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!