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, November 26, 2012

An Inheritance from the Distracted King - Mastering Hyperfocus

Besides inheriting their ADHD from their father, the Distracted King, our children are benefiting from his years of experience and the many coping mechanisms that he has found to pay the heavy price tag of ADHD and open the great and marvelous gifts which it offers.

The King and I were talking today about hyperfocus, a quality of ADHD that can easily hijack the mind making it easy to get lost in ideas, creative ventures, and activities.  The conversation was inspired by a wonderful blogpost I read written by Zoe Kessler for Psych Central called A Hyperfocus Balance Sheet: Is Hyperfocus Worth it?  A wonderful breakdown of pros and cons to hyperfocus.  In the discussion the King said he considers hyperfocus one of the greatest qualities he gains from his ADHD.  It has taken a long time to get the balance just right, to master it rather than it controlling him, but now it's an asset that he uses in many aspects of daily life.

The benefits to my husband and our family are really hard to quantify but I have pinned down specifics of this sizable inheritance beyond the obvious financial benefits we have gained from his successful career.

The King has taught them to use hyperfocus to accomplish an unwanted, even hated task.  One of the hardest things for the ADHD mind to do is focus on something boring, uninteresting, or undesirable.  Unfortunately life is full of such tasks. Right now, for our kids, school is full of such tasks.  The King uses something that his mind wants to hyperfocus on as a carrot to get through the mundane and irritating.

We have a son, now a freshman in high school, who is a grammar freak.  Until we had him diagnosed with ADHD and medicated in the 1st grade he couldn't remember his alphabet. Then, like someone turned on a switch, he started reading.  Within a couple of months he was reading at a 6th grade level and much to the chagrin of the teachers and office staff he was correcting the spelling and grammar of the school newsletter and returning it each week.  Now this same son had to read a book in honors English, House on Mango Street.  It has been several months and he still randomly breaks out into rants about how horrible that book was to get through.  Why?  It has no grammar at all - just one run-on sentence.  The boy who can sit down and read a 400- 600 page book that he wants to read in a day or two was struggling to get through a page.

With the help of his father he learned how to hyperfocus on the task he didn't want to do so he could get to the one he wanted to do.  Reading chunks for the reward of reading chunks.  Important to note that you have to set limits on your pleasurable hyperfocus or you will easily get swept away.  In this case it was pages or chapters, sometimes it minutes or hours.  Today he used those same skills to write an essay for the same class.  Each time he uses the skills he is learning about managing his focus and engaging the ability to hyperfocus he is able to do more and more on his own without the Kings help of guidance.

The King has taught them how to establish a state of hyperfocus, how to get into the groove.  Getting into that hyperfocus state of mind is easy when it's where your mind wants to go but when it doesn't want to go there it can be very difficult.  The King has certainly proven it can be done.  He has also passed the process onto our children. Recently we found out we had to move, the King took one of our daughters out to the garage, surveying it he said to her, "Mary, I need to know what is in this garage.  I need someone who can get lost in this job."  Other than a few parameters he didn't tell her how to do the job. She strung up Christmas lights, found an old boombox we thought was dead forever, fixed it, blasted music, created a system for finding and cataloging everything in the garage, and went to town.

As each day passed she employed the first lesson listed above by doing other chores that needed to be done and then headed back to the garage.  The King is still teaching her the lesson, helping her learn to take breaks, praising her work and progress, helping her see the value of the time and effort she is putting into the task, and satisfaction of finishing a long hard job.

Important to note that the King didn't dictate how she got into the groove of hyperfocus, that is a very individual process that changes for each person and each task.

The King has taught them there is a time to stop - pull yourself from the groove and pay attention to other things in life.  It took the King years to learn this and personally I would like to think that I had a little something to do with it.  Just like he would go out the garage to help Mary learn to monitor and balance her ability to hyperfocus I have helped him, over the years, to see when he was loosing perspective.  This has probably been one of the harder lessons to learn but he has really come to a place of where he can pull himself from that hyperfocus state and enjoy the world around him.  Having both the ability to put yourself into that frame of mind and take yourself out of it allows you to use it daily, finishing  small projects and making marked progress on long ones.

Part of learning it and teaching it is learning to recognize what you need and what those around you need.  While getting his focus ripped out from under him is hard - he even describes it as painful, he has learned to communicate it and teach ways to cope with it to our kids.  Being self aware and being able to express it to others helps them understand where you are coming from and what they can do to help.  He consistently includes them by asking them to look at something he's working on and for their critique.  When our rather random house is firing distractions like a war zone he asks for their help in keeping his focus.  He often says I can't think about that right now but let me get to this point in my work and my attention is all yours.

The kids have become very good at being equally self aware and expressive.  As they vocalize their struggle between what they need to be doing and the multitude of ideas that flood them we can help them manage the way their brains work while they learn to manage it themselves.

Most commonly we see this manifested in the uncontrollable need to write down an idea, record a melody, or draw an inspired picture.  He has taught them to jot down notes or record ideas quickly and then get back to the required task at hand.  He has taught them that even though it is hard to wait they can.  They can remember the inspiration and act on it in the appropriate time.

The King has taught them that you can include others in your hyperfocus state, making it not such a solitary quality.  Their are aspects of his job that are not very inclusive.  We can't all sit around and edit a film or draw the same picture.  He includes us in the source of his hyperfocus by including us where he can.  More than just asking our opinions he has pulled us into his world and activities.  When he worked on a film a couple of years ago our family became intimately involved.  Our older girls were production assistants, the younger ones acted as extras, we were often on set if nothing else just to watch and be there with him.  We write stories as a family, make movies, deeply discuss art, literature, and music.  He proves all the time that hyperfocus does not need to be a solitary place, in fact it can be very inclusive as we look for ways to share our joys and obsessions.  Many of our fondest memories revolve around getting lost together in a wonderfully creative world come to life.

It has passed along to our children and they are know to come and share their inspiration with us and involve each other in their creative endeavors.  Fernando asks Hannah or Rachel for drawings of characters for his story, Mariah has Rachel help her with lyrics and has her sing her songs, Rachel takes lyrics to Mariah, they help each other with plot ideas for stories and movie, they share and pull others into their process.

The King as taught them that there is a satisfaction that comes in finishing, a confidence that carries you through to the next hard thing to conquer that requires the ability to hyperfocus.  When our daughter Mariah was about 15 she was already heavily into the world of composing music.  I think she fell into that world from the moment she took her first music lesson at 7 years old.  At 15 he had a tall order for her though.  He needed a song written for a movie he was working on - one that she could write and she and her sister could perform.  A song that would play during a movie scene where one of the characters, a young gang kid, is considering suicide.  He pulled her into his hyperfocus, spinning her off into her own.

It was a hard thing to do, she had to use all of the skills mentioned above to complete it. She had to pace herself and find balance using hyperfocus on a consistent basis to complete a task.  She had to put herself into that hyperfocus state when she didn't necessarily want to finding a process to do that, a place to best work, set the mood for herself.  She had to communicate when she needed help following inspiration because it finally hit.  Often she had to find ways to hold onto the inspiration and set it aside until she could work on it at the appropriate time and place.  Sometimes she needed help pulling herself from that place back into the flow of life.    It wasn't a song she ever would have written on her own, it was dictated by the script and mood of the film at that moment.  But she did it.  How priceless is the knowledge that you can apply yourself to a task that isn't what you would choose to do, one that is hard and painstaking, and you can finish with high praise.

ADHD is a life long disorder, the way their brains are wired is not going to suddenly change. They will struggle with how to manage and use the qualities of ADHD to some degree all their life but every bit of ground they gain, every bit of understanding, every tool they acquire changes what their future looks like.  They are fortunate that the Distracted King is there to lead the way, that he embraces his strengths and weaknesses and strives to show them that they can work on them everyday because he works on them everyday.  In the end is there really any inheritance more valuable than that.

*The song, Smoke and Mirrors, is written by Mariah Aro with help from her sister Rachel and performed by Rachel Aro with harmonies by Mariah.

If you like this post or have found it helpful please share it with others!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Winning the Battle with Struggling Readers

I was a reluctant reader when I was a kid. In fact, calling me a reluctant reader might have been an understatement.  My parents tried everything.  They took me on frequent excursions to the books store to buy me the book of my choosing. They sent me to after school reading programs with strange plexiglass sheets I was supposed to place over the page, a mechanical arm lowered down the page line by line at the speed I was supposed to be reading.  It always beat me by what seemed like hours.  They even taped money in the back of books as a reward for when I finished reading a book.  I am not sure I EVER got the money at the back of the books.  In fact, whoever goes through my parents books is likely to find a small fortune still waiting for me to finish.

Eventually, I figured out some things about myself.  First of all, I really can't read unless I am saying the words out loud in my head.  Can't do it.  Second, I'm really not a huge fantasy fan.  I love facts though, I am a great factual reader and if I venture into fiction you can pretty much bet it's factually or historically based.  Third, my spelling and reading struggles would certainly tend to prove that I had some sort of learning disability going on.

I didn't want those struggles to be passed onto my kids.  I didn't want them to have a string of unread books trailing behind them.  I wanted them to be avid readers.  Imagine my own distress as I struggled with two dyslexic daughters, trying to help them overcome their disabilities and find a passion for reading.  By the time that Fernando came to live with our family we had overcoming reading struggles and instilling a love for reading down to a science.

I recently read an article about helping the reluctant reader become an enthusiastic reader.  There were some great ideas in the post but unfortunately most of them would not have addressed the needs of my reluctant readers. We have found some great tools, however, that we have used over the years with all seven of our kids, those with dyslexia, those without it, and our late comer to the family who we are pretty sure is dyslexic also.

1.  If you have a child that is reluctant to read please consider starting with an evaluation for learning disabilities.  Most kids will not be seriously reluctant to read unless there is some sort of problem making it difficult or frustrating for them.  An evaluation can confirm learning disabilities and set you on the path to conquering them.  In the absence of disabilities it can also find weaknesses or gaps that may be making reading hard.  Regardless of the outcome, it's a great place to start.

2.  Weak visual tracking skills can make reading hard and exhausting.  The solution is fun.  Play games that help visual tracking like mazes, connect the dots, word finds.  Investigate with I Spy type books, Where's Waldo, and picture searches.  One of my daughters went to Occupational Therapy for 3 years, she loved tossing colored items on the ground then spinning (like on a swing) and trying to pick up all the red or yellow items and place them in containers.  There are many OT games that help with visual tracking.  Look online or check out The Out of Sync Child Has Fun (a wonderfully helpful book)

3.  What kind of reader is your child?  We have some that love fantasy and some that hate it. My 20 year old was just telling me that she still prefers fantasy to any other form of literature.  Her younger sister is a factual reader all the way.  Another sister will hardly entertain anything that isn't science fiction.  Especially for a child that struggles with reading it's important that their pleasure reading be from a genre they want to read.  Fortunately we live in an era where children's literature has a lot to offer in almost any direction your young reader wants to go.

4.  Phonics doesn't work for everyone - there are other ways to break the language code. My oldest, one of my dyslexics, to this day can't sound anything out.  She learned to read by memorizing whole words, their shapes, using key letters as cues.  Once she realized what worked for her she went nuts studying words and adding them to her internal dictionary.  She reads extraordinarily fast now, around 300 words per minute.  There was a time when I thought that would never happen but when we found what she loved to read and combined it with a way to break the code of language, she became unstoppable.

5.  Split the reading.  One thing we have done with all of our children is split the reading.  At first, with each of them, we would read large chunks and they would read a sentence or two.  As their skills and stamina took hold we would read less and they would read more.  Regardless of the amounts we would take turns, I would read then they would read.  This is a long process, it's not like by the end of one book they are going to be reading a page and me a sentence.  But as you continue to read with them, over time, their skills and stamina will improve.

6,  Reading aloud with your children opens up the world of literature to them.  We don't just read aloud to them though, we read aloud with them as a family.  From the time our children were too little to read we would take turns reading, helping the younger ones, or ones that were struggling with words they don't know. At first they would be simply repeating what we whispered in their ear.  Then they may only be able to contribute all the "and"s or "the"s in there part of the reading. Contributing gave them a sense of success. We would also stop to explain what certain words or phrases meant.  Reading together has become a  cherished family memory in our house.

7.  Use technology as a tool to help your struggling reader.  There are many types of assisstive technology that allow you to change the color, size, and spacing of text.  What a gift for those that are struggling with text that is too close together, a sea of text or other issues.   Take advantage of services out there like BookShare and Audible that can help with adjustable text and books on CD or mp3.  One of our daughters had her first successes by "reading" along with books on tape. That sense of accomplishment fueled her desire to read on her own, at her own pace.  We have always been careful that she didn't become so dependent on audible books that she gave up on reading for herself.

8.  Pick books that are a little challenging in context, language, and length but NOT defeating because they are so hard. As your reluctant young reader grows and learns it's important that they have success.  Triumph fuels empowerment, defeat re-enforces a sense of failure.  Sometimes that means you will have to tell your reader they're not ready for a book.  We always made the desired book a dangling carrot, then found stepping stone books to help them reach their goals.  These stepping stone authors became some of our children's favorites.

9.  Make time for reading when your child is at their best not overly tired or mentally exhausted.  This was really important in our ADHD house where mental exhaustion from trying to focus is a real and tangible issue. One of our dyslexics told me that trying to read at the end of the day as part of homework was like smearing mud on her face and rubbing it in.  It just made things worse and certainly made her struggles seem insurmountable. Make reading time special, create a bedroom fort, a closet nook, a cozy corner where reading is the only activity that gets to take place.

10.  Give rewards - treats, new books, whatever your reluctant young reader's currency is, use it. One of our very artistic daughters would argue with the pictures as she was first learning to read.  We started covering the pictures and then letting her draw her own illustrations when she finished.  It was a great motivator to her, is it any wonder that she's a concept artist now, reading peoples literary works and creating visual images of their characters.

The biggest advice I have to share - never give up. Where there's a will there's a way has gotten us through some mighty tight spots. As you are figuring it out remember to have fun, we all learn better and faster when we are having fun.  Today, I have to pry the books from my children's hands, chase them down out of the bathroom and other perfect hidden reading spots, sometimes I even cringe when they beg to go to the bookstore because they finished a book, the 400 or 500 page book, I bought them yesterday.  But these are great problems to have.

*The pictures are all covers to some of our family's favorite books - I excluded the obvious best sellers like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and put up picture of some gems that you might not have heard of
PS For some people the library is a great tool but not for us. Remember we are a house of ADHDers - we really can't afford the lost books and late fees that come with visiting the library - and no one really wants to see their face on a wanted poster.

Friday, November 2, 2012

My #ADHD Family

I think I may have inadvertently stepped on someones  toes on twitter the other night when I posted that my #ADHD son had done something.  I suppose that's not hard to do when you only have 140 characters to sum up some situation or make a statement.  Anyone that has read my blog knows that I am nothing if not wordy and twitter is nothing if not concise.

I don't have any proof that I offended her, there was no direct mention of me in her post but it seemed like she was talking to me. This person seemed to be annoyed that a child would be identified as an #ADHD son and not just a son.  I am pretty sure that they thought the child was being classified by their disability, separated or singled out.

It did get me thinking, I do that all the time on twitter put my #ADHD son or daughter or husband.  Mostly I do it to sneak that stupid hash tag in there and not just let it hang at the end of a post.  I have never thought of it as separating out one of my children as ADHD - maybe because all three of my sons have ADHD and three of my four daughters have it and so does my husband of going on 23 years.

I don't think of it as separating them out because really in our house, my daughter without ADHD and I would be the minority- we would be the ones separated out as non-ADHDers.  It would be much easier and faster to list us as the ones without it than to list those with it.  In our house we are the minority, the not "normal" ones, and I would even go so far as to say the ones with the disability.  After all, we're the ones that are struggling to keep the pace of thought, of action, of energy.

Heaven knows when I say my ADHD son or daughter or husband I don't do it disparagingly, I know that they know I don't say it with any kind of hint that they are less than because of their ADHD.  I am sure if you would ask them they would tell you I say it proudly.  In fact, I have been asked before if I would change it if I could - if I would take away their ADHD if I could.  I think most parents would like to see their children not suffer and struggle but let me tell you what I have told each of them individually - UNEQUIVOCALLY I would not take away their ADHD if I could.  Doing so would intrinsically change who they are as people and I LOVE who they are.

I see their ADHD in every decision they make, every trial they struggle with, every song or poem, or story they write, piece of art they create, every scene they act in, every original idea they come up with.  I see it in their unique perspective, in every interaction they have with the world, in every choice they make.  Sure, it is a struggle for them to deal with.  I know there are days that they wish they didn't have it.  I would be lying if I said it wasn't a struggle for them and for me.  But in very real ways aren't we built as people by how we face our struggles and trials.  Don't we ALL face them in one form or another.

I see their ADHD and I am proud of them for who they are, what they create, for their compassion, for their empathy to others, for their quick wit, their humor, their perseverance, their dedication, their desire to be good and try hard in the face of great obstacles.

Maybe the world sees it as a disability, I don't see it that way.  I see it as as who they are, as their state of mind, and I LOVE those beautiful minds.