ADHD for Families. The challenge of living with this disorder as a support person.

ADHD for Families
My son is very ADHD. He has been on medicines for it since kindergarten. Once we had to change medicines because over time he developed undesirable side -effects, which worried us. He is now on a new medicine and, as of yet, there are no significant side effects.
Today I want to review a little what the families or parents of children with this disorder have to know and deal with. My wife is an elementary teacher and I am a teacher and a counselor. We “know” about this disorder and the way it manifests in the classroom and at school. We have studied and learned how to deal with sequencing instructions, refocusing the student, teaching them compensatory learning and behavior strategies. We have helped students adjust to the reality of the way their brain works without becoming ostracized by their friends or teachers. Self -esteem, a term, which I frequently ridicule, is a concern in the basic message to any person with ADD (HD or other). The message has to be that you are not broken or stupid. You have a real challenge that you will probably always have to deal with and work around. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with your intelligence or your capacity. You have to learn to get around a roadblock. Some people do not understand this or have to deal with it, and they may not help you deal with it. But you have it, it is real, and you must learn to survive it and reach your potential in spite of it.
When my son was younger, my wife and I were very focused on helping him in effective and efficient ways. We kept timers all over the house because he had no sense of time. He truly did not feel that time was passing and would swear it had only been a minute since we asked him to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. (It typically had been thirty minutes to an hour.) We taught him to break large challenges into small obstacles. We helped him do his math by partially covering the page of problems so that he focused on only one problem, or row of problems, at a time. We practiced sequencing his instructions so he did not get lost and we practiced not getting angry because he did not follow instructions. We told him to brush his teeth and then come back and check in. Put your PJ’s on then report back. Put your homework in your book bag and show us that it is in there. Now put your book bag by the front door and show us that it is there. You know, if you have this child in your house, that you cannot say, “Get ready for bed,” and have them complete a five or six stage behavior. After years of repetitive structure, my son can get ready for bed with only the typical teenage delays.
My son is now a legal driver, he is in high school, and he has learned many successful, adaptive, and compensatory strategies. He has high self -esteem, makes good grades in school, and is popular with his age cohort and his teachers.
My wife and I, on the other hand, are learning that we have slipped away from our awareness and focus on managing and remembering the issues with which he struggles. We were so intent on it when he was young; when it was so visible that he needed it. He is older now and has learned! We do not see it every day. We do not focus on it and plan our interventions with the deliberation the way we used to. We have all adjusted to the rhythms of our lives and his education. He is a winner and he has won.
BUT….. Now he is driving and we are re-discovering the joys of parenting someone with an attention and focusing problem. He never knows where he is, he never knows how to get to a place that he has been a thousand times. He does not know how to get home from church consistently. My wife and I are re-learning the skills for teaching him compensatory strategies to help him learn how to deal with an entirely new set of manifestations of his inherent attention problems. We say to him: “Pull over and stop safely, get the out the GPS, and find the next stage of your trip.” We sequence our driving instructions. Drive to the corner and turn right, we say. When he does that we say, go to the intersection of X and Y and turn left, when he does that we tell him to stay in the left lane. We are not sure what will happen when he begins to travel alone. So, we are teaching him the survival/compensatory skill of pulling over and checking for the next stage of the trip… when he is not on the road! He will learn. He will make mistakes. Our parents survived us learning to drive, we assume we will survive his learning as well.
One problem he is having with developing this skill is that when he gets anxious about making a mistake, he cannot hear or track our instructions. It becomes a situation of “system overload” and he shuts down. We have to learn to see this coming and help him reduce his anxiety. We teach him strategies that will help him learn a sequencing behavior that will enable him to get somewhere and return. What we know and what we are telling him is that he is a good driver. His Driver’s Ed teacher reported that he was the best in the class. His problem is not the actual driving; it is attentional focus and directional awareness.
When you have a child with ADD you have to learn how to message the lesson. You must help them develop sequenced check- points for reframing and resetting. They will learn those skills for the items on which you focus. They will mature and incorporate those skills. But, as they attempt new challenges there will be a need to help adapt the compensations they have already internalized to new situations. They resist transferring old skills to new behaviors. The skill set remains the same, but a strategy for using that skill set (of becoming aware, focusing your attention, and performing under control) has to be constructed all over again for the new circumstances!
Be patient. Remind yourself and your child that you have all been down this road before. Remember the self-esteem message that you are not broken or incompetent. You, as parents, also have lessons to remember and learn. Teach, love, sequence, and repeat.

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2 Responses to ADHD for Families. The challenge of living with this disorder as a support person.

  1. Mitch Linneman says:

    Your website reminds me of Yalom’s book, Gift of Therapy–short digestible snippets of useful and sometimes profound advice. Thanks a lot; it helps me in the practice of life and counseling.
    Your former student and friend,
    Mitch Linneman

  2. Brett Newcomb says:

    Thank you, as always for the kind things you say. I am trying to see if I have enough to say that is useful so I can put it together in a book much like the one Yalom wrote. Thank you for your encouragement.

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