Friday, March 23, 2012

Speaking Up

Dylan's school, which I have not always been thrilled with, recently started a group for parents of kids with ADHD.  I think this is a fantastic idea and I thoroughly enjoyed the first two meetings.  Getting parents who are going through similar experiences together in the same room is much needed and very gratifying.  The facilitator, a psychologist from a local university, is extremely knowledgeable and she is a mom herself so she doesn't come down on the issue from on high.  She's real and understands the day-to-day challenge of any parenting, not just ADHD parenting.

At the first meeting, parents were urged to keep "membership" in this group under wraps.  We were cautioned that if we see parents from the meeting in the grocery, for instance, that we shouldn't "out" the other parent by loudly saying "Oh, weren't you in the ADHD group."

For the record, I would never do that.

But at the same time, the admonition bothered me.

It's like ADHD is something to be ashamed of; something you shouldn't discuss in mixed company.

I shared my feelings at the time, at the end of the meeting, but it's been sitting with me since then, too.

Parents of kids with ADHD know that the disorder is misunderstood.  One of the first friends I told was shocked that I would give medication to my child - the very child who struggles daily with school and homework.  "Just get him off the sugar," my friend advised.

I'm not sure if my friend thinks we live off of a steady diet of Froot Loops and lollipops or what.  (We don't!)  But that was the first of many encounters that showed me how misunderstood ADHD is.

Another friend, a mom, kept asking, "Are you sure he has it?  Don't all kids, especially boys, have a hard time staying on track?"

It's hard to explain that your son who seems so "normal" at a once- or twice-a-year visit can't sit still and do two easy math problems in an hour.  Or that writing a sentence is almost excruciating, both for him and for me to watch.  Or that he will lose his cool thatquick over my not understanding who Jay with the Ninjagos is.  Surely, these are just isolated incidents, these parents think.

We ADHD moms (and dads) know that these instances are not isolated.  That it's not just that they are boys, or are eating too much sugar, or the 100 other misconceptions out there.

But I can't blame anyone for those misconceptions.  After all, the media reports seemingly every other day that Ritalin is over-prescribed.  Although the link between sugar and ADHD was debunked long ago, that's never been proclaimed loudly on the front page of any major newspaper.

The Tiger Moms and John Rosemonds of the world make it seem oh-so-reasonable that ADHD parents just aren't strict enough.  Just don't set enough limits.  Let their kids watch hours on end of TV and play every video game that's introduced.  It's blame instead of understanding and becoming educating.

And it's the parents who have to put a stop to it.

We have to share our stories.

We have to uncover the veil, talk about what we go through, let the dark and ugly shine through the cracks.

Until we do that, the stigma will remain.

Until we start explaining and educating, the rest of the world will remain ignorant of the truth.

They won't learn what ADHD is really like.  They won't be able to really understand or even celebrate in the good things.  To them, it's a negative that we parents could fix if we just...

Stigma can only be erased through education.

Think about depression.  At one time, people hid depression.  If you were on medication for it, heaven forbid, you certainly didn't mention it to anyone.

Now, probably a quarter of the people I know are on or have been on some sort of depression medication.  They talk about their depression openly.  It's become normal and acceptable.  No one thinks bad of you (okay, almost no one) if you take medication to get through depression.  It's understood to be a way to deal with the mental issue, much as insulin helps a diabetic.  It's a medical problem with a medical solution (as well as other solutions like therapy and behavior modification).

ADHD needs to come out of the closet in similar fashion.

I would never, ever share a child or parent's situation with anyone else if they didn't want me, or hadn't told me it was okay.  But the parents eventually need to start talking.

I know it's hard at first.  The diagnosis is like a wallop out of nowhere and it's hard to even breathe as you take it all in at first.  But that surprise subsides eventually.  There's acceptance and learning methods to deal with it.  At some point, it just becomes part of your life, and that's when it's time to start sharing, start educating, start pulling ADHD out of the closet and into the sunshine.

Until then, until more people understand it and acceptance, we're going to continue to get scoffed at.  Friends and family are going to continue to question the path we've taken to address it, and not quite believe us when we give them our answers.

ADHD is becoming commonplace.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pegs it at about 10% of the population, which is a lot.  But those figures alone are not making the entire other 90% aware and understanding of the disorder.  That's our job.

Get going.  Start speaking up!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ups and Downs

It's been a night of Ups and Downs.

Up:  Just being home with my boy after a long, tiring day at work.

Down: Homework

Up:  His teacher sent home a take home exam to give him an opportunity to improve his final exam grade in social studies.

Down:  Doing a take home exam, even open book, after meds have worn off.

Up:  Mommy staying calm throughout the evening.

Down:  Dylan bursting into tears.

Up:  Checking his grades online and seeing that there doesn't appear to be any Ds for the quarter.

Down:  Seeing that he has been given a grade for homework in most subjects.  How can this be?  As far as I can tell, they don't specifically go over homework to see if it has been done right or wrong.  And even if they did, it's practice, isn't it.  And, one other point, is homework fair if it takes Dylan 3-4 times as long as the rest of the class?

Up:  Giving up on finishing the take-home exam and hanging out in Dylan's room eating ice cream.

Down:  Seeing that his language teacher gave him a C, even though his tests clearly show that he is a B student.  There was a take-home test that I never heard about that he failed, according to the list of grades.

Up:  Reaching out via email to a local, private, Catholic school focused on learning disabilities to learn more about it.

Down:  Telling Dylan that I am looking into a school that might be able to help him learn in a way more suited to his style, and having him breakdown again because he actually loves his school despite the struggles.

Up:  Reading the second book of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole to him as he falls asleep.

Down:  Telling him one of my "Cowboy Dylan" stories.  I said that Cowboy Dylan was smart, and he said he was nothing like Cowboy Dylan.

It's heartbreaking!  My boy is smart!  He is not "playing us" as one teacher suggests.  We are not lazy parents who just want it all easy for him.  HAH!  If this is easy, I would hate to see hard! "Easy" just does not have so many downs to contend with. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is This the Best Way to Learn?

Dylan has a language exam tomorrow.  Is it me, or shouldn't the night before an exam be focused on that exam?  If that's the case, why is there homework in math, science, social studies, and reading?

More and more, I'm becoming dismayed at the very way education is handled these days.  It makes me think of McDonalds.  If a single hamburger and a bag of fries is good, more must be better, right? Supersize it!

That's education right now.  The idea that more is better.  More homework.  More information.  More tests.  And everything is stepped back so that it happens at a younger and younger age.

These days our society is set up to give kids less independence and we're cautioned to watch over our kids every second, but at the same time we are encouraged to engage in their education earlier and earlier.  Subjects and homework in pre-school, reading by kindergarten, chapter books in second grade, algebra in fourth grade.

It just doesn't make sense.  We don't trust them to go to the store by themselves, yet we want them to perform at a high level on high-stakes standardized tests.  We want them to read on a grade level two years above their actual grade.  Even extracurriculars are on speed.

I am not at all saying that if your child is gifted or talented that they shouldn't be given the opportunity to shine.  But I think we've gotten to where we think that all children can and should do that.

We've become so swayed by international test scores that we think more knowledge = more intelligence.  But knowing more doesn't mean that someone will get through a situation better than someone else.  Innovation and creativity are what has traditionally set the U.S. apart and neither of those things have anything to do with a vast quantity of reciteable information.

We need to take a step back.  We need to let kids be kids.  We need to let them learn outside of a pressure cooker, not in one.  One subject at a time.

At least on a test night.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

It's My Birthday...or Is It?

I've been a bit out of the loop here at The Argonne Chronicles.  First there was Mardi Gras, which is not an occasion for everything to stop anywhere else, but here in New Orleans it certainly is! 

Then there was travel and sickness which sort of went hand-in-hand.  I managed to get away for business while becoming sick and using every ounce of my reserves to keep from falling apart while I was there.  But as soon as I got home, I had to succumb to the creeping crud.

With tongue slightly in cheek, I have to admit to spending some of this week mourning the loss of my first crush.  Yes, I was deeply in love with Davy Jones some 40 years ago and I have felt a touch of sadness at his sudden passing.
And finally, it was my birthday!  But it was also RockStar's birthday.  Yes, indeed, we do share the same birthday. (Same day, different years.)  It's fun and it's cool to have the same birthday, but it's also a bit not-so-cool, too.

You see, I don't have my own day.

I wanted to start the day with a little bit of extra sleep while RockStar got the boy up.  It was my birthday after all.  But it was his, too.

Who do you think ended up getting up at 5:30am?

I read Pamela Hutchins' blog post over at A Mom's View of ADHD recently, and couldn't help thinking about it as I grumbled my way through the morning. In it, she talks about her teenage son and his first romance.  While her son's girlfriend seems to be very accepting of his quirks as a somewhat forgetful, largely self-focused teenage boy, Hutchins wonders about his romantic future.  She relates to her own marriage with her son's father, which ended in divorce.

Since Dylan's diagnosis it's been painfully obvious to me that RockStar suffers from the same disorder.  But I had never thought about the romantic implications until I read Hutchins post.  It's hard to be in love with someone who has a hard time looking past their own sphere of interest.  Who hyperfocuses on their own interests, sometimes to the exclusion of others (as well as to the exclusion of the more mundane but necessary aspects of life, like financially sustaining work).

Yes, RockStar was as deserving of sleeping in on Friday morning as I was.  But a girl can't help hoping that chivalry is not dead!  In my 8-year old dreams, I'm sure Davy Jones would have let me sleep in on my birthday (and, of course, he would have sung me awake, too!).

My not-so-humble grumbling was noticed and RockStar is currently spending the afternoon with Dylan so I can have some much-deserved "me time."  But I don't think this is the last time I'll be fighting against a situation like this.  Just like our efforts with Dylan seem to cycle around and around, so, too, do my adventures with an undiagnosed victim of ADHD.