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!

Saturday, June 19, 2010


As school was drawing to a close this year and life was proving more complicated we reintroduced Mariah to journal writing.  We have encouraged the kids to write in journals on and off during their lives, mostly to have a record of their experiences at different ages. Now we encourage them to write as a means of sorting out their feelings and some of life's tougher issues.

Mariah has some great entries from previous journals.  There was an entry in one of her young journals about how tortured she was to eat hot dogs without mustard -- something she had never had to do.  She was mad. It took forever to find the mustard and when it was found, in the freezer, it was rock solid.

Poor Mary, then about four years old, took the blame.  Mary had terrible speech issues and no one could understand her very well at all.  We thought she was admitting and apologizing when apparently she was trying to defend herself.

Rachel wrote all about it in her journal. She wrote all about letting Mary take the fall for it. Rachel had accidentally put the mustard in the freezer but chose not to admit it.  ADHD moment, no doubt.

Mariah has really loved journal writing this time around she carries it constantly and writes whenever she gets a chance.  Most entries are much more serious than this one.  This one she shared with us and said I could share with you as an example of her mind bouncing from one thought to another.

“I have a headache right now and I am kinda tired.  There’s a lot to do at home today, dishes, fridge, lots of laundry, bathrooms and my room.  I cannot stand the stench of dog.  It irks me to no end.  I really want to watch Red Tide, the surfer episode of the first season of the Mentalist.  I love that show. The second season finale was crazy good.  I hate hate HATE Kristina Frye (a character from The Mentalist).  She’s an evil psycho freak.  Dang my neck hurts. I want to go swimming.  I lost some weight.  I didn’t take my medicine this morning.  I have a weird taste in my mouth.  Oh, and I know Sid is in heat.  I think she might be pregnant. Her and pepper we getting it on the other day.  I was like OMgosh! I really want to brush my teeth right now.  These sunglasses make me feel like Paris Hilton, ha ha ha!  I think I am going to shower when I get home before I get started on all my dishes and stuff.  Cows are such stupid animals.  My neck hurts.  Have you ever noticed what a strange color purple is?  It’s really strange.  You wouldn’t think that red and blue would make such a weird color.  It’s weird.  Why do old ladies always have penny candies?  You know, that are so old that they are all stuck together.  Why do they even call them penny candies when they cost like 10 cents each.  I am going to sue on grounds of false advertising.  We’re here now - almost home. I’ll talk to you later…bye.”

Ahhhhh…un-medicated and they wonder how I know when they haven't taken their meds.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rachel: Chalk Dust and Tassels

Rachel would throw her sidewalk chalk in the basket on her bike, hop on, and pedal as hard as she could up our driveway.  She was about 7 years old at the time, she would push and push up the steep driveway until she was going so slow that her bike would fall over sideways. 

Then she would pick herself up, grab the chalk and draw a long line across the pavement, hop back on the bike and ride down the hill.  A few deep breathes and she would do it all over again.  Over and over, day after day until she made it all the way up the long steep driveway.

As she accepted her high school diploma, I couldn’t help picturing her at the top of that treacherous hill of a driveway, drawing the last chalk line.  Victory!

School has never been easy for Rachel. 

Trying to remember letters and sounds eluded her despite hours of practice.  It took her years to, “break the code” and read.  There may be nothing worse in this world than struggling to read and having your little sister scream out the word you’re stuck on from across the room.

Math might as well have been Greek…in fact, Greek may have been easier.  M&Ms, beans, tooth picks, we used an arsenal of subtraction tricks to which Rachel was impervious.

It was struggle after struggle, hour after hour of work.  In the meantime, she was drawing constantly at a skill level well beyond her age. 

She was constantly creating incredible stories and plays. The children would line up at recess for parts in her dramas and directions. 

She was always ready for them, “You are the king.  Your evil step mother used to make you scrub the floors of the castle when you were little and now you rule the kingdom and you have to decide whether to have her clean the floors or be kind to her.” 

There was a huge contrast, a gap between a clearly great intellect and her constant struggle in school. 

We worked so hard with her at home that she was not totally sinking at school.  Rachel fell smack dab in the crack we try to keep kids from falling through.  When I would suggest something might be wrong, her teachers would tell me she was too well behaved, too nice, and tried too hard to have ADHD.

That same gumption that kept her riding up that driveway kept her trying at school.  That fight and drive has proven beneficial in so many ways.  No doubt, it will throughout her life.

We had such a limited knowledge of ADHD at the time.  But when I would think of Rachel I would think of great friends of ours from our years in Texas whose boys have ADHD.  The similarities were striking.  Junior high was imminent;  fear pushed me to research ADHD and to the doctor.

Mark, my husband, would have me point out that he told me not to go.  He didn’t believe in ADHD at the time.  Now he takes medication himself.  I took Rachel when he was out of town on business.  Dr. Rees, our pediatrician and a great friend of Mark’s, put all the pieces of the puzzle together.  He explained ADHD, brain chemistry, behaviors, and medication.  From all the struggles and great contrasts in our lives, a clear picture came into view.

This changed Rachel’s life -- it changed our whole family.

It was immediate.  She went to school the morning she started medication.  She had never passed a math benchmark test.  She came running, jumping, screaming out of school announcing to the world, “I got a 90% on my math benchmark!”

Medication has never peddled the bike for her, but it sure got her farther up the hill.  Each time she could mark her progress, her confidence grew. 

Diagnosis of ADHD and the beginning of treatment has in no way been the end of the journey -- it was truly just the beginning.  Mark was diagnosed, then Mary and Hunter, then Mariah and finally Jaren.

Shortly after the beginning of high school I found myself in a SST (student study team) meeting.  She had not qualified for a 504 in elementary because she was not doing poorly enough.  She was not doing poorly enough because we were spending every waking hour making sure she didn’t fail.

I tell parents now - get that 504 or IEP in elementary school because after you leave elementary school it just gets harder and harder to get.  The school and I were at odds.  I thought modifications were changes in homework, testing, assignments to help Rachel succeed.  They thought that modifications were listing the teacher’s office hours. 

I went home furious from the meeting and started researching and making a list of modifications that would help Rachel.  Ultimately, I looked at my list and thought, “The modification we need most is no distractions, no other students in the classroom and we will be fine.”

She stopped peddling - her bike tipped over and she fell unable to climb the road anymore.  The anxiety, the huge campus, huge student population, the academic struggle had overwhelmed her.  The little girl who had never met a stranger was having panic attacks in crowds.

We made a radical change when we switched her to an online learning environment.  What a remarkable difference.  The Cs and Ds turned into mostly As and Bs.  She was back on the bike, chalk in the basket, and heading back up the hill.

The struggle became keeping this wonderfully social girl happy when her high school became a one room computer lab with 10 to 15 kids attending at the school site.  Most of the students in her charter school never go to the school site they attend from home and are spread over 7 counties.

Even a month before the end of the school year and graduation from high school, she was begging us to move to Sacramento so that she could attend a small charter high school there with more students. 

Rachel brags that her greatest accomplishment was walking all the way to the stand, up to get her American Legion award, and to get her diploma with out crutches and with out falling in the big black boot she has been wearing while her ruptured ankle ligaments heal. 

I watched her on the stand.  I saw a beautiful, intelligent, talented young woman; inside there’s a tough little girl, chalk in hand, ready to tackle mountains, unwilling to give up. 

I imagine there is a little chalk dust on her tassel.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gotta Laugh

These last couple weeks have been so crazy that I transitioned from regular taxi-mom to long-distance charter bus driver.  So crazy that I have developed a repetitive stress injury in my hands from gripping the steering wheel for 8 hours of driving on some week days.  I have had quite a year so far. I know I keep saying that, but I am telling you I have driven more in the last year than in my entire life. 

The most frustrating part is that blog-worthy things happen, and I have not found a way to drive and type at the same time.  Even if I could, I can’t keep a laptop charger working long enough to make any headway. 

Now that I have a little time I have uncurled my squinched-up fingers so I can finally sit down and type. 

It is weeks like these that fry my nerves.  I get tired and worn out.  We have all our normal responsibilities plus a load piled on just to make life interesting.  The result?  I end up in the shopping mall food court doing school work with Jaren while Hunter and Mary are doing state testing at another site for three to four hours. 

I think I missed my true calling in life as plate spinner in the circus. 

I am texting with my high schoolers.  They are on an eternal quest to find the perfect reason to come home early.  They are having heated debates with teachers.  They are sure that Rachel’s ruptured ankle ligaments have turned gangrenous and will surely lead to amputation.

Having already driven an hour to testing, I am dreading the hour drive home, and the obligation to take my kids to a youth activity another hour from our home in the opposite direction later in the evening.  In the meantime, I am trying to field phone calls and do third grade grammar at the mall with Jaren.

As he works, I juggle bills, worry about gas that I burn at 10 miles a gallon, fret over dinner plans and turn-around time before we leave the house again. 

I am teaching Jaren about homographs, words that are spelled the same but have different meanings.  I explain the assignment: “Pick a homograph and write two sentences illustrating the word using two different meanings.”

I go to correct Jaren’s sentence.  He picked the word soil for his homograph.

“I spread soil around the yard.”

“I think I just soiled my spandex.” 

Thank goodness for comic relief.  I really needed to laugh.

I was talking to my friend, Laura, on the phone the other day and she was telling me how funny our family is.  I couldn’t help but think later, are we really that funny?  Or is it our ability to find humor in our lives and laugh at ourselves that makes us so amusing?

Most of the time, dinner at the Aro house is open mic night at The Improv.

Ironically, while we were talking and her ADHD kids were running in and out of the room around her, she had to handle a few kid situations of her own.  Without missing a beat of conversation, she said to her youngest son, “No, you can’t have butter for a snack.  Here have a peach.” 


Life is stressful. Everyday there are demands that we stretch to try and meet.  Some of those are placed on us by society; some we place on ourselves. Everyday there is drama, there is anxiety; and in our house there is a frantic buzz of energy that comes from the abundance of ADHD.  Most of the time our family chooses to laugh.

Humor mixed with creativity has helped us to cope with the anger and frustration that easily beset us.  It has given us a positive outlet for what can quickly turn into rage, what in the past has turned into rage. 

Over time humor has become a learned response, allowing us to keep situations calm so that they can be managed without spinning out of control.  Humor diffuses situations.  Humor makes teaching moments possible and more powerful.

Humor makes living with ADHD manageable.

I have to laugh now as Hunter comes back to the computer and school from a break.  He is still wearing his helmet, Nerf vest with Nerf guns dangling from it, and gloves.  He announces boldly that he is ready to get back to schoolwork. 

“Really?” I tell him, “Because I think your mind is still outside in the game you were playing.”  I tell him to take the gear off; it is like a comedic scene from a movie as he unloads pockets.  He begs to leave the Nerf vest on .