that the child is wildly impulsive and hyperactive, just like mine was. He’d dash into the street to collect shiny pebbles or make a run for the playground from two blocks out, all while his postpartum, sleep-deprived mother carried his newborn sibling in a Baby Bjorn.

I had three different leashes for my active toddler. In my first desperate foray into the leash industry, I purchased what looked like a standard dog leash or surfboard strap. It didn’t work so great, because my son would wrap himself around trees and undo the velcro. The next leash is what I call the People Pleaser Model. It was a harness camouflaged as a teddy bear backpack. I used it when I wanted to hide the fact that I had such an uncontrollable son that he needed a leash.

The last leash, the Bungee Jumper Model, was a standard and sturdy harness with multiple straps around the torso. I used that one when I didn’t give a rip about anyone’s opinion and needed something fail proof to survive the carnival or the zoo.

2. The Pediatrician Is on Speed Dial

My son was fully running at nine months old. He was always covered in bruises and scrapes, and it was obvious then that we would be making very good use of our health insurance benefits. My son has broken, sprained, or injured too many body parts for me to recall: elbow, wrist, ankle, collarbone, and more.

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I remember debating whether to take him to the hospital when he was about 2 years old, just days after he had been there for another injury. On this occasion, he had crashed head-first into a wooden chair, and gotten a tiny but deep gash under his eye that bled profusely. I decided not to take him to the doctor, but probably should have. It wasn’t a big injury compared to his other ones, but every time I see the scar — which stretched and grew over time — I remind myself, “When in doubt, check him out.”

3. Talks with Your Child’s School Are…Interesting

During parent-teacher nights, words like “amazing,” “empathetic,” “exceptional,” and “gifted” did not befall our ears. Instead, teachers described the behavior plan he was on for doing things like swinging sticks around at recess and accidentally whacking kids. (“I was pretending to be a helicopter.”)

My son wasn’t learning how to read or write at an acceptable pace either. I worked at his school when he was in First Grade, and as I passed by his classroom once, I saw him doodling as the teacher said “…and finally, this is the letter Z. Zee says zzzzz.” Clearly, he had missed the entire alphabet and many phonics lessons, and I would have the task of teaching him at home.

His seating arrangement was always a point of lively discussion. Should he be in the front next to the teacher and risk distracting other kids? Or should he be in the back row, where he might tune out? How about the back corner? That way, the assistant can tap him on the shoulder and snap him out of his reveries. Turns out he was rarely in his seat, so it was a moot point.

[Read: 10 Ways to Raise a Confident, Happy Child]

4. Your Child Can Self-Entertain — for Hours

At home, my son would take on complicated and stimulating projects for fun. He built contraptions out of recycled cardboard, PVC pipes, and all the aluminum foil and tape he could find. (An aside: Once, convinced that he had fixed a broken toilet in the backyard dump pile at his grandparent’s house, he relieved himself in it – and I mean the worst kind of relief – and was shocked when it didn’t flush.)

As he got older, he worked tirelessly on detailed engineering drawings, like solar energy inventions or new submarine models. Relatives knew to bring us broken appliances and gadgets for him to dissect. Our house was like a small appliance graveyard. It didn’t take us long to realize that we had to change him to an alternative educational setting so he could have time to dream and build and move his body.

He was so set on his projects and experiments that other activities paled. We had managed to get him a coveted spot in a sports camp once, and he was the quintessential Charlie Brown. During baseball week, he picked flowers and chased butterflies. In soccer, he was fast and athletic, but since he never paid attention to the game plan, he ran around confused during games, never scored, and soon lost interest.

Though he took up drumming for a while, he complained about not having enough free time and dropped that as well. Basically, my son didn’t want to spend time out of the house when he could be working on his gigantic LEGO creation or putting finishing touches on his Rube Goldberg monstrosity that was taking over the living room. Once we came to this realization, we saved a fortune by forgoing extracurricular lessons and clubs. With our savings, we bought things that our family really needed: aluminum foil, tape, Band-Aids, gauze, alphabet books, plumbers, and leashes.

Raising a Child with ADHD: Next Steps

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