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Strength (and Support) in Numbers

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I felt isolated and inadequate – until I discovered a source of “been-there-done-that” comfort. How parents of kids with attention deficit can find the support they need.

When my son, Ricochet, was first diagnosed with ADHD in 2008, I did not know a single person whose child had ADHD. I didn’t know anyone whose child struggled in school.

The doctor spoke three words in life-altering succession that day — “Ricochet has ADHD” — and sent us back into the world with some generic fact sheets, those three ugly words echoing in my head, and this sweet, smart little boy who kept getting into trouble and couldn’t succeed in school, bouncing along by my side. I was clueless about next steps. Even worse, I suddenly felt alone and inadequate. Yeah, Ricochet’s dad and I would lean on each other, but that wasn’t enough. We needed support specific to ADHD.

I turned to Google for answers. I searched for information, but I hoped to find other parents like me. The general ADHD information was available in abundance, but I was not finding my peeps under my new definition of a parent of a child with ADHD. So I decided to follow the mantra, “If you build it, they will come.” I started to blog.

Come they did! Soon I had thousands of parents just like me reading my posts and leaving comments and feedback. I was growing my own community, and feeling less isolated because of it. I started a Facebook page for my readers a couple years later and the community grew to an active source of comfort, inspiration, and been-there-done-that wisdom. I was not the only parent on this special journey, and that brought me some peace. I also began to feel stronger in the face of my new parenting mission. The support of the online community propped me up.

I still longed to know local parents on this journey, though. Through my openness about Ricochet’s struggles on my personal Facebook page, I found that two local acquaintances had children with ADHD. We began to meet once a month for coffee, and my second layer of “mama scaffolding” was erected. Whether we talked about our kids, or ADHD, or neither, there was great comfort in being with other moms who didn’t judge my parenting or my feelings. It was another level of support I needed.

Then, three years ago, a few close friends from the online ADHD community and I decided to create the Happy Mama Retreat, respite for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. It offered a weekend away from parenting and family stress to focus on our own needs, so that we could offer the best to our kids. At the end of every annual retreat, we are like a family, a community. Up went my third layer of scaffolding.

Support is paramount for parents like us. Since I couldn’t find it, I created it. You can do the same thing for yourself and enjoy the emotional reinforcement that well-structured scaffolding provides. Follow these three simple steps:

1. Look for online support through ADHD blogs, active Facebook pages, and mailing lists. Share your experiences and benefit from the shared experiences of others. Vent when you’re frustrated, and feel less alone. For example, join other parents in the ADHD Support Group for Parents.

2. Find local support. Look for support group meetings or find other parents with children with similar special needs and get together regularly. Make this a standing appointment in your calendar and give it priority.

3. Take advantage of respite opportunities. Parenting a child with ADHD is more exhausting than parenting a neurotypical child. You need a break sometimes to recharge. Look for opportunities to take time for yourself, even 15 minutes a day, and it will strengthen your scaffolding.

You will be a much more successful parent if you take time to build your own support network and take care of your own needs. There’s some comfort in numbers, I promise.