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A child with ADHD can be a handful to deal with, and stress on parents can be huge. This mom of such a child says that the right approach and professional help can do wonders.
What do U.S. Olympic champions like Michael Phelps, Simone Bilesand Caityln (formerly Bruce) Jenner have in common?
Or Hollywood celebrities like Will Smith, Jiim Carrey, Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, Paris Hilton, Will.i.am?
Or entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson, David Neelman and Paul Orfalea?
The answer is that all of them have been living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) from childhood.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to sit still, pay attention, remember things, follow instructions, prioritise, and stay organised.
ADHD occurs mostly in childhood. Typically, the symptoms appear anywhere between 3-6 years. The average age when ADHD gets diagnosed is 7 years.
ADHD is a difficult condition to diagnose even for the best paediatricians. When left undiagnosed and untreated, children with ADHD are often dismissed as problematic and troublemakers. Most dismiss the symptoms of ADHD as bad parenting. This flawed judgement crumples both the child’s as well as parents’ self-esteem. That is why it is important for parents to be highly attentive right from birth for any warning symptoms.
We spoke to one such mother who was vigilant enough to catch her son’s symptoms early on. On the promise of anonymity, she spoke to us about her experience parenting a child with ADHD.
Anusha* is the mother of two boys aged twelve and seven years. Her elder son is diagnosed with ADHD.
Being in the field of education, Anusha could detect that something was amiss. Her son’s milestones were delayed – he didn’t turnover at 3 months, crawl at 7 months, or walk until fifteen months. By 2.5 years, he didn’t talk or even babble.
“The paediatrician said that my son had good eye contact and was responsive, which was a good sign. But, there were certain behavioural issues. For example, I used to have a blue vase on the centre table. If that wasn’t there, he would have an uncontrollable fit. He was a very pattern oriented child and liked lining up cars and objects.”
Subsequently, Anusha’s son started to speak from 3 years onwards and his speech is perfect now.
It was when Anusha’s son began schooling in the US that the red flags started showing up more prominently.
“My son could not follow simple instructions, had social difficulties in mixing with other children and would blurt out in the middle of the class. Things were going from bad to worse as far as his schooling was concerned.”
By six, Anusha started homeschooling her son.
“At first, it was very hard for me as a mother to think that something might be wrong with my child. I was expecting something and I got something entirely different. It is like having a visa for one country and landing in another country altogether.”
Anusha’s son was still too young for any kind of medical diagnosis. It was only after he turned 7 years when they approached a child psychologist, as guided by his paediatrician.
Anusha says that having her son undertake a formal assessment by a child psychologist was one of the best decisions they have made. The child psychologist did a thorough analysis of her son for a period of 6 months through observation, tests and activities.
“The psychologist came to the conclusion that my son was highly intelligent with an IQ of 136 and ADHD. Finally, we had a name for it. We had a solution for it. We discussed with our son about it.”
One thing that Anusha was very clear about from the start was that her son would not be put on any medications.
“The child psychologist who helped us with the evaluation suggested that we do cognitive behaviour therapy and occupational therapy. We followed it religiously for a year but my son did not respond well. To be frank, he got the impression that there was something wrong with him and it affected his self-esteem.”
Anusha decided to come up with her own customised therapy for her son. She read extensively on ADHD, met a lot of parents with children who had ADHD, child psychologists, and therapists. She cut out junk and processed food from her family’s diet – no white sugar, preservatives, food colourings, artificial food ingredients, carbonated beverages, etc. They did a lot of physical activity to burn his energy the right way. They did Taekwondo, skating, meditation and nature observation walks.
“One of the main reasons I started homeschooling was that he had time for these activities. His focus improved greatly. Of course, there were ups and downs but he was much better than before.”
Till he was in the US, Anusha’s son was homeschooled. Anusha taught him various strategises to improve his focus and how to get back from distractions. But all this took a huge toll on her.
“When he was five, I was pregnant with my second child. By then, I was physically drained and battling depression. It took me a long time to do what should be done. Somehow, I mustered courage, gathered myself to fight come what may.”
When Anusha’s elder son was in the fifth grade, it was time for them to move back to India owing to family commitments.
Since she was skeptical about the resources and support available for homeschooled students in India, especially during the transition to mainstream education (Xth Std boards etc), Anusha enrolled her son in a CBSE school where he has adapted fairly well.
Writing is still a major concern for him. Even though he knows all the answers, he scores 60-70% only because he is unable to write on paper. The teachers know that he knows the answers too but unable to write so.
“I wish our schools also catered to children like my son who are caught in a transitional phase. They don’t come under children with special needs nor can they be treated as normal children. I wish our educational system was ADHD friendly.”
Anusha has not disclosed about her son’s condition to the local school authorities. She will reveal it only if there are any major concerns.
“But, I think they (the school authorities) have figured out that he is kind of different from the rest of the children. I’ve noticed that neither are the teachers able to handle an ADHD child, nor are the paediatricians able to assess correctly. Only a child psychologist will be able to diagnose, and it will not happen in just one sitting.”
Anusha has valid concerns about how her son will be judged and treated if he is tagged with the ADHD label.
“When I was in the US, I had revealed my son’s condition to my circle of friends. They stopped sending their children to play with my son after that.”
Anusha says that her son´s behavioural issues which are part of the the ADHD symptoms make him a soft target for bullying. She says that he cannot manipulate or understand the correct context of situations which leads to a buildup of stress and pent-up anger.
At the end of the day, he is singled out in the classroom. I am not saying he does not do anything but it’s not intentionally done. The other children also commit the same actions but he is branded as the bad child in his class.
“My son goes through a lot of bullying by other children because he does not write properly. His spatial reasoning is very bad. He is in grade 7 but his writing is like that of a grade 2 or 3. On the brighter side, he is a voracious reader. You can ask him anything and he can talk a lot about it.”
ADHD is still disputed amongst some circles. But, Anusha vouches for the fact that the condition is no myth.
“People think that ADHD is just a lack of focus, impulsiveness and forgetfulness. But, there are specific behavioural issues associated with the ADHD condition ranging from anxiety to anger. Recently, his class teacher was talking to another child during a free period. My son bumped right into the teacher, cutting in-between the teacher and the child. These are some of his challenges that we are working upon as parents.”
“I would like to say that these children are gifted in some area or the other. It is upto us, as parents, to find out their strengths. We should be focussing on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
Initially, I made the mistake of focussing on his weaknesses and that negativity passed onto him, thereby affecting his self-esteem. My son still feels dumb sometimes because of certain things that happened in his childhood days. As parents, we are working on bringing him out of his feelings of inadequacy.”
Anusha says that it is important to encourage the ADHD child to follow a daily routine, healthy diet and relaxation techniques like meditation or aromatic massages to improve focus and relieve anxiety.
“Whenever I give my son any oral instructions, he tends to forget them easily. I have to list the instructions on a white board or a sheet of paper. Like say, when he goes in for a morning bath, he takes his own sweet time and forgets that he has to go to school. So, I have a sheet of instructions in the bathroom as well.
There are few institutions parents can approach such as the Karnataka Spastics Society and The Reach Clinic. I plan to get another formal assessment for my son when he turns 13 to check his progress.”
As we drew the curtains down on our conversation, I wished that Anusha and her son would survive the dark storms and emerge victorious at the end of it all.
Image source: pixabay
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Winner of the Rashtriya Gaurav Award (2019) in association with the Government of Telangana for ‘
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