By Sandra Macke-Piper, MSC, CPA, LPC
It is 8:45am on a Monday morning and I already need a nap. I am exhausted! Did I not sleep well? No. I slept great. Okay. Well, maybe that is a bit of an overstatement, but I slept enough that I should not be THIS tired. Up until 7:50am I was doing fine. Felt like I could sail through the day. But Monday through Friday for sure, by 8:45am, I need a nap. I am on edge. Tense. Tired. What gives?
What if I told you my 10-year-old son has severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, combined type? I get him up at 7:50am and he gets on the bus at 8:40am. Does it make more sense? Probably not for everyone but if you are reading this and your child has ADHD—inattentive, hyperactive, or combined type—it is a safe bet you are no longer wondering about my need for additional rest.
As parents, we all have days when our kids wear us out. For parents who have kids with ADHD, it is almost every day. My typical morning goes like this. See if you recognize any part of it.
“Time to wake up.” Commence ruffling of the hair, back rubbing, removing covers, or tickling feet.
“Moooommm. Let me just sleep for two more minutes.”
“No. You said that five minutes ago. Now it really is time to get up.”
I stand there and keep talking to my child as he slowly makes his way out of bed. As he does, I am thinking to myself this will be the last slow thing he does all day and remind myself to enjoy it.
“I love you. Please go get dressed.” My son disappears through his door to go to the bathroom. I call out, “Would you like eggs for breakfast?” “Yes please”, is his reply. Whew. At least some of the things I try to teach about manners are sticking. I am not a total failure as a parent.
He wanders out to the kitchen at 8:05am. “Is breakfast ready?”
“Almost but you are still not dressed. Please go change your clothes.”
“But I’m hungry” he whines.
“Yes. And as soon as you are dressed you can eat breakfast. Better hurry or your food will get cold.”
More whining. More direction from me. He disappears ostensibly to get dressed. Two minutes later I yell from the kitchen, “Are you dressed yet?” No response. I start walking back toward the bedroom. When I am almost there, I repeat the question. As I stand in his bedroom doorway, watching him make faces at himself in the mirror while he dances, I startle him by saying, “You need to get dressed or you will be late for school.” He says, “Don’t do that! You scared me!”
After he finally gets dressed (red shirt, neon orange shorts, yellow socks with blue stripes and red shoes), he has about 12 to 15 minutes before the bus comes. I put his food in front of him. Every day he asks me if he can watch TV while he is eating. And every day I tell him no because if he watches TV he forgets to eat. Almost every day he tells me today will be different but because I have ridden this horse, I now just say, “You know the rules.”
He eats standing up or sitting, or standing, sitting, standing, playing with his fork, playing with his food . . . and so on. Because he needs nourishment, I generally stay with him so I can remind him to eat. When he is finished, I ask him to rinse his dish and then brush his teeth. I wish I could say he could do both but if I give him two things to do, neither will get done because he will forget and end up spraying water all over the kitchen because he got distracted. So I remind him. Most days I manage to do it in a patient tone of voice. Some days . . . by this time I’m barely holding it together. The reality is, even with the repetitious nature of what you have already read . . . this is the Cliff Notes version of what I actually have to say.
At my direction he heads to the bathroom to brush his teeth. I finish washing the dish and wiping up the water. Oh well. At least the counters are clean.
The clock is to my left and I glance up. A second passes and the panic button in my brain goes off. OH MY GOSH! HE IS GOING TO MISS THE BUS!
I yell for him. He races out of the bathroom, toothpaste spit on his shirt, grabs his backpack out of my hands and heads out the door. I call out, “Look both ways!” knowing that probably won’t happen. And, as I see him run toward the bus, I think NOOOOOOO.
He didn’t get his medicine.
I fly to the kitchen, magically get two swallows of water in a glass while grabbing ADHD meds and then, in a dash worthy of an Olympic sprinter, make it to the bus before it pulls away. The bus driver gives me a look as if to say, “Not again”. I ask one of the other kids to yell for my son. The designated caller does so and after the message is repeated a couple of times, my son steps back into the bus doorway and says, “What??”. I hold up the glass and he says, “Darn it! I almost got away.”
The bus driver, mostly graciously, receives my apology. I wait until the bus heads down the street and then trudge back to my house. The door is closed, then locked. I lean against it for support. It is 8:45am and I need a nap.
Lest you think my child is a brat, let me tell you about him. He has a wonderful, caring heart. He loves people, especially his friends, and is super friendly and outgoing. People are really important to him. He is a deep feeler and gets hurt easily at times. He is inquisitive. And talkative. I rarely have to wonder what he is thinking or work to get him to talk. School is a challenge for him. He knows he struggles. Sometimes he gets sad because when it comes to citizenship type awards--recognition handed out for sitting quietly, doing your work without being told, being organized—those are things my child cannot do. It is not that he does not want to do them. He is not able to do them.
I face challenges as well. I love him soooo much and yet I find myself struggling to hold my temper at times; to not yell. Parenting is a challenge with kids who have ADHD. All of my knowledge about this disorder does not lessen the fatigue. In addition, there are things in the forefront of my brain regarding issues he may face throughout his life. Kids with ADHD are more likely than non-ADHD kids to have car accidents, they are more likely to get pregnant or get someone pregnant, they are more likely to have heart disease and gum disease and dental problems. They are more likely to be overweight. They tend to die at younger ages.
For many reasons, not the least of which is my own daily experience, I have become something of an expert on ADHD. Given the more than 30,000 studies on the subject, there is always something new for me to learn. Learning enables me to better dwell on how I am able to help him rather than on what may or may not happen in the future.
Kids with ADHD, in my opinion, are very imaginative and creative—perhaps more so than the average child. They do not seem to be constrained by the same rules of thinking as the rest of us. Many of them have boundless energy. Justin Timberlake, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, John F Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Richard Branson and Bill Gates are just a few examples of men who have ADHD. Women have it as well although they tend to be under diagnosed. Women like Lisa Ling, Mary-Kate & Ashley Olson, Olympic Gold Medalists Cammi Granato and Simone Biles, Liv Tyler, and Emma Watson have all been diagnosed with ADHD.
My son is fortunate in a lot of ways. Over the years, I have been able to normalize his condition for him and help him recognize the ways in which he is special and unique. I understand the benefits of medication accompanied by other interventions and have learned how to tell if he is over-medicated or under-medicated; what things exacerbate his symptoms (too much screen time for sure) and what helps--reminders, timers, clocks, vibrating wrist bands, 504 plans, fidget toys, walk breaks, exercise, forming alliances with teachers and his school and changing things up frequently so his brain can continue to pay attention.
I am fortunate as well. He loves me even when I do sometimes lose my temper and yell. He gives me grace and accepts my apologies. He teaches me about living in the moment and is much better at it than I. He is fun and playful and silly and helps me to remember that life is not all about clean dishes, bills, work and responsibility. In spite of feeling the need for a nap at 8:45am Monday through Friday, I could not imagine doing life without him.
If you would like further information about the testing and treatments for ADHD or need help with parenting, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also leave a message at 636.675.7566.