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October is ADHD Awareness Month. Before it is over, let’s talk to some moms about parenting a hyperactive child, and see if an increased awareness has changed things?
‘Why is she so squirmy?’
‘Why is he so restless?’
‘Perpetual Sugar high?
‘You need to take control as a parent!’
Parenting a hyperactive child often means laying yourself bare to ignorant statements like these.
A 2013 study published in the Indian Psychiatry Journal concluded that there was a high prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD among primary school children in India with a higher prevalence among males when compared to females. Yet, there still seems to be a cloud of mystery around ADHD and hyperactive children in general, often confusing the condition and phases children go through.
Since October is ADHD awareness month, in an effort to dispel the myths around it, we spoke to seven mothers including an expert who has authored a book on ADHD about parenting a hyperactive child.
Parvathy Raman, mother of an 11-year-old boy diagnosed with ADHD
“Most folks perceive hyperactivity to be less of a lack in impulse control vs. misbehavior.”
Parvathy Raman’s eleven-year-old son ‘Y’ was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of eight.
Their journey began quite early when they realized he was a difficult baby. While children often outgrow certain traits, Y did not. He thrived with structure and found transition and new tasks overwhelming and difficult to practice. As he grew older they learnt that he had a brilliant mind that required a lot of nurturing.
Initially it appeared he was only hyperactive or bored from not being challenged. She adds that their journey became even more complex when Y ended up having other medical issues that spun a web of emotional and mental trauma that triggered a downward spiral of underlining ADHD and anxiety. Parvathy, a pediatric rare disease advocate says that parents must be aware of the options they have to help care better for their children.
“Advocate, seek medical help – a lot of times brilliant little minds also need help that is beyond healthy diet, physical activities and supplements. As children get older their hormones make life harder – knowing, preparing, thinking and fighting for what is best for them makes a world of a difference.”
Parvathy insists that having ADHD has not made their journey with their son any less perfect.
“Having less inhibition, being able to ask unprompted excited questions has made him much more outgoing and he is more of an extrovert than anyone else we know. We sometimes wish that we adults were as outgoing as he is.”
Neethu Joseph, Mother of a 9-year-old boy diagnosed with ADHD
“I was told that I am overreacting when I first mentioned the diagnosis and also that it was bad parenting but I think it is mostly a lack of awareness.”
Neethu Joseph does not take offense at the judgement that comes her way due to her son Edwin’s diagnosis as she says there is a lack of awareness about ADHD in India. This is also because not all children who are diagnosed with the disorder fit in the stereotypical image one has of hyperactive children.
“My son doesn’t quite fit in the hyperactive curve but he is restless. He mostly finds it hard to sit down and finish a task. His thoughts wander and he is lost. Sometimes when he is super focused he scores a 100 percent in a test and then there are days where he scores less than 30 percent despite knowing all the answers because he is just too distracted to write it down.”
Edwin can only thrive in an environment where he gets focused attention.
“He wasn’t disruptive in his previous school but he wasn’t thriving so we took a big risk and moved him to private school with not enough resources to help him. The private school class size is very limited hence he gets more attention and help from his teacher.”
Neethu believes that the best way to deal with the challenges of parenting a hyperactive child is to educate yourself and build a community.
“Meet and socialize with other parents going through the same as it does get lonely parenting a child whose struggles are not obvious from the outside.”
Poornima, Mother of a 5-year-old son who was misdiagnosed with ADHD
“Hyperactivity is often confused as ADHD because it is the most common symptom and even people who are not doctors – on seeing a child who is extra active label the kid with ADHD”
Despite having zero concerns about their son’s behaviour themselves, Poornima’s family was asked to get an evaluation by his school who felt that his behaviour pointed towards ADHD. Having completed his assigned tasks in a jiffy, he would refuse to sit calmly and he would run around during recess, somehow disturbing the class.
The recommended child psychiatrist, said to be one of the best in Bangalore handed over an ADHD diagnosis after a short exchange with her son who was not even four years old at the time.
Poornima, who did not believe that a thorough evaluation was done decided to do some research of her own. She soon found out that hyperactivity was just one of the symptoms of ADHD. There are many other factors to be evaluated such as impulsivity, aggression, squirming and many other things.
“Diagnosis is hard because it is not something that can be done by a medical test and is purely based on the observation of behaviour.”
She adds that as a parent no one knows your child better.
“An outsider may wonder and say things like – Oh my, how do you deal with such a hyperactive child. Don’t get obsessed by that and start nitpicking. What may seem odd to you is your normal. Deal with it the way you usually do. Secondly, if you have a proper diagnosis and you require therapy – keep searching for a therapist that suits your child and you. It doesn’t have to be the best in town – but someone with whom your child connects well. Do not get overwhelmed by the word ‘therapy’ – it is actually a lot of fun and not ‘treatment’.”
Neetal Jain, Mother of 6-year-old boy diagnosed with ADHD
“My family tagged his ADHD related tantrums as naughtiness and childishness”
One of the biggest challenges for Neetal Jain and her husband was to get on board with parenting a hyperactive child whose behavioural disorders made it hard for him to function in a typical manner. She says that his temper tantrums in public would lead to people labeling him as ‘spoilt child’ and her ‘an unfit mother’.
“I spent months crying about why my child had to go through this and why society did not understand every child is different. We stopped taking him or going to social gatherings, but that’s when my husband intervened and said if we do not accept the way he is, the world never would. This realization is why today I do not shy away from the fact that my child has ADHD and that he needs special attention. I have accepted the way he is and slowly the world will too.”
Neetal also despairs about the general perception of mental capacity and normalcy.
“People are either termed as mentally incapable or perfectly normal. They do not understand there are children and adults can be perfectly normal despite having atypical processing capabilities.”
Neetal says that the Indian education system in general is just not equipped for the challenges of dealing with a hyperactive child. She says there are simply not enough schools that understand their needs, and those that do are labelled special needs schools with almost zero integration with the typical population.
“I personally went to 10 different schools for him until I found one that understood his needs.”
Lakshmi, Mother of a ten-year-old girl diagnosed with ADHD
“The biggest challenge has been for me to understand the pain my child is in trying to work with rules meant for neuro-typical children and adults.”
Lakshmi says she struggled in the first two years after her daughter’s evaluation because it was not clear how she could help her daughter. She was the one who had pushed for the evaluation, with her daughter’s teachers’ support, but she found herself floundering after the confirmation of her daughter’s ADHD.
“Learning about ADHD and understanding what it is like to deal with on a daily basis are completely different things. I struggled with realizing that my child does not do well under pressure or with time bound tests. I also had to keep reminding myself that my child is not acting out because she likes to, she is doing it because she is unable to cope.”
Lakshmi says it took her four years to become better equipped to help her.
“As someone who is neuro-typical, it takes enormous empathy to place myself in my child’s shoes and understand her struggles.”
Lakshmi has never attempted to shroud their journey in secrecy. “I am mostly open about our struggles with family and friends. Most of them seem uncomfortable when I talk about my daughter’s struggles openly. Some of them dissuade me from sharing with everyone. Yet others have opened up about their struggles. It has been a mixed bag for us.”
Shrividhya, Mother to a 2.5 year old girl Yaddve diagnosed with ADHD as a complication from Tuberous Sclerosis
‘One of the toughest parts of parenting a hyperactive child is to keep her engaged all the time.’
Shrividhya says that keeping her hyperactive child focused on the same activity is a real challenge.
“She is such a smart kid and she grasps things very quickly. Her long-term memory is remarkable. She is not interested in doing the same activity again and again. She needs something new everyday. When she is not engaged she gets frustrated and throws tantrums. Keeping her engaged is the most difficult part.”
Yet, Shrividhya says she remains positive about her daughter’s hyperactivity.
“Her tendency to detail things minutely, her hyper focus, her hyperactivity are things that we view with positivity.”
She says that her daughter’s playgroup too has helped her on her journey of parenting a hyperactive child. “Her playgroup is our happy place. They welcomed Yaddve with a warm heart. She became their favourite. The children accept her for who she is and not for what she is diagnosed for”‘
Shrividhya does wish that there were better options for support and resources for families like her in India.
“Most of the people don’t even know the expansion for ADHD. There is a group on Facebook – ‘ADHD India’ that is quite inactive. Currently my space to vent and my support and motivation is our occupational therapist, the parents at our Center and the ADHD group on Facebook that has members with ADHD all over the world. India needs much awareness on ADHD yet.”
Parvathy Vishvanath, Mother to an adult with Downs Syndrome and Founder Chairperson of Aikya Foundation and School for Children with Special Needs
“Comparing the behavior of children with ADHD to that of their neuro-typical peers is unproductive and insensitive”
Parvathy Vishvanath has dedicated years to awareness and training of families who have children with special needs. An expert in the field who has even authored a book on ADHD, she believes that early identification and training is very important for complete integration with the typical population.
“Children with ADHD if identified at an early age can be trained and taught so that they can cope well in regular mainstream school. A boy who was brought to me at the age of 3, in the nineties, had ADHD. His father accepted the problem after diagnosis and worked with us. He came to us for two years for early intervention in our special school and showed improvement. We admitted him to regular school in KG (Kindergarten). He managed well academically and socially. He completed his college and works in a private firm. This was one of my biggest successes in my earlier days. Now after years of advocacy and hard work we are able to place most successful kids in regular schools and give extra support to the children and families.”
She says that hyperactivity and short attention span are the biggest challenges the families face in the initial years.
“Most hyperactive children are quite good in other areas. Some of them have behaviour problems which families find hard to cope with. On a daily basis they have problems in self care, managing their time, losing their belongings, staying still, paying attention in class and completing tasks in class and home.”
Parvathy says if parents notice these symptoms or traits persist for more than six months and see it affect their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities, then they need to take the child for an evaluation.
“If the child is under 5 with ADHD, parents must accept and start early intervention as this is the right time. Basically they need structure. Creating structure and daily routine in everyday life plays an important role. They need to break tasks into a manageable size and time as their attention span is short. Simplify and make life more organized. Regularize eating and sleeping time. As they have boundless energy, they can be taught outdoor games, physical exercises to release energy in a productive way that will also help in their social skills. Age appropriate Yoga and music help a lot. Learning music and playing an instrument also helps. Limit distractions while doing homework and stick to a routine.”
Parvathy adds that we need to, “Educate people and the community as a whole about the disorder and make them understand that ADHD is a neurological condition that can cause very real behavioural problems that parents and children struggle with every day. Empathy and sensitivity would help children with ADHD and their parents.”
A message that most parents of hyperactive children and atypical children would agree with.
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Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a Writer and Travel columnist.
Her fourth book and first collection
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