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!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Studebakers and Bullet Trains

It has been an interesting year and a half.  You know that they say you never realize what you have until it’s gone.  This last year and a half we have been deep in pre-production, then production and now post-production of a feature film and Mark has been mostly GONE. Boy have we learned some stuff in his absence.During production everyone got to help. 

It was a family affair as our 3 oldest girls finished school a month early so that they could work as production assistants for their father on the film.  They got to rub elbows with the actors, distress clothes, gather props and wardrobe, dress sets and break down when everything was finished.

Post production is very solitary work; there is just a bunch of editing, re-editing and special effects to attend to.  Consequently, Mark goes from his day job straight to the studio he shares with his brother where he works as long as he can keep his eyes open and then sleeps at the studio.  He is only home on the weekends, with the occasional exception of a birthday or emergency.

As it turns out Mark provides a great deal of balance to the house.  I think it is because, as he puts it, he speaks the native language, the language of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). There are many times where he can understand, comfort and motivate in a way I can’t seem to achieve because he understands, really understands, the way a majority of the members of this house think and operate in their surroundings.

In his absence I am overwhelmed and overloaded.   The kids are struggling to find balance and communicate with me, who has very limited ADHD language skills.  I have really tried over the years to understand the way that Mark and our ADHD kids think, because there really is a difference in the way that we think and process information.  Despite my efforts I do not fluently speak the native language.

Every dark cloud has its silver lining.  We, the kids and I, are forced to better speak each others languages so that we can function, each other’s language. This is the key here and was the topic of much discussion this weekend.  Which resulted in what I thought was an excellent analogy.

Studebaker's and bullet trains, as you probably guessed I am in the Studebaker.  That is where Hannah and I mosey along the road taking in all the detail, enjoying a quiet peaceful ride, enjoying the view in its entirety.  The bullet train is, of course, traveling along with Mark and the 5 ADHD'ers in it at break neck speed.

Mariah argued that there is plenty of detail to be found on the bullet train, there are bug guts all over the windshield that can be seen in great detail.

Mark made the point that a lot of detail is lost because of the sheer speed at which the bullet train travels; comparing Rachel and Hannah and their reading skills.  It was quickly agreed upon that though Hannah and Rachel both read very quickly Rachel would finish a book faster if they started at the same time.  It was also agreed, as pointed out by Rachel, that Hannah would remember and comprehend more because Rachel skims the page and Hannah reads every word.

The problem in our house is that the bullet train keeps cutting off the Studebaker, they run right over us.  Enjoying the fast paced ride they rarely realize the offense, rarely stop to check out the damage, and rarely fix what has been broken.

It was interesting to listen as my husband explained the difference in these terms.  One thought, Hannah and I think that one thought in its entirety, from beginning to end (at least we try to).  One thought for his brain, for Rachel, Mariah, Mary, Hunter and Jaren’s brains is never one thought.  It opens an array, as he put it, in which every possible thought connected with that thought and a few that are not attached are explored in milliseconds.  It is its own conversation.

 Meanwhile, Hannah and I are still on the one thought, we are waiting to have the rest of the conversation and they are already done with it.  Anything we say or add is annoying because they have, mentally, already been there done that.

Their annoyance becomes obvious.

It was enlightening to our ADHD teenagers, especially Mariah who really has thought for years that the world was out to annoy her by telling her things that she already understood.  In fact, she put it just that way...

“You mean they aren’t trying to annoy me... they aren’t insulting my intelligence by continuing to talk about something I already get.”

It was a harsh reality as they started to recognize the side effects of life on the bullet train. 

Ironically, even as they were trying to rectify the situation and slow things down to listen to Hannah they kept interrupting her and then reminding themselves and her that they were going to let her express herself.  She must have restarted her thought about 20 or 30 times.  Fortunately she doesn’t have ADHD; she was able to keep track of what she was saying despite the interruptions.

Over the years I have made considerable effort to understand the way my ADHDers communicate and try…TRY to communicate in a way that they understand.  My husband, likewise, has made great efforts to communicate the way I do.  The result has been very positive for us.

He explained it to our kids like this; there are customs and cultures that come with any of the different languages of the world.  In a sense ADHD and non ADHD are like different languages, we NEED to learn to speak each others languages - each seeking to understand the differences and needs of the other. Learn to respect them, honor them.  That is hard to do while riding on the bullet train but it can be done.

More directly Mark said, “Just because you may already know where the Studebaker is going, it does not mean you have to spoil the ride for those that can't ride on the train without getting nauseous.  There is something of value on both paths and there is always something that can be learned from both means of transportation... it is the fool that is unwilling to consider both as viable and beneficial.  You may prefer one over the other, but if you want a true adventure, try the road less traveled now and then, you may actually learn something.”

Truth be told it takes great effort for those used to the bullet train to slow it down to the pace of the Studebaker.  Certainly it takes equal effort for those of us who like the Studebaker to brave the speeds of the bullet train and try to hang on for the ride.

...In the end we will all be better for it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nesting...and I Don't Mean the Obsessive Desire to Clean

Over the years we as a family have found that we have our own definitions and terms we use all the time – our own family language.  Take for example the term nesting.

Nesting:  When someone refuses to put anything away in its place and insists on having their belongs piled around a central spot like their favorite place to sit or their bed.  Creating a nest of stuff, where everything is mostly visible.

It is a strange phenomenon, nesting, one that took me years to figure out and I am still working on resolving it one child at a time.  It started with my oldest daughter, Rachel.  Rachel loves to draw and has drawn since she was about 18 months old. Rachel, I am sure, is personally responsible for the demise of a good portion of the rain forest.  In fact she is bound to be on an environmentalist watch list somewhere.  All those papers, piles and piles of papers ended up on her floor.  We bought colorful bins and folders, purple binders and decorated file boxes but they were never in use very long.  It was maddening. 

No matter where it started out it would end up in a tight circle with just enough space in the middle for her to sit. I turned to organizing books and plans – all laid to waste by Rachel.  Some did have interesting idea – one of which started me on the path to understanding.  Though I can not remember the name of the book the idea was that you had to organize based on your personality and needs.

This sent me on a quest to understand why Rachel felt the need to have everything she owned in plain sight.  It ended in a very interesting perspective.  Rachel was afraid that she would forget where she put something. She brought a whole new meaning to out of sight out of mind.  All my pretty colorful solutions were blocking her view and enhancing her fear that her memory would fail her. 

In my house, at least, this is a very common manifestation of ADHD (Attention Deficit hyperactivity Disorder) and causes a great deal of anxiety.  It causes anxiety for my kids as they try and keep everything visible; anxiety for me as I want it invisible.

Rachel ended up with very plain clear plastic bins that could be stacked easily and viewed from all angles. When we finally got Rachel’s nest under control we found the most interesting things residing in it.  Not the least of which was a huge red onion. We knocked her nest down a notch or two and made her room manageable for me and for her.  Notice I did not say perfect…manageable is okay.

I wish I could say that clear plastic was the solution to all life’s organization quandaries but then there was Mary.  Mary is my current nester.  She makes Rachel look like an amateur. 

When I brought home the clear plastic bins she wanted to pick the largest most unreasonable things to put in them, huge stuffed animals.  That filled the bins in no time at all with the mashed up faces of Build a Bears.  At this rate her room would have been filled with clear plastic bins and still had a nest of My little Ponies, Littlest Pet Shops, photographs, drawings, writings all held together by some brewing science experiments.

Not the idea or the result I was looking for. She thought I didn’t realize that ploy of distraction to draw me away from the nest of treasures.  I am not so easily fooled.  She may win the battle but I will win the war.

I am currently in the process of figuring out what works for Mary and it isn’t working as quickly as I want it to.  As much as I want to go in there and clean it all for her I know, by experience, that unless she has buy-in and is a part of the solution that works for her then it will be another short-lived de-nesting experience.

Can't help but wonder if this extreme nesting is another side helping from the ADHD buffet of co-existing conditions, maybe a little Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding going on!  Rachel, Mary, and Hunter I can definitely see it...all over the place.  Ahhhhh Hunter, who wants to keep the Hulk big wheel trike he had when he was little, the one that got run over by a car about 5 years ago, for his children.  Along with every paper he ever touched, every item of clothes and every toy.  

In the end i just hope for a reasonably clean room, I hope they’ll have learned to understand themselves a little better and come up with a coping mechanism that will help them manage themselves when they are on their own.   

Hopefully, I can have my house full of kids and be an empty-nester at the same time, hopefully.

Check out this link to hoarding that was sent to me and remember that the internet is full of it (LOL) so judge information you read on it carefully:   


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Well time did not come to a screeching halt.  We were on the eve of Rachel’s most dreaded 18th birthday and last night she said family prayer,  in it she slipped in a little personal request, “God if thou will please stop time for me.” 

Thinking about our oldest becoming a legal adult started me thinking about her life.  As the oldest there is no doubt she is the child we learned on, our guinea pig in parenting.  That is especially true when it comes to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) as she was the first diagnosed.

There is no good way to put into words Rachel’s brilliance or her struggles educationally.  She was about two years old when she drew the boy next door playing basketball.  There was a face, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair, body, with circles for all the major joints, feet, hands, and a basketball.  Developmentally that is astounding. 

But as she started school there was no end to her struggles.  She wrote her letters perfectly, but they were just art to her.  Perfectly formed but they had no meaning and she could not recall what they stood for or what sound was associated with then to save her life. 

As we worked and worked with her and she started progressing she was plagued by a younger sister who would blurt out the word she was agonizingly trying to sound out.  It was a never ending battle that raged in our house daily after school for hours on end.  Despite the years spent struggling, reading and math were like foreign languages to her and no matter how hard we tried or how many ways we tried she could not break the code.

I remember Mark and I many times trying to convince Rachel that she was smart, but one time in particular really sticks out and stings.  As Mark and I told her how smart she was and she argued back. She stopped the conversation, pulled out a spelling pretest with a big red F on it and said,

“See I am not smart... I am a failure.”

Our highly intelligent, amazingly artistic 8 year old could not be swayed.  To her core she felt she was a failure. It didn’t matter at that point what we said she wasn’t buying.  She had all the proof she needed. 

One of my biggest regrets has to be not seeking help for Rachel earlier. 

It was sixth grade before we would get her help.  Before she would get the help she needed.  The help she deserved.  I took her to a trusted friend and pediatrician and she was on medication the next day.  People have all kinds of things to say about medication, good and bad.  There are experts and studies to support whatever position that you want to hold onto.

There was, however, no greater proof for me than her excitement the next day as she greeted me at the school with the news that she had gotten a 90% on a math benchmark test. She had never ever passed a math benchmark test before. Never.

I have said before that medication takes you most of the way but is not a cure all.  Rachel didn’t ace every test or assignment placed in her path since she started medication but she was drowning before and it gave her the power to swim. 

Our last self esteem/intelligence talk was only a few months ago.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter how many successes she has had since she started medication, and she has had many, she still battles that rough start, she can’t get that big fat red F out of her mind.

I can’t help but contrast that with our youngest son Jaren who started medication in kindergarten. Of course by then we knew what to look for.  When he started kindergarten I told his teacher that we suspected ADHD, filled her ear with the family history.  I told her we were watching to see when, not if, to put him on medication.  She clearly thought I was crazy and assured me that I was over reactive.

It wasn’t three months into school when she grabbed me after class and indicated that Jaren was, “not available to learn.”  Jaren started meds with in a month or two.  Jaren has never doubted his intelligence or his ability to learn.  Largely because he has had the benefit of everything we learned from parenting Rachel.

He is not scarred by those years of frustration, the hours of work to get one assignment done, the supplemental programs, summer long work to retain,  not to mention seeing and feeling the difference between him and his peers that Rachel had before we got her help.

Mark always says, “IF ONLY will kill you.” That you have to live by phrase “NEXT TIME” and that is true.  Rachel has made it and we have worked one day, month, year at a time to better meet her needs.  Despite her own doubts she is a good solid student and an amazingly creative and talented young woman.

But if I knew then what I know now I would not wait to get help, I would pursue it with a vengeance that would make any mother bear proud.  I would go to my pediatrician, if I was not satisfied with the answers I got I would seek a second opinion. I would not wait to do all the research and reading that I did after I was given her diagnosis. 

I would not be afraid of any diagnosis because now I know the power of knowing, accepting and doing.  Today I would encourage anyone facing the same road as our family to do the same. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Can We Turn on the Radio...PLEASE?!"

A strange phenomenon occurs shortly after we all get loaded in the car and the engine starts.  Like clock work Hannah (14 yrs old) speaks out loud and clearly, “Can we turn the radio on?”  This is significant for many reasons not the least of which is that Hannah, when she speaks, which is not that often, is usually too quiet to hear. 
Mariah almost pummeled a young man at church who asked her, quite innocently, if Hannah was mute.  We had been attending there for about 3 or 4 months and no one had heard Hannah speak during that time at all.  Mariah, being the defender of the under dog and especially of family was out for blood.  Remind me and I will tell you later about Mariah and the caterpillar killer sometime.

When Hannah first started making this request I just thought that she was being more like a teenager than normal.  I was pretty excited.  Hannah (our only non-ADHD child) is very mellow and pliable; she rolls with the house and its intensity.  When she was in the 4th grade she had a friend who looked at her one day and said, “Hannah, you are perfect and that is just not normal.”

I am often concerned that she is too willing to back down and let it all wash over her.  Not willing to make some waves of her own. Consequently, we work hard to make her come out of her shell and stand up for the opinion we know is in there. So, when Hannah says radio I get kind of excited and say what channel.

Hannah has developed her own set of coping mechanisms to handle the stimulus that is constantly around her.  For one thing, God has blessed her with an un-natural ability to block out the world.  When she was little she was so focused on whatever she was doing that Mark would come say goodbye to her before work and give her a kiss; with in about a half an hour Hannah would be tugging on my shirt asking where daddy was. 

Sometimes she and I sneak away for a non-ADHD day.  A day filled with complete thoughts and uninterrupted conversation.  A day to catch up on peace and balance.

What I didn’t realize until this week was that the radio is Hannah’s car coping mechanism.  It is very hard to separate yourself from all the stimuli in the van, even though it is a big 15 passenger monster van. 

When things start getting loud with multiple conversations, people touching each other, people mad because people are touching each other, Rachel singing, and Mariah on a comedic rant Hannah says…  

“Can we turn on the radio?”
...Then she employs that God given talent and blocks the craziness out.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bits and Pieces, Odds and Ends

Is it wrong to have a over the hill party for a young woman turning 18?  Our oldest, Rachel, is about to turn eighteen.  For most young people this would be an exciting landmark birthday.  Not for Rachel.  She has been torturing us with this impending birthday for years, escalating daily now as we approach what surely constitutes the end of the world.
"I'm running out of time!" has been her mantra.

She has tried to stop time by refusing to grow up, she didn't date until this last spring, she still hasn't got her drivers license or permit and I am sure her love of fairy wings is interwoven in there somewhere, not to mention a couple of other undesirable behaviors.

For some reason Rachel thinks that all life and hope and youth will end when she turns eighteen.  Among other things, once she turns eighteen,  she will no longer be able to pursue her life long dream of being a rock star. This by the way is a totally self imposed deadline.

I keep trying to explain to her how much easier it will be to pursue her dreams, especially this one, in that sweet spot of life after you are eighteen and before you are an obligated adult.  She even said yesterday morning, "In a week I will be eighteen - my life will be over - but at least I am not the oldest in the band - Cameron is." (side note..all four current members of the band are on ADHD meds...gotta love it)

How sad...for me...for all of us over eighteen ...how bleak.

My hope is that Rachel will wake up the day after and realize that the world has not stopped turning on its axis, that hopes and dreams are a life long pursuit not just available for realization to those 18 and under.

In the meantime she is holding onto her one and only itty bitty light at the end of the 18 year old tunnel; ordering from an infomercial on TV...must be 18 or over to purchase...on her birthday.

Did you know that there is a Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica? Mariah (16yrs old) is very excited about this new discovery and has been sharing it with anyone who will listen for the last week.  She has been a little surprised by people's reactions including her principle who chuckled and indicated...
"She was a little on the odd side!"

I spent all day taking Hunter to the doctor, it is funny because every time I say I am taking someone to the doctor most people I talk to assume someone is sick.  Grandparents, family and friends register appropriate concern.  No, I answer, I am taking him or her to the psychiatrist.  I love our psychiatrists (that is really another story).

This story is about what happens when I am gone.  We live in the foothills and have an hour plus drive to civilization. It means that every trip to the doctor is a day in town.  So, right around lunch time, Mary who is home, calls with a lunch emergency.

Jaren wants pizza.  Well, wanting and getting are two different things.  There is no freezer pizza, I tell Mary, and I am not there to make pizza dough, no pizza for Jaren.
Mary responds, "It's okay, Mama, I have speaker phone."
 Maybe it took me so long to figure out where she was going with the whole speaker phone thing because Jaren was in the back ground...bah bah  bah-ing a tune. "Mary, is Jaren bah-ing the Darth Vader theme song?"  Yes, yes I clearly hear Darth Vader's theme song.

Yes. the phone has speaker phone on it.  Ohhhhh...it clicks...you want me to walk you through making pizza dough ...with yeast...over the cell phone...while I am driving and running errands.  Ha ha ha...NO.

When Hannah was little Mark and I were talking about picky eaters at the dinner table.  As cute as a little 3 year old can be she piped up, "I am a piggy eater!" and made little oinking noises. 

As time has gone on she has developed the most interesting eating habits.  I guess you could say she is a picky eater, though for the most part she eats fairly healthy with a love a fresh vegetables, a desire for only egg whites, a distaste for mayonnaise, and a moderate desire to eat meat.  Her great downfall would have to a passionate love of white bread and carbs in general. She is definitely a general in the white bread army (see Bread Wars).
 Hannah's first real sentence, "I WANT CHOCOLATE!"
Poor Hannah was recently diagnosed with anemia - it is recommended that she eat an iron rich diet in addition to her iron supplement.  Hmmm...let's see liver, beans, whole grains, tofu, egg yolks, sea food as the list goes on, let me tell you, Hannah is not happy. She is not a piggy eater anymore.

By the way Hannah (our non-ADHDer) has always been mellow and pretty quiet - she was about 2 and still speaking very little.  One day we were driving and out of the blue Hannah spoke, rather forcefully, her first real sentence, "I WANT CHOCOLATE!"

We were getting ready to leave for church on Sunday.  Getting everyone dressed and out the door on time is always a challenge.  This would be that point in the week where I feel my sense of urgency to be on time is generally dismissed as a silly "mom thing".

I am running back and forth from one end of the house to the other and Hunter calls out from the front door that he is ready and going to the car.  Here is where the definition of ready really comes into play.  Hunter's definition is clearly looser than mine.  To Hunter if the clothes are on his body and he has shoes in close proximity (regardless of socks) he is ready. (look at the earlier post "The Picture of ADHD")

My definition is much different - I want the clothes on right-side-out, front in the front, back in the back, buttons buttoned, zippers zipped, and socks (not Mark's big and tall size 14 socks). Though sometimes socks seem like the cherry on top - a wonderful addition that I don't always get.  I know, I know, my definition of ready demands a lot - ridiculously high standard.
As he called out that he was ready I paused in my running to and fro to take in the sight.  There he stood looking a little like Bud from "Meet the Robinsons".  His bow tie almost sideways, sweater vest on backwards, hair uncombed.  He was just missing the smiley face on the back of his head.  It certainly broke the tension of the morning - I couldn't help but chuckle...tell him to wait right there...and go grab the camera.

Come to think about it our house has some striking similarities to the Robinson family in Meet the Robinsons.  If you haven't seen it our family highly recommends it. In fact, we love it so much that everyone has taken a character from the movie as their own, the one they identify with the most.  I think I may be the T-rex, "I have a big head and little arms and I'm not too sure how well this plan was thought through!"

Monday, February 1, 2010

What Box? Where?

This weekend has given me more material for this blog than I really care to admit.  After all, do I want the world to know that my 11 1/2 year old son, Hunter, tried to flavor his bath water with lollipops.   For that matter do I want the world to know that the summation of the experience was that he thought he really needed more lollipops to make it successful.

Ironically, Mark and I had been discussing our families inability to think inside the box, in fact, as we were reviewing a few experiences it became clear that we are far beyond the notion of 'thinking outside the box.'  We are somewhere around, "Box?  What box?  Where?"

Some people would definitely have issues with our embracing our uniqueness so wholeheartedly.  I am sure that some of our extended family question our tactics, feel that we should conform more.  Teach our children not to embrace who they are and what they are but squash it as much as possible.  As if it could or should be willfully set aside.

I want to be clear that we are not saying we or our children should act any way they please anywhere they please.  We have standards we expect to be met and consequences both good and bad.  We encourage choice with the understanding that they make their choices but do not choose the consequences. We, Mark and I, feel and have tried to teach our kids to embrace their uniqueness while respecting others and the boundaries of the situation they are in.

Boy that sounds simpler than it really is, it is a lot of constant work teaching them to recognize and establish boundaries.

For example, we went out for Chinese food for lunch on Saturday.  Our favorite family owned restaurant, The China Garden (in Fresno, CA).  Hunter's medication was clearly wearing off, actually that was a common problem at the table, and he was getting more and more hyper.    His hyper is not running around jumping on things hyper, his brain speeds up, he will sit in the same spot but is very fidgety and talkative, usually obsessively about one subject. He spent a great deal of time turning straw wrappers into a surly disguise while repeatedly asking Fernando, who is like a big brother to him, about a certain aspect of a video game.

Here is where my standard were enforced.  You can use all the straw wrappers on the table, no matter how embarrassed we get.  You have to stop driving Fernando crazy, and instead of your volume getting louder and louder you need to tone it down.

Fernando had asked him to stop because he was in public, to Hunter he was not in public, he was in a restaurant we always go to.  Hunter's world and perspective had shrunk to the table we were at with family and friends.  I turned him around and had him look at the other tables, "Hunter, this is the public, the other people around you."  Ahhhhhh...public.

So we are adding a sidebar box called Box? What Box?  Where? to illustrate the rather unique thought process and perspective that flows so freely in our house.  The perspective that leads a little boy, Jaren, in a new ninja suit to offer a sweet and humble family prayer asking for protection and safety for his family, say amen and then add maniacally - "protect them except from me." Then strike a menacing ninja pose.

Or to come up to me this morning with these little toothbrush shaped erasers that his sister got for Christmas and tell me that he wanted  his own set of toothpaste and toothbrush erasers so he could draw a picture of nasty teeth and then clean them.

But why encourage that mindset? Mark said this morning, "Our imagination is fed by what others see as impossible because it lies outside the boundaries of their own BOX."

We feed it because on the other side is art, music, humor, literature, film, acting, science that might never be dreamed of or created if we never got outside the box.  I feed it in faith because I am more of a why person than a why not person like my husband.

Yesterday it was a most painful rendition of Phantom of the Opera by a 6th grader that was just beginning to sing, sung over and over and over again. It was her sister who cried because she couldn't read music after her first music lesson but was reading it two lessons later. Today it is Border Patrol sung by those same young women who now have a message to share and the voice to move it forward. (www.blissmethod.com)