Saturday, July 21, 2007

Article - My Son Has ADHD - April 20, 2007

The following was written around the time we decided not to send Joshua back to private school -- April 20, 2007


My son has ADHD. I had to look at this sentence for a long time before moving on with more words. I am his mother, and I also have ADHD. There are days that this strikes me just as much a foreign concept. I remember reading a book, sitting in the floor of Books-A-Million, trying to determine if he had ADHD and thinking, “Oh my goodness, this is ME!”. Imagine my surprise and pain when I learned that only eye color is more genetically passed on that ADHD.

Let me tell you about ADHD. It does not make you a bad person; you are not a bad person if you have it. The parents of children who have ADHD are not bad parents; they are parents who struggle every day to understand how their child’s brain works and responds to its environment and to make decisions out of love and a lot of guesswork about how to best meet the needs of their child. They struggle for creative ways to help train and mould their children’s lives into what God wants for them. They struggle to find the right teacher, the right classroom, the right church, the right neighborhood – to find the people who will love their children for what is in their hearts more than for how their brain works. In more realistic ways, however, they struggle to figure out how to make sure the child remembers to take their homework to school and how to minimize their frustration after having told their child for the 100th time to “go take your bath.”

God has big plans for my son. I know this as surely as I know that He exists. He has blessed my son with characteristics that will make him a great success in the future – boundless energy, determination, stubbornness, excitement for life, leadership skills, a desire to talk to people and a love for God – but some of those characteristics, unfortunately, don’t serve him quite as well as a child who is required to sit in a classroom. He lives every day to the fullest. I am reminded of him last night at church with his head soaking wet, his cheeks red, his breath coming hard. He had come back into the fellowship hall to get a drink – in from playing with friends – and to check to see how the dessert auction was going and asking “Have you bought anything yet?” as he skated on his Heelys back out to the playground. He lives life hard; he loves fully; he plays hard; he enjoys much and laughs heartily; he gets fully angry and fully happy; and he hurts and feels injustice . . . a lot.

He hurts from the unthinking comments made by adults who don’t know that his brain is wired just a little differently than theirs. Comments that are made by people who don’t realize that by God’s choice, his brain circuitry responds entirely differently than theirs does to situations and circumstances around him. I could quote hundreds of professionals who can describe how his and my brain, as well as others with ADHD, works, but all I need to know is that God says that we are “wonderfully and fearfully made.” And as we know, “God doesn’t make junk.” He is, however, labeled with words like “troublemaker”, “bad”, “irresponsible”, “lazy”, “careless”, “mean” and “a bully”. And, in all honesty, there are days he is some or all of those things. There are days, however, that those adults who call him those names display those same characteristics as well. He is treated differently than his peers, by these same adults, because they have labeled him, in their minds, as “bad.” What they don’t see – or choose not to – are the days when he laughs and laughs from tickles early in the morning; when he chooses to clean the desk of his classmate so others won’t call his friend a “slob”; when he gives a dollar to the only kid in class who didn’t get a snow cone; when he gives all his allowance to God instead of what we tell him is the amount he should give; when he hugs his grandmother in the nursing home, when he really might not want to because he knows she needs a hug; when he makes breakfast for mom or dad to have in bed on their birthday; when he loves on and snuggles up with his cat; when he decides to give up his TV to a child whose home burned down and then helped us pick movies the child would like to watch; when he prays such honest and sincere prayers; when he cries because he doesn’t think he has any friends at school and asks, “Mom, did you ever go to a school where you didn’t have any friends?” and when he says, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings; will you forgive me?” WOW! We could all learn to say those words to him more often.

He should, more often, hear the good words that describe him. And he should hear these words from people other than his parents and grandparents – words like “kind”, “caring”, “a good Christian”, “energetic”, “smart”, “good athlete”, “giving”, “helpful” and “hard worker”. And yes, he is a hard worker; he has to work twice as hard as his “non-ADHD” classmates and friends to remember to think before he talks, to crush his natural tendency to impulsive behavior, to slow down and be careful with his schoolwork; to remember which direction the “b” and “d” goes, to talk more quietly, to filter out all the distractions that we don’t notice (pencils tapping, chalk on the board, feet moving, planes flying overhead, people walking down the halls) in order to concentrate at school. He works hard to remember the lists of things that people rapidly fire off that he needs to do -- things that he will need to have repeated or written down; things that he might not even hear if you do not have his attention. He has been punished at school for “disrespecting authority” when the teacher did not make sure he was looking at her before she told him to quit doing something. He wasn’t being disrespectful; he was not ignoring her; he simply did not hear her because his mind was thinking of something else.

And his sweet, sweet spirit…what a blessing this child has to be able to hear adults call him things like, “a bad influence”, “troublemaker” and “mean” and still be able to have some positive self-image left. He’s only nine, you see. And the adults in his life – teachers, church members, other parents and even his classmates – have been saying this to and about him for years. Hard as it is for me to hear people say these things about him, he continues to endure it. And then, sometimes, he gets angry or hurt. And then the adults around are surprised at this “ANGER” (which is always how it is said, of course) and talk about how he needs to learn to control his anger.

I have been so guilty of saying that parents just continue to make excuses for children with ADHD’s bad behavior. God has shown me so many of the errors of my thinking. He has blessed me with compassion for others through seeing how my little man suffers the injustices of adults and other children who profess to care about him, who call him a friend and who claim to be “good” people – mostly well-meaning people who profess the name of Christ, and who I truly believe, feel like they are “helping” turn him into a better person. These are the same adults who feel that “if his parents just knew how to raise him” he wouldn’t act this way. People who do not see the HUGE amounts of improvements he has made since his diagnosis and subsequent addition of supplements in the past year. These people who have no clue what ADHD is – and what it is not.

If my child were in a wheelchair and could not walk, no one would say to him, “If you would just try harder to get up, you could walk.” They wouldn’t say to me, “Well, you just aren’t raising him/disciplining him/loving him right or he would walk.” They wouldn’t call him “irresponsible” when he got to school and forgot his lunch, or planner, or belt.

Neither he, his father, nor I want the “rules” changed for him. This diagnosis is not a crutch for bad behavior. He knows that we still expect the same good behavior from him that we would any child. It seems that we work much harder than most parents to teach him how to respond to situations; how to treat people; how to not hurt people’s feelings by impulsively saying whatever comes to mind; how to cope effectively when he gets angry. It is a daily struggle for him – and yet he tries so hard. And yet, it doesn’t seem to be enough for “others”. We are still the object of much criticism, mainly centered around how we discipline too much or not enough. While we know that reins must be kept tight in certain situations (large groups of children, new situations, parties) so that he doesn’t become overly excited, it appears to others that we are “too strict.” When we are more lenient about the fact that he is so energetic and can’t sit perfectly still, that he is a messy eater, that he sometimes interrupts when we are talking because he can’t wait, we are “not tough enough”. I assure you, we try; everyday, all of us work on improving ourselves.

We are told that we are to labor as for the Lord – not for others. We know that He blessed us with our son. I would have never felt I was capable of raising a child who had any special needs. I am still not; but God is able to supply me with what I need to make it through each day. Today has been one of the hard ones. And today, God provided this sign on the front of a church I passed, “There are eternal reasons for temporary trials.” Today was not hard because of him, but, again, because of adult’s reactions to him. But it is now after midnight and I have a new, clean slate in front of me for today. He will provide grace sufficient for this day as well, and the next and the next. I only pray that Satan is not so loud that I can’t hear the whisper of God reminding me that I only have to answer to Him – that the opinions of others do not matter. I hope I can remember that He is the Ancient of Days who sees all things and will judge each of us accordingly. I hope I can remember that my son is saved by the grace of God and that nothing else I do in life will be as important as when his dad and I led our son to His Son. I need to remember that God is using me to show others what His Son is like. And, when I get really angry at the injustices heaped upon such a little boy, I am not always reflecting the loving image of Jesus. Some days, my heart breaks for him. I know God will continue to gently remind me that His ways are better than mine and that I should “be still” and know that HE is God. He is worthy and capable of all that I am not. My friend reminded me of a song lyric that says, “You came and made beauty of my mess.” I need some beauty to my mess, for sure. I want to remember that He will protect His child much better than I ever can. But, it’s hard because I love this little fellow so much.

I thank God daily for the blessing of my son. I wouldn’t trade one single thing about him – well, maybe I’d trade off his inability to remember that dirty clothes don’t go where they fall off, but, then, that’s another story for another day.


Khakismum said...

What a wonderful tribute to Josh! I know how you feel. I sing the song of your pain in a slightly different key with Kathryn's dyslexia. Continue to be Josh's advocate and cheer leader. You are his best therapy! [[[[HUGS]]]]]

sunshinegirl327 said...

I am walking your mile... more correctly beside you. I have two children; a daughter and son... 15 and 14 respectively.
My son too is blessed with ADHD as am I. I cried as I read your article... Michael is my blessing. I have learned that I have a patience I didn't know; a capacity to extend my boundaries to understand him and keep pace with him, and a faith in the almighty that I thought I had lost and maybe never really had before. Often I stand in awe of him as I watch him pick himself up from the ground, brush himself off, realign his shoulders, and keep going. He has an ability to persevere and to succeed that amazes. His capacity to love - unconditionally - is vast and its well is deep.
Thank you for reminding me that he is a gift; that he isn't broken, that he isn't deliberately malicious/naughty, and that God doesn't make junk.