Setting the Record Straight:: October is ADHD Awareness Month

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Besides being talented and handsome do you know what Justin Timberlake, Michael Phelps, and Adam Levine all have in common? They each have publicly spoken out about having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. October is national ADHD awareness month. It’s a time to celebrate the advances made in research, education, and advocacy. Most importantly, it focuses on spreading the word on the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder is a complex neurological condition that affects approximately 11% of children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This neurobiological condition is characterized by difficulties listening, following directions, and staying on task, which can manifest in behavioral problems, difficulty in school, and social isolation. This year’s theme is Setting the Record Straight, with the purpose of bringing greater understanding and debunking myths about this condition.

My Son’s Journey with ADHD 

Almost from the first day my son started Pre-3K at a small private school, I would wait for that 3 pm call from his teacher or note in his backpack that would go over that day’s problems. Without fail, I would walk into an empty office at work and just start bawling. I felt so helpless. How was it that a 3-year-old was already having trouble in school?? Soon I realized that the environment and teacher were not a good fit for him. I enrolled him in a daycare program for the next two years where he appeared to do well. These young teachers loved on him and made him feel safe and secure. This was exactly what my little boy needed after a going through a divorce at the tender age of three. Fast forward to kindergarten, and soon he was back to getting notes sent home daily and even a few principal visits. The concerns were always the same…he doesn’t listen to directions, he won’t stay seated, he interrupts. I think the most laughable note was the one that said, “He would not keep his shoes on”. When I questioned him at home, he said: “Mommy, my foot is ouchy and the shoe makes it not cozy.” Sure enough, he had a little blister on his heel. I think once a student is pegged as a “problem child” their reputation precedes them, and they have a hard time shaking that stereotype.

It was around this time that I began putting together the puzzle pieces and spending hours scouring the internet for information on Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder. I knew it was time to seek out the help of an expert. We traveled the hour drive from Anniston to Birmingham for my son to see a child psychologist that specialized in ADHD. After several visits and extensive testing, it was determined that he had a classic case of ADHD. With the diagnosis confirmed, we carried the report to our pediatrician, and we began to talk about treatment options. I decided I needed more information before starting my child on medication, so we made an appointment with a psychiatrist that specialized in the treatment of learning disabilities and behavioral issues in children. Together we determined that my son would respond best to a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. He began taking Concerta (an extended-release form of Ritalin) that summer. Almost immediately I noticed a HUGE difference in his behavior. His focus improved, and he had far fewer outbursts and temper tantrums.

I made the very difficult decision to let him repeat kindergarten at a new school, and this was honestly the best decision I have ever made. Often with ADHD comes social immaturity in relation to your peers. Plus, my son was small for his age, so that made the decision a bit easier. How did it work out? WONDERFULLY! That “kindergarten do-over” year was amazing. For the first time, my baby began excelling in his school work. At the end of the school year, he won several awards. He was also one of the top readers out of all three kindergarten classes. Yes, I occasionally got a note in his agenda if he had a particularly rough day, but those were far and few in between. My son was excelling, and I could not have been proud or more hopeful.

I’ve talked about school, but you might ask how he was at home or in public. Without the medication, he could best be described as a squirrel that drank several Mountain Dews…fidgety, loud, and running circles around my ankles!! With the medication, he is calmer and can sit for hours working on an activity that interests him. Admittedly, he still struggles with social interactions and learning to control his emotions. Teaching those appropriate coping skills and curbing his frustrations when things don’t go his way is a continual work in progress. Yes, he’s still talkative, excitable, and a never-ending ball of energy, but that’s my son’s personality. Medication is not supposed to erase the person you are. As with all medications, there are some not so pleasant side effects. Bedtime is often a struggle as ADHD medicines can cause sleeplessness. Once the medication wears off he occasionally experiences a “rebound period” where he is irritable and easily frustrated. Luckily, these side effects have improved with time. Choosing to medicate is not an easy decision, and I did a lot of research before we made that choice. While we have been very blessed with the outcome, I don’t dare knock a parent that chooses to use behavioral therapy and natural remedies instead of medication. No two cases of ADHD are alike, just like no two people are alike. You choose what you hope is best for your child.

Parenting & ADHD

As a parent of a child with ADHD, the best tool you can have is information. After an initial diagnosis, you may feel helpless and pull all your information from the little you do know about ADHD. Perhaps you’re having flashbacks of Johnny, the classmate you went to high school with that was always getting in trouble and spent most of his time in detention. Maybe you are thinking of the frazzled mom you saw at the grocery store last week with the older child that had thrown himself on the ground kicking and screaming. Perhaps you are thinking of the kid that sits each Sunday in the pew gazing glazed-eyed at his fidget spinner and the first thought you have is “Wow, how much medication is that kid on?!?”. Let’s be honest ADHD has gotten a bad rep for years.

As I said before, no two cases of ADHD are alike, and it’s important not to group your child into a stereotype. This is the time to reach out for support. I have found that a licensed counselor and/or psychiatrist can be a great beginning point to help demystify common misperceptions of this syndrome. There are also tons of books, online resources, and blogs that focus on living with ADHD. The best advice I can give as a parent of a child with ADHD is to ensure the people in their life are team players. Always make sure that teachers and caregivers are aware of your child’s condition. There are many accommodations that teachers can make in the classroom that can help your child learn and thrive.

I am in no way an expert on ADHD. At times I feel like I don’t do enough, read enough or know enough. Yes, sometimes I lose my patience, yell, and cry. Through this journey, the most important lesson that I have learned is to be sympathetic to my child even when he is at his worst. When I get to the end of my rope, I just remind myself how frustrating and confusing this must be for him. Like every mother, I just pray that he will have the happiest, most fulfilling life possible. ADHD is just a bump in the road on this lifelong journey we’re on together.

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Virginia was raised in Anniston, AL, a small town about an hour drive from Birmingham. After graduating from Jacksonville State University with a degree in human sciences, she married her college sweetheart and spent the next decade living throughout the southeast from Charleston, SC to Atlanta, GA. Fast forward a few years, and Virginia found herself back in her hometown working full-time, single, and raising her young son. At the most unexpected time in the most unlikely of places, she met the love of her life and soul mate, and they were married in a garden wedding in Savannah, GA in 2016. Virginia now calls Trussville home with her husband, Mark, and their two boys, Britton (7) and stepson, Gavin (10). Virginia works as a Employment Resource Specialist for the Alabama Department of Mental Health. She loves Hello Fresh, Starbuck's Green Tea Frappucinos, exercising, camping (more to the point, glamping), renovating their new home, and any occasion that lets her play dress up!!