Queen of the Distracted

Imagine life in a house with 6 kids - now imagine if 5 of those kids and their father have ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - that is our house! Welcome to an inside view of my life and our home dominated by ADHD... THERE IS NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls!"

Those were our oldest daughter Rachel's first words, from the time she was a toddler she would belt them out proudly standing on the arm of the couch. At the time we had no idea what ADHD was or that it would play such a central roll in our lives.

Since then we have learned a lot, not the least of which is how many individuals and families suffer in silence. We have experienced first hand how misunderstood and misrepresented a disorder can be.

As a family we decided to take action - to risk embarrassment and labeling to get this important message out to the world. Come join our family, share in our lives, and see ADD/ADHD as we see it...
A gift with a heavy price tag.

WELCOME to life in the ADD/ADHD House!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Attack of the Breadi

Darth Breader?  Is he white or wheat?  Was he wheat and then came back to the white side? Ahhh the early morning wanderings of the ADHD brain!  A family passion for Star Wars and a long standing debate over white and wheat bread had meshed together, the kids were riding the morning ADHD wave. 
Most of the time I am not as amused by the distractions. The time between when everyone gets up and everyone’s medicine kicks in is entirely too long.  But it was summer and nothing was pressing so I sat back, the passive observer.
Today’s musings centered on white vs. wheat bread.  There they were, all six of the kids then ranging in age from 16 to 7 years old at the time entangled in the heated debate.  They argued over texture and nutrition, lack of time and effort it takes to return white bread to dough form, sculpting abilities and flavor – They divided into sides and clubs; the ‘I love white bread’ club and the ‘I love wheat bread’ club (only to be compared to the past clubs of love and hate for enchiladas, kielbasa and other foods).
The white side even refused to acknowledge the existence of any bread but white bread.  Is there any other real bread?  They manipulated and argued, pointing out that “wheat breaders” do eat the white bread.  Does that make them traitors to their wheat bread cause? The “white breaders” insisted that they would not endorse the creation of a wheat bread army.
 “I am sorry, but the debate is not over. The senate will never approve the creation of a wheat bread army,” Hunter said mixing his current Star Wars obsession with the white vs. wheat issue.
 Maybe they need an army for protection since one of the other kids, Mary, mentioned something about having her younger brother for lunch on wheat bread with BBQ sauce. 
"STOP arguing and TAKE Your Medication!"  It was time to move on with the day.  
Someone cried out for a peace treaty.  The wheat breaders ate wheat and the white breaders ate the last bit of white bread.  What will they do for lunch? They will have to wait for the sequel, Hannah says. . . “Return of the Breadi!” 
On a different day with more pressing obligations, I would not have been so amused.  I would have been frustrated, bordering on angry as I fought the never-ending tide of distractions, as I pushed my crew of six up the river against the stream of their ADHD mindsets. On those days distractions and musings are very similar – I don’t enjoy them as much as I probably should.  Mornings and pressing schedules work in complete opposition to the ADHD brain.  A constant barrage of reminders about things one really thinks should be automatic and not require a parent’s attention: flush the toilet! Put your pants on!  Shoes!
I feel A bit of envy for the mom whose child gets up and ready and out the door in minutes rather than hours.  A driving desire to be more like that sends us on a never-ending quest for morning relief. 
I have used check lists, charts, and set out essentials the night before, so that we could slide the kids from one morning activity to the next, into their clothes and out the door.  I have begged, pleaded and threatened to take people as they were at the designated time – even if that meant they were half dressed and shoe-less. In the end I chickened out, I have yet to take anyone half dressed, ¾ dressed is another story.
One mom shared with me that she dressed her big 12 year old son or they would never get out the door.  She isn’t alone.  At one point I slipped my children their medicine in bed and let them go back to sleep for a little while so that they got up semi medicated – surely the closest we ever got to that ideal of the ‘normal’ house and morning ease.  I stopped that when I figured out that I was losing medicated time in the afternoon – homework time – precious much needed medicated time. 
Structure, my husband suggested over and over – following a flight plan so you have something to return to when they wander off forgetting what to do next.
For a long time, I thought the structure wasn’t working; I have used the same schedule since my oldest daughters were little. Early on I realized that feeding them before I got them dressed just meant dressing them twice.  Our flight plan: they get up, take medication, eat, wash up, and get dressed.  Every day I reminded my kids  what came next, as if this was a brand new system.  A decade of reminders makes you really question your system.
 I was not a believer in the structured morning, but my husband, who has ADHD swears by the importance of routine and heaven knows his routine is critical to the tone of his whole day.  When we changed to home school, I thought I would change the morning routine to  fit our new schedule.  Only then was I taught a valuable lesson.
There was a general revolt!
I was reminded, even lectured that I was wrong and we “didn’t do it like that.” It was obvious that the structure they appeared to ignore was a foundation for them.
In the end, what has changed the most is me.  I started to let go of the “Easy Morning” pipe dream and embrace the morning struggle.  It is our normal. 
Our normal is retelling every dream, talking over each other and interrupting in an effort not to forget that stroke of genius that hit like a bomb and is surely fleeting.  Our normal is bizarre plans for the day and profound thoughts like, ‘Pretend it’s the future and everything is chrome.” Our normal is a spontaneous discussion about Napoleon's European campaign and defeat in Russia.
I have learned to allow more time for normal, even hours.  Learned to roll with it on most occasions, the ADHD wave that rolls through our house .
I stop more to enjoy the chaos and creativity and at least chuckle as I say for the umpteenth time, “that is great, now please go brush your teeth.” and watch as a look of recall rolls over a child’s face, the “oh yeah that’s what I was doing” look.   

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Math, Music and Social Skills

How does one receive a 0% on an non-graded assignment?  That is what Mariah wondered about her Math Lab post that many of you have read (if not see She Turned it in But Will They Post It).  She was sure that she was going to have to submit her rather plain alternative, "My name is Mariah and I am afraid of math."  When she finally got a hold of her math teacher and was able to ask her about the post.

Mariah, Rachel and Hannah attend a virtual high school through our school district called Dunlap Leadership Academy.  All of her work is on the computer and her teachers are remote, though they go up to the schools computer lab everyday to work on school (you can also do school remotely - it  covers 7 counties - but we already have 3 kids using our internet each day and they want a little social interaction). 

While Mariah had her teacher on line she cornered her about the Math Lab post - had she read it?  Did she need to redo it?  Apologize?  As it turned out the teacher was having problems with the school and it had arbitrarily given Mariah a 0%.  The teacher loved it and actually passed it around the school to other math teachers who all agreed that while Mariah might not be a math genius she was pretty smart and very funny.

In the mean time she insulted her music theory teachers intelligence by telling her basically, "I know the answer I am am just seeking your professional opinion and wondering if you really teach music or know anything about music."  Ahhhhhhhhh Mariah.  You can see why when Mariah tells us she's been talking to a teacher we stop breathing for a moment.  Waiting to hear if it is witty and brilliant or demeaning and insulting.

Mariah has never been known for her social skills.  It is truly one of her great ADHD struggles.  I remember well and share often a time in the 7th or 8th grade when some poor band-mate made the mistake of asking Mariah what she did over the weekend.  Mariah attacked her verbally then later asked how she could ever think that she knew her well enough to ask such a private question.  Imagine her surprise when I introduced her to the concept of small talk.

Over the years she has worked hard to develop those pesky social skills.  Probably the greatest skill she has gained is the ability to go back and try to communicate starting most conversations with, I really suck at this so please forgive me - I was trying to say...

She had that conversation with the music teacher - it ended on a good note.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sometimes We're Sane...Sometimes We're Not

There are few things that I hate more than dealing with cars.  One, I hate spending money and cars have a tendency to make me bleed money.  Two, I know little about them.  I know where to put in the gas.  I know where to check the oil and to put oil in but I rarely do it until the car will no longer stay on.   It is a matter of principle, an in your face to my birth father who not only owns and operates his own auto repair shop, comes from a  genetically long line of mechanics (talking generations here)but
also has a great deal of clout in his industry.  I know…I know I am only hurting myself and my pocket book but it doesn’t matter – I can not help it.

So imagine how much I loved my last week which was a barrage of broken brakes (both cars) and calipers and tires.  I think I need a therapist just to get me over the hump. So yesterday when the battery started acting up I truly decided to ignore it.  After all what is the worst that can happen?  Let me tell you, the window can get stuck down in the Central Valley’s near Noah experience.  Point being denial doesn’t work…it just gets Hannah wet. 

Normally this is car thing would fall in Mark’s lap, good dedicated husband, who knows that car repair is synonymous with deep seeded adoption issues rearing their ugly heads.  Mark has spent the last, well over a year, pursuing and living a life long dream of making movies and at the moment is neck deep in his day job and post production for Finding Hope Now the movie.  Someday it will be Queen of the Distracted he works on and his own projects.  Oh to have his brilliantly creative, visual, driven mind but someone has to keep his feet near the Earth and that someone is me.

What this means is I have to deal with a lot of the slack…I have to get brakes and calipers and tires.  Silly me, I didn’t know that being all the same brand or type mattered – I thought it was like a vanity thing.  Why do I care if the tires match, they are just tires? Luckily we were visiting said husband when the battery would not start and he worked his magic on it, the window came up and Hannah was not drowned by the flood of 2010.

Hannah is our non-ADHD daughter (14), my voice of reason in an otherwise unreasonable house and Thursday my partner. She went with to my Rheumatologist and I took her took to get checked out for similar symptoms to mine.  We had been joking with her doctor about how Hannah seemed the most like me. Hannah missed the very prevalent ADHD gene that sprung forth from my husband and snagged 5 of the 6 kids. Her doctor, our family doctor, asked us how we do it, how we stay sane in ALL the insanity, all the ADHD.  That was a pretty fair question, I thought, though I really couldn’t come up with a reasonable response except...

Sometimes we’re sane and sometimes… WE ARE NOT.” 

After we left though I could not help but think about how I stay ‘sane’; most of the time I actually enjoy the pace and energy of our house.  Most of the time I just roll with it or let it wash over me rather than fight it; I try and use it to get us where we need to go or to get done what we need accomplished. 

Today, however, I thought about it as I was driving, running errand after errand. As I was heading home, an hour drive – exhausted, too exhausted to drive.   I thought about it when I realized that all the chores that were supposed to be done weren’t.  The volume in the house kept rising getting louder and louder; dancing, singing, laughing, joking, talking, as I cried chores, chores, cores.

I thought about it as I was wishing Mark were home to help regulate and communicate with everyone, he speaks their native language you know.  To fix it like the battery, wiggle the cable and make it work.

I thought about it as I said for the thousandth time, please quiet down.  Please don’t scream. Don’t sing at the top of you lungs, right at this moment don’t get everyone else singing – I do not need a choir.  Don’t argue and talk over one another.  Don’t even squeal with excitement, don’t laugh. 

I was not feeling sane, just overwhelmed, over stimulated. 

I have learned over the years to try and stay calm.  I can not always do it but I have learned that if I stay calm that I get farther.  If I freak out on my kids they freak out on me.  If I loose my calm then they know that if they push hard enough they can get what they want. 

What appears to be extreme patience is really self preservation, staying stubborn in the pursuit of what I need them to do.

Sometimes I have to disconnect a little, to keep that bigger picture and stay calm. Get their attention one person at a time.  Lay out what I expect and what the consequences will be if they don’t reel it back in to acceptable levels. 

Later I take time to recuperate, engage in my guilty pleasure, I good crime show, read, blog, Facebook.  I think one of the hardest parts about raising a child with unique needs is that it comes at the extreme sacrifice or your own needs so much of the time.  I have said in the past that I do not have time to have issues; I am too busy dealing with everyone else’s issues.  In reality though I choose to set my issues on the back burner and take my moments when I can.  Their issues demand more attention.

So I sat listening to the rain, fielding the occasional queries about roof safety and likelihood of floating off the mountain, obsessive lightening/fire worries wishing my husband was not in Fresno at his studio, knowing it will not be forever and trying to breathe deeply.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

She Turned it In BUT will the Moderator Post It?

Mariah (16) was required to make an introductory post to the Math Tutor Lab website as an assignment for her Geometry class...this was her post.

Hopelessness...despair...darkness...confusion...nightmare-ish visions reenacting my most dear childhood memories only to find that my face has been replaced by large numbers and postulates and all of my friends are polygons...wetting the bed…screaming like a little baby…assuming the fetal position in public places…oh the horrors of Geometry. The shame and embarrassment I brought upon my family (via math retardation) left them stranded in socially awkward situations. They invested in tutors and study guides, even after school math clubs. None of which showed any results so they made a risky and impulsive decision…they disowned me. So alone, banished from society without food, clean underwear, or access to a decent study guide I was forced to live in the wild raised by ocelots. They taught me about inner strength and good colon health, but I knew deep inside that I would never surmount my greatest fears if I remained with the Ocelots. Now I make my long journey from the deepest, darkest caverns of Mt. Isosceles back to society to regain my honor and reclaim my rightful place as village idiot, instead of village ocelot (though…now that I think about it, if you say it fast enough they do kind of sound alike idiot….ocelot….) But that’s not the point…the point is no longer will I hide my face in the shadows afraid of persecution and ridicule! No longer will I scream for my mommy when I hear the word hypotenuse! No longer will I cower every time I see a stop sign! No longer will I make jokes about squares and compare them to my distant relatives! And through this new Math Tutoring Lab I will conquer MATH!!!!

I laughed so hard I cried ... I was speechless.
I asked her if she was sure she took her medication, she said she did.

This, of course, is not the first assignment she has turned in like this.  She wrote and entire narrative essay on her fear of writing narrative essays.  Her education is riddled with teachers who either love her and consider her brilliant or hate her and grade her down for her less than traditional approach.

Later she told me that a moderator has to approve the post and she could hardly wait to see if hers passed.  Her revised post would be, "My name is Mariah and I am afraid of math."

If you were the Math Lab Moderator what would you say?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Things I Say... A LOT!

Sometimes I get really sick of hearing my own voice!  Especially when I am saying the same things over and over...and over again.  I know that every family hears some of these same things uttered and reiterated, but I am not sure that every family spends hours accomplishing one or two simple tasks. 

Consider an ADHD home:  I am sure that some of you KNOW what I am talking about.  

We start several hours early to get to school or work or any event that requires leaving the house. I never have a day without a fight or without an endless search for a missing shoe or struggle to get someone ALL the way dressed and teeth brushed. I understand that I have six kids, so automatically I am repeating myself more than the average mom, but take a look at my list and tell me if this is normal. 

I figured I would leave some things off the list: get up, brush your teeth, get dressed, change, you're not wearing that, try again, how many days have you been wearing that? get off the computer-- PlayStation-- Xbox-- sit down, stay still, stop moving, and no, I can't let you wear that out of the house because it will ruin your chances at a  social life in the future!

When I asked my kids what things I say repeatedly, the #1 answer was hands down variations of the following.   These land like sprinkles on the cupcake of my day.

Take your medicine.
Did you take your medicine?
Why is your medicine on the counter?
Why haven't you taken your medicine?
You NEED to take your medicine.
I need you to take your medicine.

And the winner is ...are you sure you took your medicine?  This I say right before I schedule a med check with the psychiatrist (thank you Dr. Matthew House).

Here is my disclaimer: I know that medication can be a touchy subject, but it works for us and our family (more stories for another day).   Parents have to do their own research and pick their own paths - find what works for their families. 
While medicine helps tremendously and takes my kids and husband about 80-90% of the way to a normal ability to focus and follow through, it does not do everything.  My husband Mark has years of creating and using coping mechanisms while our children are still learning to do that.

I spend a lot of time redirecting, there is a lot of FOCUS, EAT, pay ATTENTION, get back on task, FOCUS, you can not do the dishes from the living room, your bedroom or the bathroom, HELLO...what are you SUPPOSED to be doing, REMEMBER what you are doing, DO your JOB and back to FOCUS.  

I have been tempted to buy one of those counters and see how many times I say “focus” a day but I think I would give up after 100 or so.

Not a day goes by with out the multiple variations of “no”.  My favorite is from my dad and one I heard all the time growing up;”wanting and getting are two different things.” Well accompanied by “the answer is still NO.” and  “Very creative BUT NO.”

Sometimes I just have to ask why? This one rarely yields a reasonable answer and is usually followed by, “I know your IQ... so what were you thinking?” An accident? Really?

There are always the things I say in or around an embarrassing moment like,
“That's NOT appropriate.” You HAVE to respect people's space.  Some said in desperation to avoid the embarrassing situation like, FILTER and reel it back in.

We are going to be LATE! Never seems to get the urgency I feel it deserves. 
While, “So I can throw away everything I find on the floor.” seems to get instant attention, “WAIT” and a mad dash. 

Believe it or not this has come up more than once.  NO you can't buy them - THERE IS A HOLE IN THE CROTCH! I don't care if they fit perfect - THERE IS A HOLE IN THE CROTCH! I am NOT going to buy something that I have to fix - THERE IS A HOLE IN THE CROTCH!  

Somewhere in there, occasionally is...Mommy needs a timeout.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Shock and Awe

Not to claim to have heard it all but my daughter laid one on me this evening that really took me by surprise. That is not easy… especially with this daughter.

I had been gone all day at a doctor’s appointment for myself, Remicade, for an Auto-Imune disease (Ankylosing Spondylitis). When I returned home I got the normal barrage of updates about the day as I made my way back to my room where I found Mariah.

“I threw up on the bus today, mum.” Whoa, that got my attention. I was kind of wondering why I hadn’t heard about that one earlier in the day.

I usually tell the kids that they need to limit calls to me because I am in a room with a lot of other people getting this I.V. treatment. “Don’t call unless someone is barfing or there is blood involved.” Certainly not limited to those two items but meant to set a standard.

Don’t call to see if you can buy an iTunes song on my credit card or to rat out a sibling because they aren’t doing a chore (after all you aren’t doing your chores either you are ratting out someone else) or to help you decide who gets to be first player on the PS3.

“You threw up…ON the bus?” I was definitely sounding more alarmed than she was. Mariah has always had a weak stomach and lately it was acting up so it wasn’t a huge surprise to her. “Where did you throw up? On the seat? The floor?”

“Oh no,”
Mariah offered in the most casual voice ever,
“I opened my backpack and threw up in that.”

IN your backpack? 
My mind was truly boggled… how could that seem like a reasonable alternative!? And let’s face it there is no real acceptable answer to that question.

My sixteen year old opened her backpack and barfed on her own belongings!

I had to force her to clean it out and as she was doing that I heard her sister say, “HEY... that’s the microphone for the computer I was looking for!”

We agreed that it was best to just throw the microphone away.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Picture of ADHD

Here are my boys, Hunter and Jaren! They are a couple years apart in age and about the same size in stature. They are often confused for twins. Some people ask me HOW to tell them apart. I tell them it is easy Jaren always looks very put together and Hunter always looks disheveled, like he just walked out of a tornado.

I couldn’t help but think about how individual ADHD can be when I looked at this picture. Believe it or not both boys are ADHD, both take medications (though not the same meds) but clearly there are some differences in how that ADHD comes out in their personalities.

Jaren obsessively fights his inattentiveness and Hunter is overrun by it.

Jaren has responded wonderfully to medication, Hunter has struggled on a journey of trial and error with little patches of success here and there (luckily we are in a good place right now).

Hunter is often drowning in his own thoughts and has a hard time expressing them. One night I asked him if he was swimming in thought. He cried and insisted, “No, there is no room to swim.” Jaren finds expressing them easy, almost effortless and charming. At four he serenaded his pre-school teacher with Phantom of the Opera. He has charm and wit and catch phrases.

Hunter misses nothing, often memorizing books and movies with one exposure reciting them with ease. Jaren has to work at it and often repeats things over and over to learn them.

It would be SO easy if there were a simple way to diagnose and treat ADHD, if you could measure it scientifically like diabetes and give a proportional response. It just doesn’t work like that, it is so much trickier. Each person having their own struggles and reaction to how their brain functions, to this neurobiological disorder called ADHD.

We have always tried to approach each child individually even before we knew anything about ADHD. Teaching, disciplining, guiding, encouraging in a way that works for that individual. We have sought out doctors that are interested in treating our children in the same way that we raise them; treating the child not necessarily the disorder alone. As our psychiatrist now says treating what is in front of you. This is especially important because ADHD in not usually a stand alone disorder, it likes company. My husband Mark often calls it the buffet of mental health issues. A virtual smorgasbord, “I’ll take a little OCD and anxiety with my ADHD, throw a little ODD on there for desert.”

So when the kids piled out of the car for church on Sunday Hunter’s outside so completely reflected his inner struggles I called out to Mark, “Quick, get a picture!” It’s a picture of two brothers who share so much. A picture of how unique ADHD can be.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Great Composer Strikes Again

Mariah - the source of inspiration for the 'Oh yes she did just say that" has always had a terrible time communicating - you wouldn't know that now so much but she did. In fact, I am sure that some of her extreme humor and quick wit is to deflect what she really has a hard time expressing. When she was smaller she really could not communicate at all and she was a tightly wound ball of extreme stress. At 7 her grandfather introduced her to the flute to give her an outlet for her stress - something else to occupy her mind.

 She found in that moment an
instant ability and passion for music. 

It was not long and she was tugging at my shirt playing something she had created followed by, 'and the french horn will play this and that will play this.' Now before you think I am raising a total Bach or Mozart let me tell you that while she does compose incredible music she also has a little weird Al in her so you never know when she calls you in to hear something whether it is going to be a Bach moment or her personal rendition of Weird Al's Albuquerque.

Yesterday (while I was begging her to clean clean clean) she was coming up with new lyrics for Hey Diddle Diddle for our two Australian Shepards. So from the composer of The Attack of the Corn Martians and Me and My Llama we have a new and improved Hey Diddle Diddle now being sung by all...ALL...over and over and over again (I would say there goes what's left of my sanity but you know - long time ago!)

Hey diddle diddle Sid's not very little she weighs almost 70 pounds
she jumps on my lap and licks me on the face
and I beg her to get on the ground

Hey diddle diddle watch Pepper piddle anywhere he wants to go
he thinks he's the boss just cause he's a man
but he's just a baby you know

If you want to hear a more serious song she composed Mariah and her sister, Rachel, formed a band together called The Bliss Method and on their website is one of the songs they have recorded. Rachel is the vocalist and Mariah wrote the lyrics and composed the music. The website is blissmethod.com and the song is Border Patrol under music.

As a side note it is music that over the years has allowed her to cope with her stress. It is music and performing in front of people (squarely behind the music stand at first) that gave her the confidence to actually speak in front of people. It is music through which she often speaks her mind first and finds the words to express herself. Everyone has a music - the trick is finding it and using it. For Rachel it is art. I often say that Mariah breathes music like Rachel breathes art.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What's ADHD stand for?

Jaren just asked me what ADHD stands for? Hmmm... How do I answer that question? The first thing that came to mind was not Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The first thing that came to mind was CHAOS! Maybe it is because I always feel like I am swimming up stream trying to get all my ducks in a row and headed the SAME direction - something that is a constant battle and rarely happens. Maybe it is because I am still reeling from the holidays and I feel like my house has been turned upside down and shaken so hard that everything fell out. Maybe it is that today I am trying to keep three home schooled kids on track and working on school (ON being the operative term here) while their three older siblings are still on vacation and are gleefully following the random dictates of their mind - despite my continued efforts to redirect them to CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN!

More philosophically I think of their creativity, artistic drive, compassion, dramatics (both appreciated and sometimes not), their musicality and so much more driven by impulsivity and the moment of wonder when they are carried away by their incredible minds. I think of their struggles to reign in that amazing brain; to find balance and some measure of control. That simple question...what does that stand for is never very simple. A constant struggle carrying great blessings. Or as my ADHD husband, Mark says, "A gift with a heavy price tag" - that is what ADHD is to me and my family.