Riding the Highs and Lows of Attention Deficit

by - 6:38 PM

        And Lessons Learned from Spaceman Spiff

With two ADHD/ADD children and one (fortunately only one) ADD husband, someone at my house is usually looking for something, forgotten something or is running late.  Then, on a different day and under different circumstances suddenly they’re right on, making sense of chaos, the best of survivors, creative, bold in the face of adversity.  With attention deficit disorder the lows can be so low and the highs so, so sweet. After eighteen or so years of this roller coaster with three people I love I’ve learned to buckle up and ride the ups and downs of this disorder.
My youngest child has escaped the malady, so we are a ratio of two to three, with the power of numbers going to the ADD’ers.  Having heard my youngest son, fed up with sharing a room with his disorganized big brother, shout out how he could not stand to live with him another single moment is demonstrative of just how strong feelings can get between the ADD and non-ADD types in my household.

The "baby alien" always ready for a task,
this non-ADD'er loved to sort the laundry!
When I started out as a parent I didn’t know anything about Attention Deficit but when my last child was born I knew there were differences between him and my older two. My youngest was like a little baby alien to me when he would, at an early age, line up the shoes at the door matching them smallest to biggest.  He would often apply this same organizational and attentional skill-set on toys and books and the ever growing piles found around our house.  Order made him feel good.  Order made the other children feel good too but sadly they didn’t know how to achieve it and often, like many kids with ADD, felt defeated.  My youngest wasn’t just lining up shoes I noted to myself, he had a knack for sticking to a task – any task – until it was done.  

Tasks for my older two were far greater affairs.  When my oldest had homework assigned in elementary school he would get started only after lots of encouragement, delays, bathroom breaks, more delays, more bathroom breaks and pencil sharpening until the motor conked from overheating.  Working for only a short time, he would conk out just like that overheated pencil sharpener and stop, head down on the table.  I grew increasingly anxious why a seemingly intelligent kid couldn’t get through his school work.  My daughter faced the same struggles but did so without the explosive moments that came from my son.  Parent-Teacher conferences became disheartening for both.  

Neither child was formerly diagnosed with some form of attention deficit during their elementary school years but they both received services through individualized education plans for their learning difficulties.   The delay in a formal diagnosis of what the true nature of their learning disabilities was partly my fault.  Not a fan of labels and somewhat certain that both children could be good learners I thought that with growth and a bit of maturity they would break though their issues and catch up.  I was willing to be patient.   

Even with patience though I am not kidding when I say there was a lot of darkness for me, that often, after an explosive evening of homework arguments I went to bed feeling very sad, worrying about them and my ability to parent, to be a good Mom. Because, like those teachers, I too felt frustrated, dismayed, and confused about how to get them through their work.  The lengths that my son went to hide his homework in the most creative of places, the boots that lined the hallway and stuffed into the couch was a result of how stressed he was about doing the work.

Yet, even as I struggled with their learning issues, the chaos of their bedrooms and the ever increasing disorganization that came from living with children like this, I grew as a parent.  My growth wasn’t a result of some amazing ability I had but the result of the feelings of desperation that I felt for their struggles and the decision I made after a meeting at school one day.

As the second grade teacher ran through a list of complaints during a round-table she also mentioned that my son was making noises during class and that he was talking to himself. He sounded crazy, I had never heard him making noises like she referenced at home.  The special education team wagged their heads and looked worried, so not only was this kid inattentive and disorganized, he talked to himself.  The teacher finished up by mentioning how often she would find him reading a book behind another book.  One of his favorites - Calvin and Hobbs - was often the culprit.  By the time the round table had come to me for my input I had figured out the noise making.  

My oldest ADD'er on a high moment,
literally, but as a parent you learn to savor them all
After asking her to describe the noises, she demonstrated zooming and rocket sounds which lead me to deduce that my boy, struggling to keep his attention on the teacher for a full day had resorted to “Space Man Spiff’s” world.  Enthralled with Calvin and his adventures with Hobbs, he would sneak a copy behind a school book, enjoying the stories so much that he lost track of himself mimicking the stories out loud and this he did do at home. Of course, what you adore about your own kid doesn’t necessarily translate to others adoration.  After that meeting I felt badly and I felt badly for the teacher and for him. Needless to say, we had a long talk when I got home. 

It was that second grade meeting, when my sons innocent acting out of Space Man Spiff was misconstrued that I decide from now on I would temper my reactions to the reporting.  After that meeting I knew I would have to learn to let some thoughts and opinions go.  I would take the teachers and specialists seriously but I was no longer going to feel badly after every conference or ed plan meeting because, simply, I felt that they weren’t seeing the whole child. I decided I was going to let the school do the school stuff and that I would do the nurturing stuff and most importantly let the kids be themselves - and accept the results - however the results ended up.  

It’s not an easy road for kids with learning disabilities but for mine it is getting better.  My oldest is in college now but he still struggles with keeping up and getting everything done.  And, I still worry, I know it isn’t as simple as organizing his backpack for him and making it all better.  My daughter, a sophomore in high school is getting great grades but is usually exhausted from working so hard to keep it all together.  Sometimes I have to hold back and let her live in her own disorganization so that she can find her own way out of it -- which isn’t easy for either of us. As people, they are really great human beings and for this I am thankful, ever so thankful for the ride.

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