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!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Public Schools vs Home School: My Great Debate

Our family psychiatrist called me in after his visit with our 14 year old son.  I sat down.  He sat down, looking a bit like he had just been ran over by a tornado.  He looked at me, blinked a couple times and said, "WOW!"  Yeah, I know, he has that effect on me too, I thought.  We proceeded to have a long conversation about the crazy level of hyperactivity my rather intense son exhibits.  He's a ball of energy physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Always wound up, always moving, thinking, doing.   We were headed to the "this is the circle of ADHD talk" (holds his hands in a nice tidy circle) And here is your family (a good distance outside of the circle)  and here is Hunter (points somewhere far away from the circle).

Super intelligent, ADHD (heavy on the hyperactivity), anxiety ridden, intensely neurotic, possibly OCD we pulled him out of public school at the end of 3rd grade.  Now, he'll be a freshman in high school and we have decided to give public school a second chance.  Our beloved psychiatrist was not very encouraging about this decision.  He has some serious questions about whether Mr. Hyperactive is going to cope well in a traditional classroom setting.

My heart sank.

I have been wrestling with this decision since we made it at the end of this last school year.  Decision, yes, we decided it but I think everyone in the family knows I am only loosely committed to it.

This last year we put all our high school students back in public school.  Before that all of our children were engaged in some form of online home school program.  But this last school year, at this little public high school (only 500-600 students), has been so successful that we decided to take the plunge and put our last two home schoolers back into the public school system. 

One will be a freshman and one a 6th grader.  That is if I don't cave and leave them in home school.  I fully anticipate being a complete and utter wreck for the next few months.

It's unavoidable.

To back the story up a bit - we started with everyone going to public schools.  Even our youngest did kindergarten at a public school.  But as we were plugging along, doing what society tells us is the right way to do things, it was becoming abundantly clear that the public school system wasn't working for us.  It was a different problems with each of our children.

Too distracted to learn, too overwhelmed, too stressed, feeling unsuccessful, depressed, left behind in the classroom.  I was managing as best I could.  Making the rounds of Student Study Teams and IEP meetings, researching, observing, advocating.  Regardless of the problem the school's solutions were like a band-aid on an amputation.

We decided to do home school for one and the rest caught wind and begged to come home too.  By the time school started they were all home, all six of them (we hadn't found our 7th child, Fernando, yet) .  I was a nervous wreck then too.  Home school has been a lot of hard work but it's worked for us in many ways.  

1.  No homework at night - I cannot tell you what an absolute change this made to the stress level in our house.  No more battles, no more anxiety, no more fighting tired, un-medicated, and already overwhelmed brain to accomplish something it just couldn't do.

2.  Freedom to set your own pace.  It's hard to adequately describe how the ADHD brain works to a person who has never dealt with it but there is a great advantage to being able to do what the brain wants to do when it wants to do it.  We call it riding the wave.  In a home school setting we could ride the history, math, or literature wave and do it all day long if we wanted to.  Of course we had to balance out later so we were making progress across in every subject.

3. Equally as important setting your own pace and schedule was being able to pick our location to work.  We have done home school in the doctor's office, in the mall, at restaurants, at the park, in the car, in the waiting room for OT and speech therapy, at the desk, under the desk, on top of the desk, on the floor, in a chair, standing, pacing, in PJs, in full-body cardboard armor, decked out in every nerf weapon we own, even in the bathroom (favorite sneak off and read more location).  Whatever worked, we did it.

4.  Mastery based work kept my child with dyspraxia from getting left in the dust.  When we pulled her out of public school in the 5th grade she was reading on a 1st grade level and comprehending on a 5th grade level.  She sat in class each day she got more behind because teaching her at her pace and level wasn't practical and certainly not the priority.  A mastery based learning system allowed us to work on a subject until she got it.  And she got it.  When reading finally clicked for her she read over 30 novels in a year - she became unstoppable in every subject.  She got all As and a B in PE this first year back in public school but I know that would have been a different story with out those years in home school.

science project
5.  There is no doubt that my children have absorbed more from their curriculum than they would have in a normal classroom setting.  Maybe it's the lack of other distractions, maybe it's because their curriculum isn't shortened or abbreviated for time.  They are expected to read it all, do all the work, this combined with less distraction made them retain more.

6.  Social Skills - this may not seem like such an obvious benefit but social skills and crowds are a mystery and a terror to our household.  I have one in particular who I wanted to keep in school for the social education.  As it turned out school was too overwhelming of an environment to learn social skills for her.  She and our other kids learned much more from the smaller social circle where they were not completely overrun.

7.  Private Speech and Occupational therapy.  We were part of a public charter home school where we had the benefit of an excellent curriculum provided to us that met state standard, we had a charter teacher for help and support, and we had all the aspects of our IEP met with privately contracted services.

Our psychiatrist made a point of concern in that last visit.  He acknowledged the incredible minds in our house, the incredible minds of his ADHD patients in general.  Then he said his concern is that schools weren't designed for these kind of minds and in the process of operating to their design ADHD kids often get left in the dust despite their brilliance.  In the process of operating to their design that brilliant ADHD mind often gets lost, feels stupid, feels different in a bad way, feels failure, feels broken.  That is what was happening before that prompted us to pull our children out of that environment.

You may be asking how can you go back to public school?  Truth is we found a public school that can rival our home school experience.  Okay, you can't attend in your PJs or decked in cardboard armor and I'm pretty sure they want you to sit at the desk not under it or on it.  In this tiny school district we found a gem of a high school.  They have given us our own long list of reasons to trust them with our children.  This year they proved themselves with our dypraxic daughter going above and beyond to meet her where she's at and help her move forward.

When it really boils down to it that's what we're talking about, trusting them with our children. Trusting that their interests are the same as ours, to see our child explore their talents, conquer their weaknesses, and learn in the process.  I want a school that will empower my child towards their future.

They certainly proved themselves with our daughter, this year we'll see if they're ready for Mr. Hyperactive.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Queen's Cream Cheese Fresh Peach Pie

We spend most of the summer up to our elbows in sticky peach juice at our house.  We live in the Central Valley of California where we're surrounded by fresh fruits and veggies of every kind.  We try to take full advantage of it and now that it's peach season we are busy freezing, canning, and making jam.  And while Hunter may argue that frozen peaches are the best (he eats them straight out of the bag from the freezer), by far the most popular peachy goodness in our house this season is fresh peach pie.

I have had several requests for the recipe so I decided to put it up on the blog for anyone who's interested.

This recipe makes 2 pies.


You will need 8 - 10 peaches for 2 pies, depending on the size of your peaches.

Peel and slice fresh ripe peaches and set aside - I usually do this while the pie shells are baking and cooling.  Well, actually I usually have my kids do this and see how far they can spread sticky peach juice across the kitchen.

You can put the peaches in lemon juice and water mixture to keep them from browning if you want.  I haven't had a problem with discoloration so I usually don't do it.

Pie Crusts

You will need two 9 inch pie crusts baked and cooled.  I usually buy the Pillsbury pie crusts to save time and use 8 inch disposable pie tins to give me a little extra dough around the edges.  There's 9 people in my house, saving time and having less dishes to wash are a MUST! 

Cream Cheese Bottom

This is so simple it's almost sinful and tastes delicious.  We use this by itself as a cream cheese fruit dip.

2 packages of cream cheese softened
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Put softened cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk in mixer and blend until smooth.  Give into the impulsive side of you and taste it - yummy!  There is plenty so don't worry about taste testing.  In our house we always say we're testing the food to make sure no one's going to get poisoned - the irony is everyone tests so if we were to be poisoned I suppose we would all die.

When the pie crusts are completely cooled you are going to spread cream cheese mixture about an 3/4 - 1 inch deep on the bottom of the pie crust.

Peach Glaze

I make my own glaze but you can usually buy pre-made glaze in the grocery store in the produce department.  For 2 pies I would buy 3 containers of peach glaze.  

Homemade Glaze recipe

1 cup sugar
2 cups V8 Peach Mango juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put sugar, V8 juice, and corn starch in a sauce pan stir until mixed.  Add butter and heat over medium  heat stirring constantly until clear and thick, remove from heat.  You don't it too think - it will thicken somewhat as it cools in the refrigerator.  Stir in Vanilla extract.  Set aside and let cool.  Glaze doesn't have to be completely cold before using but should not be hot or so warm that it melts your cream cheese mixture.

Putting it all together

You're going to pour a thin layer of glaze over the cream cheese bottom then layer peaches and glaze on top.  When you have your pie stacked with peaches the way you want it pour another layer of glaze over the top.

Cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Serve with whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

1156 Miles to Aurora - Dealing with Crisis and ADHD

If I got in my car today I would have to drive 1,156 miles to get to Aurora, Colorado and yet today it feels like Aurora is right here.  The tragedy and hurt is tangible in my house not because we have family or friends that have been directly effected by it but because we identify with what has happened in this community.  We all feel apart of Aurora, of their horror, of their pain, of their loss.

There is no doubt that everyone is affected, sorrowed, unsettled by any event like this that occurs and then reoccurs over and over again as it is passed back and forth, turned upside down, torn apart, and put back together again hour after hour, day after day in news media in an attempt to understand it.

While my heart goes out to the family and friends who are suffering during any crisis like the one in Aurora, my concern has been the people that live in my house and the way I see tragedy intersect with the symptoms of their ADHD.  We walk a fine line of balance in our house to begin with - always battling the tendency to obsess, hyper focus, over identify with a circumstance that is not really ours.  A mind that can so vividly imagine wondrous worlds can also vividly imagine other people's pain and anguish.  I see a  great deal of compassion in my ADHDers and a heightened level of perception towards other people's emotions.  We also battle anxiety and depression.

Combine this with a disaster and our carefully balanced scales tip rather quickly.  The question then is what do we do to find balance when tragedy strikes and the world shrinks.

Resist the urge to immerse yourself in the tragedy.  With news feeds running round the clock replaying over and over 911 tapes and footage of disasters we have to learn to turn it off.  I am not saying that we remove ourselves from the world or ignore what is happening in it.  I am saying learn to control how and when we take in information about disasters.  We really don't need to watch the same information presented over and over again.

Today I told my children, especially the older ones.  Step away from it.  You can check on updated information but don't obsessively listen and watch the same feeds over and over.  Set a limit to check several times during the day and stick to it. 

I also told them to control how they get the information.  Television media is designed to be captivating, to make us want to sit for hours with the sights and sounds pounding us.  In a disaster I personally don't feel that is healthy.  It lends itself to a sense of panic, making the world seem particularly dangerous.  It feeds anxiety, dread, fear, depression, hopelessness, it tips the scales.  Instead of watching for hours visit an internet news site for the latest information, they will have video clips and sound bites if you have to have them, get the information and get off.

As a parent it is our responsibility to regulate the media for our younger children.  We have to resist the urge to keep trauma running in our living rooms over and over.  That is hard to do, but they are depending on us to protect them and help them process situations like these.  Having the events play over and over is like living them over and over.  It is too much reality.

There is a natural tendency when these things happen to try and make sense of it.  To find a tangible reason for a senseless tragedy, something to hang on to.  We need understand that there is never a good reason for such acts of violence and trying to find one  leads in never ending circles of unanswerable questions.  Sometimes we need to be satisfied with the fact that there will never be a good answer to the question why.

Because our children will be asking themselves the same questions and wondering how they find that sense of safety and security that are momentarily lost in an event like this we need to help them process those feelings and questions.  We have to be available to talk about the situation and work through the feelings that come up because of it.

For example, my oldest daughter read an account online that one of the victims had just texted her friend encouraging her to come to the theater for the show.  Not long after that she was gone. I knew what my daughter was thinking, she was thinking that she had been talking to her best friend while her friend waited for the midnight showing.  She was thinking about how she would feel if that was their last conversation.  She needed to be able to talk about that connection she had made that turned this into a very real, very scary scenerio for her.  A "it could have been me" moment.  She needed to process it, talk about,work through it.

Every person as an individual will react differently to a crisis, don't judge your child's reaction.  Look beyond it to see what is really troubling them so you can address it.

Reassure our children that measures will be taken to try and prevent this sort of thing from happening again.  My family went to see a movie tonight.  We are a family in love with movies, we love watching them, we love making them.  For our family this was sucker punch to the core of what makes us, us.  Even though more than one of children were hesitant to go to a theater we made a point of going.  We talked about how there would be added security and other measures to insure their safety.  Because we talked about it they were very aware of the added security measures.  They saw the changes and seeing those changes helped make the theater a safe place to be again.

Help your child feel like they can be a part of the solution.  We live in an unpredictable world and while we cannot prevent tragedy from happening we can always figure out a way to help.  Whether that is through the silent support of thoughts and prayers, sending get well or condolence cards, or helping to raise or donate money to a memorial fund.  Taking action gives back a sense of control.

Life is fragile, sometimes it seems so fragile that we should stop living, we have to remind ourselves and our family members that we cannot stop living.  That we need to push past that fear, not let it control us, drive us from participating in our world.  In the face of disaster we can teach our children that courage is not the absence of fear, courage is the strength to keep going in the face of fear.

This is an important lesson to learn, our kids show courage everyday in battling their disorders, in facing the challenge that is their amazingly unique brains.  That same courage can help them face down many challenges in life.

Aurora is not 1,156 miles away tonight - it is in my heart, in my family's heart.  My husband has a great saying, love is what we have been through together.  We will regain our equilibrium faster when we make a conscious effort to go through the events that shake out world together.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Magical Drawing Fairy is Real

She didn't know I was watching, but when I heard her appeal I couldn't bear it, I had to peak around the corner of the laundry room into the kitchen.  There was little 4 year old Hannah gripping her pencil with both hands, eyes squeezed shut, "Oh magical drawing fairy, please touch my pencil so I can draw like my sisters."  Clearly the magical drawing fairy couldn't resist her cuteness anymore than the rest of us because Hannah has grown up to be an incredible and talented young artist.

I talk a lot on the blog about ADHD/ADD and the many other co-occurring conditions that rule our house and often our lives. I try and make sure that us non-ADHD/ADDers, Hannah and I, are also represented.  That we're honest about our struggle to keep up and how easy it is for us to be overrun.  Overrun by the energy, the talent, the wit, the speed of their thoughts, sometimes by the dysfunction.  Hannah was truly blessed with a quiet laid back spirit, one that God must have known she would need to survive in this fast paced kinetic environment. 

Hannah inside the red bin - rolling with it
And she has done more than survive.  While the world has swirled around her Hannah has quietly gone about her business reading, drawing, baking, being Hannah.  At first, I think she hid comfortably in the huge shadows of her siblings.  She is very shy by comparison and it was easy to shrink in light of their commanding presence.  In fact, she was able to use that quiet ability to hide to her benefit often getting out of household chores.  All the obvious ones would be getting all the re-directing and we would be almost done with a project before I realized that Hannah was off reading or drawing.

As she started to get older she started to feel the need to for a little of that light.  Pushing out of those shadows still seemed like an impossible task.  Now, her two older sisters have graduated and gone from the high school scene.  We moved, so as a junior, she started a new school with no lingering big sister shadows to claw out of.  But Hannah is still Hannah and started school year silently, not letting anyone know what she is capable of, she waited for them to recognize her for themselves.

They did.  For the first time she has been eking her way into center stage, partially because she is ready for it and partially because she has had some wonderful teachers this year who saw her, the real her, despite her attempts to quietly hide.  These teachers were willing to give her a good hard shove out of the shadows.

Hannah as a PA
Her English teacher, Mrs. Schrader, dragged her into drama - working lighting and sound for the fall play.  She probably didn't know that Hannah loves to work behind the scenes and had worked as a PA (production assistant) for multiple short films and a feature film, Finding Hope Now. Later in the year she asked her to read an essay she wrote as an assignment for the Lions Club contest. She did it!  She said she thought she was going to crumble she was shaking so hard; but, she did it.

Her yearbook teacher, Mrs. Kirchman, took Hannah to a special Adobe workshop.  She swears that Hannah was born with a mouse in her hand - she has a gift for lay out and design.  Of course, Hannah came into yearbook with an advantage - a father that works on Adobe products all day and has had the kids working on them since they were young. Why use Paint when you can use Photoshop? Hannah was named co-editor of the yearbook for next year.

Her art teacher, Ms. Caudle, didn't ask Hannah if she wanted to put art into art competitions but rather demanded it.  Ms Caudle also taught Hannah at her own level, didn't just make her follow what the other kids in the class were working on.  She encouraged her to prepare for Portfolio Days at Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts, founded by Walt Disney) next year, to enter art work in the Fair in the fall, and gave her the forms to apply for the California State Summer School for the Arts

This is where this story really begins because Hannah did apply.  She filled out the forms, followed the directions, which included submitting three pieces of original art work to meet certain requirements, and nervously waited to hear if she passed the test.  She was accepted.  Accepted to spend this summer on the the Cal Arts campus studying art from some of the best.  Cal Arts has produced some of names in the industry everyone recognizes including John Lassiter (co-founder of Pixar), Tim Burton, Brad Bird (director of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles), and many other great artists.  The program is intense - with classes running all day and into the evening six days a week for four weeks. Sundays are field trip days for both fun and education - Disneyland and the Getty Museum were on the list.

As a family we sat and read through all the materials. We started with the special acceptance letter that explained the honor of being accepted - less than half of those who apply are accepted into the program.  It also addressed the enrollment fees, which is about $1,750 before spending money, field trips, and living expenses.  It explained that Hannah was lucky enough to receive a $1,000 scholarship to defray the cost.  We laughed over the student handbook - what to bring, what not to bring, the rules, what was acceptable and a lot of what is not acceptable.  We got a big kick out of the rules about wearing shoes and shirts to the cafeteria or NO food and open flames - there an incredible number of references to NO open flames, candles, incense - clearly they know their crowd.

We decided it was definitely a rule book for artists written by artists.  At first we thought of how peaceful it might be for Hannah to get away from all the chaos that makes our house home. Then we realized.  She may be going out of the frying pan into the fire.  The ratio of non- ADHDers to ADHDers is probably pretty close to that of our house.  We know she can roll with it regardless.

What an adventure - four weeks away from home.  What an opportunity for growth - she told me privately that she was a little nervous.  She knows that it's was time to stop being the quiet observer.  She knows that there she needs to not be satisfied to sit and do her thing, waiting to see if someone will recognize her talent, motivation, and focus while the world swirled around her.  She knows it's was time to be bold, take a deep breath, and step into the spotlight. 

* Unfortunately, we have had a very hard year financially this year and while we have come up with part of what we need to send her and grandparents have helped with part we are still falling short and time is running out - she reports July 14th.  We need help coming up with the rest of the money needed to send her.  For those who would like to help Hannah get to CSSSA here is a link  http://thatsjustnotnormal.com/

You can also view her digital sketch book, including some of the work that got her accepted into the program on that site
all those who donate will receive a signed, limited edition print of her final gallery art piece from the program as show of appreciation. 

You can also follow her blog and keep track of what she is doing while she is at CSSSA at thatsjustnotnormal.blogspot.com 
**  I first talked about Hannah's artistic talents in a couple of post called ADHD and Creativity: Part I and ADHD and Creativity: Part II.  All of our children are creative and artistic in multiple ways.  In fact, I often say that we are masochistically creative, creative to the point that we are a danger to ourselves.  Hannah is the only one of our 7 children who is not ADHD/ADD.  The posts were about how ADHD effects the creative process, the differences I see between her creative process and theirs.  There is more of her art work in those posts.