You’ve probably heard the saying, “Do not take your work home with you.” That is excellent advice, except in my case, where my work life is my home life. As a parent coach and writer, I educate others about children who are neurodiverse. It just so happens that I also have two neurodivergent children. My son and daughter have ADHD. I’m lucky to have these two beautiful souls who happen to call me mommy. (Well, one is moving away from mommy. I recently received an upgrade to mom from my 11-year-old son.)
I also have ADHD, but it presents itself differently because I did not get the education my children are receiving to help me navigate my symptoms. Instead, I spent most of my childhood and young adulthood masking. This is when you hide who you are for others to accept you. For example, you can mask certain tendencies and personality quirks to blend into social norms. Unfortunately, when you are masking, it takes an incredible amount of energy to maintain this facade. It tends to leave you feeling depleted and prone to negative behavior meltdowns. As a parent, I want to make sure my children do not follow the same path. Read on as I share an overview of ADHD, common symptoms (and strengths!), and lessons I’ve learned parenting my two kids with ADHD.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This is the clinical definition, but anyone with ADHD will tell you that we are full of attention to things of interest. We may miss minuscule tasks like remembering to brush our teeth or successfully completing a morning school routine. In adulthood, it’s forgetting to take the laundry out of the washer and remembering this three days later. Sounds familiar? There also tends to be a genetic component, meaning someone gave your child this gene.
There are three types of ADHD: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, which is the type that my son has, predominantly inattentive ADHD (formerly called ADD), which my daughter has, and combined type. This last one is all me. Here are some common symptoms of each type:
Common Symptoms of Inattentive ADHD
- Difficult time maintaining attention on non-preferred tasks
- Hard time processing and following through with spoken instructions
- Makes careless mistakes with schoolwork
- Difficulty with creating and maintaining organization
- Easily forget daily tasks
- Loses items easily (schoolwork, shoes, glasses, etc.)
- Distracted by unrelated tasks, ideas, or environmental things
Common Symptoms of Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD
- Tend to be noisy (humming, tapping, moving, etc.)
- Difficulty recognizing personal space and boundaries of others
- Sensory-seeking behaviors: climbing, jumping, or crashing into furniture
- Appears to be unsettled and constantly on the go
- Excessively talking and hijacking conversations
- Difficulty with turn-taking in conversations
- Difficulty engaging with quiet activities or games
Common Symptoms of Combined Type ADHD
- Difficulty with friendships
- Lack of impulse control
- Easily distracted
- Wiggly and difficulty with waiting
- Careless and takes unnecessary risks
- Ability to hyperfocus
- Highly energetic
- Adaptation to a new strategy
- Increased compassion
How is a child diagnosed with ADHD?
I knew my son had ADHD because he presented so classically that he could barely sit to eat. Literally, he would take a bite and run around our kitchen. The child could not sit still to save his life, and he appeared to be in physical pain whenever asked not to move.
However, with my daughter, it was completely different. She was a model student. She would sit and not move and play quietly while drawing pictures. I only received positive feedback about how well she behaved. But I did notice that she seemed to daydream a lot, and her favorite default response was “huh?” It appeared like she was here but not really, while my son was always present even though he was physically never in the same space. The best way I can describe it was that my son was physically absent but mentally present, while my daughter was physically present but mentally absent.
If you suspect your child may have ADHD, you first need to contact a psychologist who can do a neuropsychological test to determine if your child has ADHD. The referral can come from your pediatrician or a therapist. As a mom, I love a personal connection to a referral. Ask other parents if they had one done and if they liked the experience.
It’s a costly test, and doing the background research is well worth your time before your investment. The neuropsychological test is given by a licensed clinical psychologist, school psychologist, or neuropsychologist. It will be followed by a detailed report on how your child’s brain processes information. This report will include information on where your child’s strengths exist, what areas in life are difficult, and recommendations for what to do about it. The goal is for you to better understand your child and what you can do to help them succeed.
What can you do when your child receives an ADHD diagnosis?
Now that you know what ADHD can look like, what are the steps you can take to help you in the home and school setting? The first thing to realize is that this is not your fault. It’s not bad parenting. ADHD is not a mental illness, and both children and adults are impacted in different ways. Your child will not outgrow having ADHD, but you can help strengthen the neurological pathways to help them increase their executive function and give them proper coping techniques. Individuals with ADHD are significantly impacted primarily by organization and focusing. Having a clear home and school plan can decrease the issues you may be experiencing.
- Having structure is your number one and best line of defense at home. Visual guides can help children as young as two follow instructions and increase independent skills. These books explain how to implement structure: Our Neurodivergent Journey, Raising an Organized Child, and Scattered to Focused.
- Teach your child how to use a timer to help them with time management and the completion of tasks. Visual timers like this one are the best.
- Break steps down into smaller pieces.
- ADHD loves dopamine, so it’s helpful to include a desired activity after a task to help with motivation. Avoid rewards that are not sustainable.
- Put in a request for a 504 plan or IEP. This may be something your child can benefit from or qualify for to help alleviate school stress.
- Contact the school counselor and teacher to come up with a homework plan that will keep your child accountable both at home and school.
- Create a plan for movement breaks or different seating options to help with focusing.
This all might sound like a lot of work and may feel overwhelming. However, the more intervention you have, the easier it will be for your child to know how to advocate for their needs later in life.
Having a child (or children) with ADHD can be fun. Both of my children have strengths in an area I help nurture. My son loves moving. You give him an outdoor activity and watch him thrive. He’s my outdoorsy kid. You will often find us gardening together. It’s something that both he and I enjoy. Alone he will pick up a sports activity and lose himself for hours. My daughter is not an outdoors person, but she is my creative muse. She is a gifted and talented artist and can spend hours creating beautiful pieces of work. I have her artwork throughout our house, and every time I look at them, I am reminded that she is truly gifted.
ADHD can bring you closer together as a family the more you learn about it. My son is currently learning how to cook, and my daughter wants to paint a mural she designed, and I have to tell her mommy is okay with that!