The other day I tuned into a popular talk show where two moms of children with A.D.H.D. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) were being interviewed. One believes in medicating children for this disorder, and another adamantly feels that these children can learn to be successful without medication through alternative education called “un-schooling” rather than the traditional classroom.
As a mother of a child with ADHD, let me first address the notion that the cause of this disorder is bad parenting. Others are quick to judge our parenting skills and blame us for our child’s behavior, and some go as far as completely dismissing the notion that A.D.H.D. even exists. I have experienced this from other parents, teachers, and even my own friends and family. These opinions are extremely frustrating for those of us who have had to live through this all-consuming and exhausting disorder with our kids. As to the solution, I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all remedy. Each parent has to explore a variety of options to find the one that works best for them and their children. In some cases, like mine, there are no solutions other than acceptance.
Daunting statistics say that 35% of ADHD children will never finish high school. About 50% of them will abuse drugs or other substances. Shockingly 40% will be charged with a felony in their teen years. As adults they will endure damage to their careers, relationships, and their self-esteem.
My son, Justin, who is now 31 years old, is an extremely intelligent, career-minded young man, and as a result, he is financially successful. In spite of my shortcomings as a parent (none of us parent perfectly 100% of the time) overall I feel I did a great job of raising an independent and confident young man who has nothing but good things ahead of him in life. Justin is how I know I have not failed as a parent.
My daughter, Samantha, who recently turned 18 years old, is the child with ADHD. Although she was diagnosed at the age of 5, I knew long before that age that there were behavior issues that I could not control. When she was 18 months old she decided to throw a temper tantrum because I would not give her what she wanted. In an attempt to not be manipulated by her tantrum, I placed her on my king-sized bed and told her to knock herself out. My baby screamed at the top of her lungs for over an hour and a half. That is when I knew she was not like other children.
Over the last 18 years I have faced a number of challenges starting with pre-school daycare. When my daughter became angry with caretakers she would become violent and verbally abusive which would always result in my being asked to remove her from the daycare center or home of the daycare provider. Prior to her attending kindergarten I would drive 15 miles one way to drop her off at a family member’s house because no one else would accept her because of her behavioral issues.
As I became educated about this disorder I came to understand that many times other disorders also surface in children with ADHD. Accompanying this imbalance in the brain can be Bi-Polar Disorder, Depression, Tourette Syndrome, Conduct Disorder, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. My daughter was diagnosed by one doctor with Conduct Disorder (because of the violent outbursts). You can imagine my uneasiness when this doctor told me that these types of children grow up to be serial killers or pyromaniacs.
The last child psychiatrist I consulted diagnosed my daughter with ADHD accompanied by Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Having studied psychology in my later years, I felt this was the most accurate of all diagnoses given to date. ODD children are extremely defiant, stubborn, non-compliant, have temper outbursts, and become belligerent even with those in a position of power such as parents and teachers. Their inability to respect anyone, especially those in a position of authority, causes these children to struggle academically as well as socially.
No amount of therapy or medication helped my daughter. I was at a loss on what to do next. While Samantha was in elementary school I maintained a high-paying management job in Information Technology. My job was extremely demanding and I would put in an average of 60 hours a week, and was on-call 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I could not continue to work at such a demanding career with a child who required so much of my energy and attention.
This is one of the primary reasons why I quit my job, sold my house, broke up with my life partner, packed up my daughter and myself, and moved to California over seven years ago. Since I arrived here I have had to accept working at a job that pays me only 50% of what I used to make so that I can give most of my energy to raising my daughter.
It has not been an easy journey. As if getting one teacher acclimated to my daughter’s behavior issues weren’t hard enough, once she started junior high it became even more challenging as I now had four to six teachers to break in every year. Some teachers make it obvious that they loathe my daughter which is difficult for any mother to experience. During the school year she is moved by administrators from one teacher’s class to another in the hopes that the next teacher will be better equipped to deal with Samantha’s behavioral quirks.
My daughter struggles with academics not because she is not intelligent, but because it is difficult for her to focus and finish anything she starts such as homework and projects. She’ll do the work and then not turn the homework in. Or she’ll do the work, turn it in, and forget to put her name at the top of the paper causing her homework to be disregarded.
If she becomes overwhelmed she does not do the work at all. I did my best to watch over her closely but what I have learned through the years is no amount of trying to control her works. No amount of punishment or reward works. No amount of berating or praise works. She is who she is and remains a rebel without a cause trapped in a body with limited self-control and a mind that repeatedly rejects learning from her mistakes. As her Mom it pains me to see the self-inflicted destruction she causes in her daily life, and at times I worry what her future will be like. I will also admit that I am exhausted from raising her, and I am not done yet.
So to those who find it easy to judge or criticize parents of children with A.D.H.D., might I suggest you switch places with us for one year and let’s see how well you cope with this “imaginary” disorder. Until you have walked in our shoes, we have no reason to place any value in anything you have to say to us. As for me, I will continue to clean up the disorganized mess my daughter consistently leaves behind in my home. I will continue to love her and nurture her to the best of my ability in spite of how frustrated I am with her blatant lack of respect for me. I will continue to teach her the same values I taught my son in the hopes that one day it takes effect. I will continue to accept who she is in spite of her psychological disorder and support her in a creative career that I have come to believe will serve her best.
After all, there is hope. Many have been plagued with A.D.H.D. and have gone on to be extremely successful. Here are just a few: Justin Timberlake, Jamie Oliver, Karina Smirnoff, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Sir Richard Branson, Howie Mandell, Ansel Adams, Tom Cruise, Leonardo da Vinci, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock, Beethoven, Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg, Vincent Van Gogh, Robin Williams, Henry Winkler, Stevie Wonder, Mozart, Isaac Newton, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, Socrates, Nostradamus, and Bill Gates.
I would say my daughter is in very good company. This list inspires me to cling to hope as we forge ahead in 2014 with Samantha’s high school graduation and entry into an arts college later this year.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!