Neurodiversity, From The Inside

In honor of Back To School, today’s blog post was actually written by my son. It was his Diversity Statement for his law school applications, written seven years ago (he has since attended law school and become an attorney). 

While I know it’s impossible for me to be objective, this essay is one of the most poignant pieces of writing I’ve read about ADHD. On the one hand, it hurts my heart to think about my son, a little boy, struggling with feeling so different, and being made to feel just…wrong. But on the other hand, I am so proud of him, of the person he is (and was all along), of how he has battled the struggles of ADHD, and continues to persevere. He is one of my heroes, and I feel blessed and lucky to be his mom.

Scattered among my old papers and school supplies are dozens of painstakingly crafted childhood dalliances–trail maps of fictional ski resorts drawn in my free time, hundreds of loose-leaf pages of notes and classwork from my academic career, the words therein corralled by extensive marginalia and doodles– reminders of the all the time I spent in my own little world.

Since my preschool days of apathetically watching my classmates entertain themselves by scouring the floor together collecting staples, I knew that I had a talent for getting enthralled in my own thoughts at the expense of the outside world.  When my kindergarten teacher excoriated me for being “rude little boy” and spacing out during math, or when my ninth grade history teacher scolded me daily for asking questions that had already been answered, I wondered why my peers had no trouble focusing in class, relating to others, or being “normal.”

Finally, I discovered the name of my affliction; ADHD.  But I was surprised to learn that this was more than just a daunting obstacle.  Certainly I would need to offset my focus problems with color-coded school binders, and by ensuring that my homework was complete before watching TV–and I have continued to employ similar strategies to this day.   My doodling habit, far from distracting my easily-misled mind, has become a means of stimulating creative thinking and focusing my scattershot thoughts on the task at hand.  Yet I have also found that ADHD causes me to selectively and intensely get absorbed in the things that actually interest me.

This “hyperfocus,” a component of ADHD, gives me the opportunity to turn things over in my mind in a unique way, and  has caused me to develop a unique perspective. So whether I was telling my friends about the Loch Ness monster in third grade, or finding nuances in situations for use in my sketch comedy class, I can draw conclusions that others might not, and use these seemingly quirky observations as a bridge to others, instead of the wall it once was. 

Don’t Fear Summer With ADHD Kiddos!

It’s summer!! Woo-hoo!

Said very few parents of ADHD kids, ever.

Parents of ADHD kiddos love their kids. But when summer comes, this small-ish child (or children!) looms large in their parents’ minds-and what goes through their heads are the tantrums, the meltdowns, the mess. And the dread.

I’m here to tell you – you can actually have a good summer with your ADHD child. Maybe even a great summer. Let’s talk about some strategies.

1 – Give your kid(s) ownership of their summer. You all are one team (maybe even give it a name!). You can work together to determine what your family would like to do this summer, and how to make some of those activities happen. You, as the adult, have veto power – but before you outright nix an idea, brainstorm ways to modify or limit the activity to make it acceptable to you. Nothing engages kids (and adults) more than planning an activity. And ADHD kiddos are so often told they are wrong, or bad – helping to plan an activity for the family will be so empowering! However, if after talking it through, you are still 100% opposed, do not be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, but we can’t do that.” You are in charge.

2 – Think out your boundaries, and share them with your kids. What do you need from this summer? Are you working? Then you need time to do that, at a time that you determine. Do you want your house to be straightened up each night? Would you like to work on a project? All of these activities require time, and might require alone time for you. You will need to unflinchingly tell your kids your boundaries, and let them know that these are non-negotiable. Period.

3 – Structure each day/week. ADHD kids do so much better  with structure. Each day should have some basic parts – meal times, TV time, reading time, etc-and every week should also have a plan. The weekly plan can be looser than the daily plan – this week we will go swimming, go to the beach, and visit Grandma – and then you can slot activities in when it works with your schedule.

4 – Have a team huddle every morning – and include praise for your kids’ efforts. 10 minutes to set expectations for the day in the morning can prevent meltdowns later in the day. And recognizing when you see them being team players is so motivating!

5 – Guarantee quiet, solitary time for each kiddo every day. We all wish our kids would wake up each morning and be so thrilled to see their siblings that they’d never argue. Ha! Good one! In order to prevent meltdowns, consider letting your kids hang in their rooms, alone, not as punishment, but just as time by themselves.You can determine the time of day, based on when it seems they are getting on each other’s nerves, and amount of time. But just knowing there will be a breather from their sibs could carry your kids through some rough waters when they’re together.

6 – Assign chores to your kids – and consider paying them. Parents generally feel that kids can’t do chores. Quite bluntly, that;s incorrect. If your kids balk at chores, before you take away TV, etc,find out what’s causing that. It may be something as simple as not knowing how to perform the chore. Paying them a small amount is a great incentive – after all, we get paid for work, shouldn’t they?

Finally, although these strategies will help, be ready for some rough days. Some days during the summer will be awesome, and will provide some wonderful memories for all of you. But there will be difficult days, when you will yell, the kids will cry, and your house will look like the proverbial tornado hit it. Those are the days you pop in a movie, or let the kids play videogames in their pj’s for the rest of the day, while you retreat to Bravo TV and serve something delivered by Door Dash for dinner.

And that’s okay. Because you and your team will go on to play another day.

Leaning Forward When You’d Rather Lean Back

I learned to ski as an adult. To say I was afraid is to delve into understatement. I was terrified. But I was dating a Vermonter at the time, and when in Vermont….so I took ski lessons.

I wasn’t half bad at it, to be honest. But the one part of skiing that I just couldn’t wrap my mind around was that, while I was hurtling down an icy slope with limited ability to stop, my instructor kept yelling, “Nose over your toes! Lean forward!!”

Lean forward? Was he nuts, or just some sort of sadistic weirdo? When you are going downhill, your instinct is to lean back-to slow down the action, to pull away from what, as a beginner skier, looks to be your death spiral. I resisted the urge for a long time-and while I was never going to be an Olympic skier, leaning back kept me from being a better skier than I was.

Young children, in general, can be difficult at times. They run around, they jump on your bed, they feed their dinner to the dog. Children with ADHD have the extra oomph of being impulsive-what would happen if we smash the TV to let the people out-as well as having difficulty settling in for baths, storytime, meals. 

And as a parent, after several hours, all you want to do is lean back.

So you put on the latest Paw Patrol episode, intending to just take 15 minutes to regroup and maybe use the bathroom. But then the peace and quiet is so intoxicating..and suddenly, 15 minutes has turned into 3 hours.

Now, we’ve all had days where, for everyone’s sake, the above scenario is not just necessary, it’s recommended. And I am in no way criticizing anyone for it. Been there, and have done it. However, when 3 hour TV breaks become the norm, and yet your child is still driving you mad, it might be time to lean forward.

What does this mean? It entails saying to your child, “Hey, Bobby. We need to chill a little bit, but I still want to play. What would you like to do for the next little while?” And then….and here’s the hard part…doing what they ask.

It’s hard because no, you really don’t feel like pretending you’re a farm animal, or dressing up, or playing 20 card games. You have laundry to do, and a work call to make, and your client will not understand if you yell “Uno!” during your Zoom call.

But giving your child that little bit of time-even just 15 minutes-to call the shots, and to have your complete attention-and that means no phone in hand-can do magical things. 

It changes the pace. It pauses the frenetic action. Most importantly-it tells your child, in ways that words can’t, that they are a priority. And that you enjoy them. And while that isn’t going to mean that they will stop feeding green beans to Fido, what it will do is strengthen your bond with your kid. It’ll help you understand what and how they think. And it will make you a better parent. Which is what our kids deserve.