Sunday, November 16, 2008

Picking Up the Pieces: A Mother's Journey With ADHD


There is no fear quite like the fear of being judged. Especially when you’re a mom. You worry about how others see you as a mother—whether you measure up. To your parents’ standards. Your kids’. Even, sometimes, your own.

These fears became compounded for me when my son began to have behavior issues in school. The notes from the teacher came in slowly at first, pointing out normal, everyday kid transgressions—your son keeps tumbling out of his seat; he shouts answers, even when he wasn’t called on; he stares out the window when he should be doing his work.

And then the teacher’s accusations came in a flurry—each one pointing out incidents of misbehavior that seemed to get worse with each note: My son couldn’t focus, and was becoming a distraction in the classroom. He was refusing to complete projects, and, in some cases, throwing outright tantrums if the teacher pushed him to do it. Transitions were particularly difficult: sometimes he would just plop down on the playground after recess was over, refusing to go back into the classroom. There were times, even, when I had to trek all the way from my workplace in New York City back home to Jersey in the middle of the day to pick him up from school.

Finally, the teacher went where I prayed she wouldn’t: Your son, she said, should be tested.

Many of the behaviors the teacher described just didn’t happen at home, so it begged the question: Was my boy’s natural boisterousness being stereotyped as “wilding out” just because he’s Black? Were the teachers and administrators at the school encouraging me to have him tested because they didn’t want to deal with a child who has a different learning style? Or were my son’s actions a true cry for help?

I had to see for myself. So I visited my son’s class, carefully observing from the sidelines while he went through his day. And I was pained by what I witnessed: my dear boy, fidgeting and shifting in his seat, ignoring the teacher’s directions, staring into space. His desk was a disorderly mishmash of broken pencils and crayons, balled-up papers and buried library books. His writing journal was a jumble, full of incoherent sentences and unfinished thoughts. He was impulsive, blurting out answers, or waving his arm wildly to get the teacher’s attention. Not even my presence that day could make him stop the behavior—he just couldn’t help it. That’s when I knew for sure that we were dealing with something more than simply “boys being boys.”

I was struggling, trying hard to figure out what to do. I could hear all the judgmental voices in my head:

“All that boy needs is an attitude adjustment.”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with him that a belt can’t cure.”

“They want all of our kids on medication so they don’t have to do the work.”

So many opinions and condemnations batted around in my brain—I knew I really needed someone to talk to. But then fear would rear its ugly head. Would people label me a bad mother—a mother who couldn’t control her child? What mother wants to be thought of as clueless? I was certainly at a loss.

But it was when I finally admitted that I didn’t have all the answers—that I needed help—that a new kind of healing began—a healing for all of us. I started the slow and steady route. My son and I joined a support group for children with behavior issues, while I investigated some pediatric neurologists to have him tested. After several evaluations, we learned that my son has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a chemical condition that causes him to lose focus and become easily distracted. In his case, behavior management is not enough; he requires medication to help keep his brain focused on tasks such as schoolwork and studying.

It was hard to accept the diagnosis at first. I worried about the effects of the medication—would my beautiful boy become a zombie, sleepwalking through life? Would the medication wipe away the personality quirks that make him such an incredible person to be around? And yes, what would the other mothers think? Would they empathize with my son’s plight to my face, but secretly scoff at my decision and accuse me of “selling out” to the pharmacy pushers? Was I taking the lazy way out by putting my son on medication?

But here’s the thing about fear: once you face it down, its power diminishes. I soon realized that I had to stop being fearful and start getting empowered. To this day, I read up on the disorder. I ask questions of the doctors. And yes, I set standards for my son so that he knows that his condition doesn’t give him carte blanche to act out, let up, or give up. In short, I’m being a mom, the best way I know how.

My son needs me to be his advocate, to speak up for him against any misconceptions a myopic society might try to impose. He needs a mom who’s a pitbull with lipstick, not a Beverly Hills Chihuahua. So here I am, standing at the ready to rail against anyone who threatens to pigeonhole or put my child on standby because of his disorder. It’s challenging having a child with ADHD, no doubt. But I think—no, I KNOW—I’m just the right mom for the job.

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Vanessa Bush, a mother of two, freelance writer and aspiring chef, gave up corporate life to focus on her family. She writes about this and other escapades on her blog, Food Lovers Like Me.

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  1. I love what you say about facing your fears and I am so glad to hear that things are working out for you and your son. I think your advice about fear is appropriate for everyone and if we remember to just face it head on in many cases it is so much easier than we imagined.

    Great post. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  2. I'm sitting here shaking my head in agreement. I've heard the same fears regarding condemnation and criticism from my dear friend as she vacillated between the therapy and the belt. I can't wait to pass this on.

    Now, off to the food blog!

  3. Wow, while my son had many of the same things, 12 years ago it just wasn't the thing to do - get tested. I sometimes wish we had, but he seems to be finally - he's ajunior now - getting school and how to study and do well.

    I admire your strength and thank you for sharing. Best of luck as you both continue the journey.

  4. I appreciate this post so much. Like yours, my son has been having behavior problems the past two years. Mostly it has to do with him being impulsive, yelling answers out, neeeding to be the center of attention, etc. As his mother, I struggle with what to do. He doesn't have trouble academically, but it's still cause for concern for me. Right now, his teachers and his father believe that he just needs to mature, perhaps even be challenged a bit more. We'll see. Regardless of the ultimate conclusion...boy being boy or some real issue...I do often feel the fear and uncertainty that you describe. But, like MekhisMom suggests, I think sorting through these challenges, fears and stepping up to them to do what is best for our children...or at least what we believe is what good parenting is all about. Thanks so much for sharing this and speaking to my maternal heart!

  5. First, you should know that you are a wonderful mom and even MORE wonderful for getting help for your son early on. So many times, parents live in "denial" of their children's issues and act too late. Though it's a difficult journey, it's one that you and your son will take together and both of you will have such a better relationship because of it.

    Good for you for facing down your fears and standing tall beside him. ADHD, thankfully, is something that can be treated and with your support, he's going to be just fine :-)

  6. I really admire you for doing everything you can to be an advocate for your son when he really needed you. ADHD is so misunderstood by those who've never had to deal with it.

    My sister has struggled with all the same feelings that you have described with her 9 year-old son who has been diagnosed with ADHD. My heart hurts for him with the struggles he has had to endure in the classroom environment. ADHD moms deserve a special medal for all that they do for their children!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this information. I agree with you, especially when you noted the importance of being an advocate for your child. Oh, and I hear ya Honey, especially when you mentioned facing down your fears. Kudos to you for "Momming up" to the challenge. I know your beautiful boy is in good hands with you!

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. I have never dealt with ADHD personally, but you are doing so with patience and grace. Your son can only be better off because of that. I wish you and your family the best :)

  9. I really relate to this. My son was tested and diagnosed with AD/HD earlier this year. I still question the diagnosis, sometimes I think, eh, he's fine, he's just being a little boy. Other times I seriously consider putting him on meds. We go back and forth. Can I ask what you have done with/for your son?

  10. Bravo!! Being a mom is such a difficult task and often we do put unnecessary pressure on ourselves. I applaude you for taking action and seeking the best route for your child. As a mom of a daughter with auditory processing disorder and language issues I feel your struggles. I see the improvement daily in my daughter but I know that she will never be 'cured'. I just have to be the best advocate for my child and I have to constantly educate myself.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your story.

  11. Your post for some reason brought tears to my eyes. I am a former spec. ed. teacher who faced the same challenges with my students who I just KNEW couldn't help it and then trying to encourage the parents to seek help and seeing all of those reasons you described dance through there heads! I have seen remarkable changes come about from medication for ADHD. Children who are finally about to respond and learn and get their thoughts organized. I applaud you!

  12. Tears are falling as I read this (really). Now that I'm ok, thank you! Thank-you for sharing your experience. My son, 6, has ADHD as well. It'! He only has problems at school and when he is outside playing. At home he is sweet as pie to me, a wonderful, careing, nurturing big brother and an annoying little brother. So, I did not understand at first. My husband and I were against the medication and our families and friends gave us their two cents about meds too. All against, further solidfying our stand on it. That decision, I know now, just made it worse for our son. At Jay's conference last week, it took his first grade teacher who spoke to me not only as Jay's teacher but a mother whose son also has ADHD. she said her husband and her had to overcome our their own issues with medicine to help their son. That was all it took for me to hear that. Though outwardly I was against it, I had always wondered could medicine help our baby. The teacher said her son changed for the better, performs at grade-level and this has affected the whole family in a positive way. It has been a long journey in his short life. For a few years, I was in denial. Her saying the other kids don't like him and seeing this myself around the neighborhood crushed me to pieces. My husband and I have decided to call his neurologist. We are going to give the medication she recommended a try. I know this is a long comment, my apologies. This has helped me.

  13. Hello ladies,
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about my story.It really helps to know that I'm not alone. To answer a few of your questions, my son has been on medication for about 3 years now. We've had to change medications several times, as some just didn't have much of an effect, some made him way too moody and weepy, and some weren't the right fit for his particular issues. I've switched doctors twice as well. We think we have finally hit on the right pediatric neurologist and the right medication, Focalin XR, a time-released pill that he takes once a day in the morning with some applesauce. It lasts him throughout the day, and helps him to stay focused in class. Since this school year started, I have not had to go to the school at all because of behavior issues. Can I just say this--HALLELUJAH!! You have no idea how good it feels to be able to say that. Of course, I am still watchful, monitoring his moods, temperament, performance in school. I also stay in close contact with his teachers, who know to give me a call or shoot over an email if they notice anything unusual. So far, so good:) The best part is that my boy is still my beautiful boy; the medication is just allowing him to function better. I look at it not as a crutch, but as giving him a leg up. My best to all of you who are going through similar situations--you are stronger than you know, and you will get through this even stronger.


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