My Daughter’s ADHD Diagnosis Was a Relief — Until it Wasn’t
By Chantal Saville
Photo © Elena Nichizhenova/123RF
Apr 17, 2018
In no time flat, it became her crutch.
In grade one, Nikki’s teacher complained that she would get up and walk away from the carpet in the middle of a lesson. She'd just walk off and go and play with something else in the room. She’s a December baby, I reasoned.
In grade two, the teacher couldn’t figure out why Nikki seemed to struggle with focusing, particularly in math. I was clinging to the notion that Nikki was just immature. She’ll catch up, I said. “I’m stupid,” Nikki would say of herself.
In grade three, I realized that she wasn’t catching up. Her teacher insisted that Nikki wasn’t paying attention. She also complained about Nikki’s favourite avoidance technique: going to the bathroom. The “I’m stupid” comments started coming fast and furious, every single day.
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After commiserating with a fellow mom whose child had similar issues, she shared a secret: “You know you can have her tested for ADHD, and it’s covered by provincial health insurance, right?” I hadn’t known and felt a little stupid for not knowing. I got a referral, made an appointment and a few months later, received her diagnosis: ADHD Inattentive.
So many parents shudder and squirm under the weight of a diagnosis like this but I was elated! We had an explanation and we could move forward, with the help of medication and assistance from the resource centre at her school.
Within about a month of her diagnosis, Nikki came home from school with math homework and said: “Oh no. I can’t do this. I have ADHD.” Well, at least she wasn’t saying she was stupid anymore. One step forward, one step back.
The diagnosis did help Nikki to understand that she was, in fact, not stupid. However, blaming her ADHD had become just another way to cope, like the bathroom trick, but one that was harder for the adults around her to dismiss, myself included.
Lying to them about what’s going on will only confuse them. The pill they are taking isn’t a vitamin, and they know it.
We want our kids to understand their minds and bodies, and to advocate for themselves when necessary. That doesn’t mean we can allow them to develop a victim stance that gives them permission to give up or not even try.
So how do we do that?
Be honest about their diagnosis, to the extent that they can understand it. Lying to them about what’s going on will only confuse them. The pill they are taking isn’t a vitamin, and they know it.
Remind them and yourself that ADHD is not who they are: it’s an issue with their brain but it has nothing to do with their intelligence.
Teach them that while some tasks may be harder because of the ADHD, there are always ways to make them easier. Example? My daughter has substantial working memory issues. Give her a large task and she doesn’t know where to start. Give her a list with the task broken down and she’s good to go!
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Don’t excuse them from consequences. We have a list of tasks that Nikki has to do when she gets home: put away her school stuff; empty her lunch box; and get her homework out. Not doing them because she has ADHD doesn’t wash! If she doesn’t do them — even with a reminder — she loses some screen time.
Figure out what your child is good at and reference that when they feel like nothing is going right. Nikki is becoming very accomplished at horseback riding, a sport that requires concentration and multitasking to get the horse to do what you want it to. Whenever she struggles with her ADHD, I remind her of this. Ice cream helps, too.
Ultimately, letting kids use a diagnosis like ADHD as an excuse is not helping them. Let’s teach them to figure out what works for them, what doesn’t and build a path to success at school and in life without a crutch.
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