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!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Stigma and Stereotypes: The Lessons We Teach Inadvertently

Yesterday was crazy, which I expected.  One of our sons has a strange protruding spot in his ribcage that we've been trying to figure out since February.  Nothing showed up on x-rays, nothing really by examination, but when our psychiatrist ordered a routine EKG our son's doctor thought she might have found the answer.  She thought his heart might be backwards.

You can imagine this totally tickled the ADHD minds in our house.  Especially my son who has named the protruding spot, his alien chest baby, 'Lil Elmo.  We were off to the Children's Hospital in our area where we would spend hours doing a new EKG, waiting, having exams, talking medical history, waiting, and eventually having a sonogram of his heart before getting an clear answer.

All that waiting meant lots of children's programing on every TV in every waiting room.  It made me long for the days of Between the Lions, Sesame Street, Dragon Tales and the other programing of my kid's youth.

In the end we were stuck watching a pseudo-interactive magical word fairy tell stories and teach sounds all with an underlying life skill lesson.  I was tired.  I was hungry.  I was cranky.  And when they started to tell the story of the magical porridge pot illustrating the importance of listening I became mother bearish about the implications.

I actually remember reading the story as a child. This was not the same story.  This was an absent minded, distracted girl whose father gifts her, for no apparent reason, with the magical pot.  Gives her instructions and leaves.  She, of course, floods the house because she was not paying attention, she did not listen, as she was supposed to and couldn't remember how to stop the pot from making porridge.  Listen was the word of the day.

The cranky, hungry mother bear in me saw this as a continuation of some dangerous stereotypes about inattention.  I suppose I saw in this little peasant girl as my oldest daughter.  We had no idea what ADHD was back when she was little.  Every teacher seemed to negate our concerns about ADHD by telling us that she was sweet and meant well.  She couldn't be ADHD because she wasn't disruptive; she was dreamy and creative.  If she could just try harder to pay attention, to listen, she would be fine.  She was the little peasant girl.

Stereotypes and stigma can be dangerous and this show seemed full of them.  First, that kids who don't pay attention do it intentionally.  They are irresponsible, ditzy, and therefore end up being destructive. Second, that if they wanted to, if they understood or respected the importance of the information, they would pay attention and listen. 

Neither of these are true.  The danger of portraying inattention (ADD/ADHD) in this manner is that those who suffer trying to maintain focus, pay attention and fail: not because of their intentions, their desires, or their intellect, will view themselves as broken because they can't remember simple instruction.  Our little peasant girl is 20 now and still fights her feelings of inadequacy and failure.  Equally as stigmatizing would be raising another generation that views others who struggle with the way their brains are wired as disrespectful, careless, and unintelligent.

Of course, maybe the father had it too.  Maybe he's in denial about his own ADD/ADHD.  There is, after all, a strong genetic link to ADHD/ADD.  Maybe this explains why he impulsively gave his young daughter a pot that could flood the house with porridge.  Or why he only gave her important operating instructions once and didn't have her reiterate the instructions or write them down for future reference, just left her alone with the pot.

My husband thinks so.  He was that way once.  Now he embraces his own ADHD and works hard to manage and harness it to his benefit.

Children's programming I feel as though you failed me.

I realize that my reaction came from a loaded place.  I even recognized then that I was overly angry. Nonetheless, I was happy to leave the magical word fairy behind and get back to the business of the day.

It wasn't long before the cardiologist came back and announced that Hunter was totally normal.

Totally normal?  He missed the part seconds earlier where he was wishing he was a shape shifter so he could turn himself into a Muppet. Where he was demonstrating by trying to throw his head all the way backwards, mouth wide open, dancing like a Muppet. 

And the part as we were walking out where Hunter was disappointed that he couldn't tell people his heart was backwards - after all that would've been pretty cool.

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