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!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Helping Your ADHD Family Memeber Dealing with Crisis

Today it's Arapahoe High School. Last year it was Sandyhook. Before that it was Aurora. No matter where we live tragedy is a part of life. Learning how to deal with it and helping our children get through it are survival skills for our day and age. My heart goes out to all those affected by the shooting at Arapahoe High School.

originally published 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.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Self Medicating in a Positive Way

I was talking to the friend the other day who had a terrible day. One of those when life comes out of no where and sucker punches you leaving you a little breathless and reeling trying to find your footing. We talked for awhile but truth being what it was talking wouldn't change much. It was one of those, "it is what it is," situations that doesn't bend no matter how much we want it too. A struggle that takes long term coping mechanisms. In parting she said she was off to, "self-medicate." Normally this would have freaked me out a bit because when I hear or see or use the term self-medicate it has always had the negative connotation of using drugs or alcohol to escape or cope. But that's not what she said, not what she meant, because she didn't stop there. What she said basically was, "I'm going to go self-medicate by diving into to some creative writing."

roller blading
Self-medicating as a positive way to cope, I had never thought about it that way.

But it tickled my brain and as it settled I started to shift my own paradigm. Suddenly, I saw self-medicating in a whole new light. My own son came to mind. We have always made a point of making sure our kids knew they had ADHD and whatever co-occurring conditions that each of them have individually, no secrets here. In addition we have made a point of making sure they understood their conditions and how their brain works. So it wasn't a surprise one night when I overheard my son talking to his dad, "I am having a panic attack," he was vibrating with neurotic energy, "can I go roller blade? I need some dopamine right now!" A personal awareness victory for sure. A triumph for self-advocacy, he knew what he needed to pull his world back into balance and asked for it. Exercise would be the no-brainer on the list of things you can do to lift your mood, re-balance your life, release some dopamine, and feel better. Exercise is a quick way to get those happy chemicals coursing through the brain and body but certainly not the only way.

Engaging in a creative activity results in the same flood of chemicals. For my friend it's writing, we have some writers in our house. Writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, actors the rush that they get from engaging in these activities is a powerful way to self-medicate. In addition to the chemical release in the brain that reenforces that these activities are good and bring happiness, these more creative outlets allow the individual to express what they're feeling. They're a form of release.

I remember a meeting with one of my daughters and our family psychiatrist. He was explaining to her the importance of having a pressure release. He compared it to air in a balloon. Life is crazy, demanding, hard and as we move through it we collect air in our balloons. If we don't let some of that air out on a regular basis eventually there is just too much air and our balloon pops.

Nai Da Zip
When we use creative releases we have a way of expressing our joys, fears, frustrations, pains, hurt, love, happiness, rage. It can be a beautiful and profound way of expressing, releasing, self-medicating. Sitting in the middle of my creative house I can see it manifest in many different mediums. My one non-ADHDer most recently created 2 new cartoon characters, Nai and Zip. A little creature, Zip, is full of energy and mischief. Zip's hair changes color with his mood. Zip is here and there and pretty much everywhere. When I asked her about it she told me flat out Zip was the manifestation of all her ADHD siblings in one little character. She is Nai. Nai Da Zip gives her an outlet. As I came to realize, by my friends comment in passing, it gives her a healthy way to self-medicate through the chaos of our lives.

With this new perspective I see

running lines for The Mighty Kubar
more clearly their thoughts, emotions, feelings woven into their pieces of art, echoed in the lyrics of their music, poured out in the emotion of their acting, recorded in the scenes of film, typed out in the words and thoughts of characters on the page. This new revelation didn't bring any earth shaking changes to our house, we were doing these things before and we will continue to do them. But I feel like I have a new tool in my tool box to help my family through the rocky, bumpy roads of life. A new positive release to encourage them to use when everything is overwhelming and troublesome, when they feel off kilter.

And one that works for me too, I can disappear for while into another world, work out my feelings, express myself, get some positive brain chemicals flowing, and emerge feeling better about the world.

What I came to realize, after I gave it some thought, was creative endeavors are a great way to self-medicate, maybe one of the best because they fulfill so many wonderful purposes at once.  As I am writing, right now, there are several kids singing, guitar being practiced, drawing, a set being dressed to start filming on The Mighty Kubar tomorrow, and acting all at this very moment. And I think of my friend and her writing and the great coping mechanism it is to her. I'll never think of self-medicating in the same one-sided negative way again. In fact, now I think I can only think of all the great and positive ways we can find balance and happiness by self-medicating through positive ways.

** The Mighty Kubar and all the artwork, music, lyrics posted here are the property of Hannah Aro, Rachel Aro, Mark Aro, Lisa Aro respectively

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Successful IEPs: Plan Your Work & Work Your Plan

My fearless blue caped superhero
I swear to you that our youngest daughter was born with absolutely no fear whatsoever. More than once the only thing that saved her was that little voice that whispers to me, her mother, "something's very wrong." I remember once taking her and her siblings to a wonderful park in our community that had the tallest slide I think I have ever seen. Scared me to death. I made it completely clear that none of my kids were supposed to get near it. To my fearless toddler my warning meant nothing and before I could grab her she was on her way up the staggered open sided platforms that led to the top of the slide.

I remember the first SST meeting I sat in for that same daughter. I felt just about the same way as I did watching her on those slide platforms. Intimidated, scared to death, fearful would be all be understatements to describe my feelings in those first meetings with the school. I had realized probably 2 years earlier that our daughter had learning disabilities far beyond the scope of her ADHD. For 2 years we'd been trying to get the school to listen and test her for disabilities. We didn't know how to make that happen and the school was not volunteering any help. Finally frustration led to my own research, friendships, information, the beginnings of understanding about student and parent rights and services. I stopped waiting for the school to help and started pushing for the school to help.

To be honest that first IEP was just a bare bones beginning but it was a beginning. It led to more decisions, more testing, more accommodations, and services. It opened the door to getting her help with multiple issues. For example, no one could understand a word our daughter said but for some strange twisted red-tape reason she didn't qualify for speech therapy until that initial IEP was in place for her Auditory Phonemic Processing Disorder. Then she suddenly qualified for speech and it was officially added to her services and goals.

A switch in schools to a charter home school program, more testing ended in a better understanding of
the extent of her disabilities, new IEP meetings, a revision of services, new goals, more work, research, more understanding. We were in the thick of it. Climbing platforms, adjusting our position, pulling ourselves up one level at a time.

ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, not crossing the mid-line, problems with visual tracking the list got longer and longer. All led to speech, reading, writing, math services, occupational therapy. Hours and hours of therapy. Hours and hours of meetings about testing and services.  Hours and hours of work, for her, for me, for the whole family. We kept climbing, it was like we were almost to the top of those platforms and the slide back down to solid ground. That was the hardest and scariest time. Complicated to juggle goals and therapies, hard to do the work needed to make a difference for her, and to be honest difficult feeling like we were never going to get on top of things. Marking progress was arduous and painful. it often seemed like we were discussing the same goals and making no progress on them at all.

We just had our most recent IEP meeting last Friday with the intervention teacher that we've worked closely with since she returned to public school as a Freshman in High School.  He asked us if we wanted a copy of our parents rights. He was about to print them out for us when my husband and I both shouted, "NO!" we joked about how we might singularly be responsible for the death of a rain forest from all the copies of parental rights we already had tucked away in our files at home.

I realized something in that meeting as we were going through goals and checking things off that had been accomplished the largest of which was her passing both the English and Math sections of the California High School Exit Exam on her first try this last year. I realized that several years ago we started seeing real progress in her skills and began the process of eliminating goals and services as needed. More goals met and services dropped each year. Somewhere in the middle of the process we had hit the top platform and started down the slide and I hadn't even realized it. It was an exhilarating feeling this year as we dropped her one period intervention class and replaced it with a once a week meeting with the intervention teacher to make sure she was doing well in all her classes.

on a HS drama trip
She graduates next year, the more I thought about it the more I realized that our experience with her IEP is exactly how it should be. It is a testament of how the system should work. We started with the simple recognition that there was a problem, as we progressed we better and better defined that problem and set up goals and services to meet her needs. We planned our work and worked our plan until those services, coping mechanisms, therapies started to pay off, things started clicking into place. As she progressed, we met annually, more frequently when needed, we adjusted to meet her needs. For a longtime it seemed we only added and then slowly but surely goals were met and services started falling off. First to go was OT, then speech and most recently the last of her pull out services for Math and English.

She went from terribly behind to caught up to flourishing. This last year she score advanced in English/Language Art on state testing. My daughter diagnosed first with Auditory Phonemic Processing Disorder, then Dyslexia, Dypraxia, Central Language Processing Disorder scored advanced in English.

Interventions, modifications, accommodations,  pull out services, therapies, all seemed so intimidating and overwhelming when I first started this process. I didn't see how, couldn't see how, all this was going to come together for her benefit but I became a mother bear about it. I researched it, the disorders, the tests, the therapies, the modifications and services that would benefit her. I pushed, pushed the school, pushed the process, pushed myself, pushed her. And now, now we are enjoying the excitement, the feeling of freedom and thrill of conquering the slide.

I'm not going to lie, when my then toddler daughter got down the slide safely she wanted to do it again. I was still waiting for my heart to start beating again while I thanked those that helped her get safely down. I feel a little the same about this IEP meeting - we left feeling triumphant, I was wanting to thank the long list of people that have helped her get safely up to the top so she could enjoy the ride back down.

When I meet and talk to parents that are just starting on this journey the first thing I tell them is learn, learn everything you can and don't be afraid to dig until you really know and understand what is going on with your child. I tell them get your services in place as soon as possible, whether that is a 504 or IEP. Plan you work and work your plan. I tell them keep at it even when you are tired and discouraged and it seems like you aren't making any progress because I know from experience that if you do those things the pay off is big. It's big and wonderful and exhilarating.

Some things in life look overwhelming and intimidating the first time you look at them. That slide, the tallest slide that I'd ever seen was one of those things. I wonder what I would think about it if I saw it again today. Experience has a way of changing how we look at things. I wonder, if like the IEP/504 process, I would look at that slide with different eyes, knowing eyes.  I think I would.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Finding Patience in the ADHD House - Just Keep Swimming

My husband, the Distracted King, thought I should entitle this post Just Keep Swimming, after Dory in
Finding Nemo. At first I wasn't sure about that, though, the more I thought about the patience it takes to raise a house full of ADHDers I did think I can completely relate to Dory. Sometimes, most times, life in my house is overwhelming and the answer really is, "just keep swimming."

I was recently asked how I have the patience to deal with so many ADHDers under one roof. The answer is complicated. It was certainly too complicated for the 140 characters at a time that twitter provides. The answer is, I am not always patient, ask my husband and kids. They will
certainly attest to it, but, I am mostly patient because I have learned the value of it. How did I learn, by being impatient and figuring out it made things worse for both them and me. I look at the goal of parenting as a very long term far reaching goal.

I want my kids to be healthy, to love who they are and embrace it, to be good-hearted people who want to make a positive change in the world.  I want them to have to skills to do that. I don't want to crush who they are, their spirit, I want to empower them to live up to their strengths and conquer their weaknesses. Conquering doesn't mean getting rid of, by the way, I believe it means learning to work with, around, over whatever it takes to deal with them so that their weaknesses don't keep them from using their strengths. Yes, do I want to them to learn social skills, maybe not so many that they completely repress everything that pops into their mind to say or do, but enough to be able to choose when to filter their thoughts and actions to best serve the needs of the situation.

I believe that the daily goal of parenting should be to keep the end goal in mind - do what will help them not just today but down the road. Keeping the goal in mind is what changed the way I parent day to day. So, these are the things that I try to keep in mind day to day to make that work.

Unconditional Love 

People define love in so many ways but when I  parent I have to start with unconditional love - I love regardless. Regardless of inabilities, weaknesses, frailties. I love when they are successful and when they are not. I love them just as much when they make us proud as when they embarrass us. And most importantly I make sure that THEY know that I love them regardless. That I love them, love them absolutely, completely separate and independent of their actions.

Accept your child for where they are at now, today. 

It is easy to get caught up in what we think that our kids should be able to do at certain ages. Our expectation of where they should be can't and shouldn't cloud our acceptance and acknowledgement of where they are now. To help our children make progress in any area of life I have found I have to know and accept where they really are right now. Being honest with where that is changes perspective and makes progress really possible.

For example, our daughter with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, and ADHD got advanced on her state testing this last year in English/Language Arts. A far cry from when she was in the 5th grade reading at a first/second grade level. Her progress started when we were able to be honest about where she really was, then we could help her. She still has all the same disorders but she has learned, is still learning, how to overcome them. It goes the same for any habit, any social skill, any weakness. Be honest and accept where they are today so that you can work on changing tomorrow.

Redefine normal as normal for us

This goes hand in hand with being honest about where things really are.  Abandon "normal" and embrace who they are. It is easy to get caught up in what society says is normal and expect that for our own lives. What follows are feeling of frustration and failure because we aren't experiencing "normal."

Here is our normal. It is normal for us to take at least 2 hours to get ready to leave the house to go somewhere. It is normal for us to get over stimulated in crowds and need a break. It is normal for our house to be driven by creativity which spills out in everything we do and are. It is normal for us to get easily frustrated and meltdown. It is normal for us to be on or off, completely engaged and passionate or totally uninterested. It is normal for us to forget, even seconds after being reminded. It is normal for change, even the slightest change, even a good change to rock the world and make it momentarily unmanageable. It is normal for us to be captured by an idea and need to record it so we don't lose its brilliance forever. It is normal to be distracted by anything and everything that is more appealing to think about or do. It is normal for the impulse to act to be way stronger than the impulse to think about the consequences of that action.

My advice, find and respect each individual's normals. We have redefined normal to suit what normal is for us as individuals and our family.

Accepting what normal is for us had not meant that we just excuse away bad behavior. What it means is teaching our kids how to act appropriately in different situations. It means that we can acknowledge our own normal and set it aside when the circumstances demand.

Adjust your expectation

Once we accept where our child is, we have accepted our new normal, then we start adjusting our expectations. I start with the reality of where they are at. If it takes several hours for them to get ready in the morning I am not going to get that down to 10 minutes over night. I can, and have, slowly adjusted behavior. So maybe now the same child can work the coping mechanisms we have put in place together and get ready in an hour not three. If you start every days homework thinking this should only take a half an hour and 3 hours later you are still doing homework you are going to be frustrated and mad all the time. If you start saying this is going to take 3 hours and it only takes two you are going to be happy and excited. There are inherent traits of ADHD, ASD, learning disabilities, anxiety, SPD, depression, that will quite frankly be long arduous battles to gain the coping skills that will last and be used the rest of your child's life.

Pick your battles

Some things aren't as important as we think they are - we all have standards that need to be kept and reenforced but there are a lot of things that we can compromise on and work out to the benefit of ourselves and our kids. Home shouldn't be a minefield of expectations. Home should be a place to learn, understand, grow, and explore. It should be a place where you feel safe and understood. A place where it is okay to make mistakes, a place where we are given the opportunity to learn from them. As parents we have had to pick our battles keeping the long range goals in mind. If we take up every battle and nit pick the little things we will lose both the battle and the war.

Respect the way their brain works and create coping mechanism to meet your needs and theirs

writing homework in planner - not enough
I truly believe one of the greatest thing we can do for our children is figure out what their experience is, understand it, empathize with it, learn about it. Then help them learn to recognize and understand their experience so that they can communicate with you and others what that is. When we figure that out that we can begin to develop coping mechanisms, tricks, reminders, stopgaps that help manage the long list of traits and struggles that they are having. They will need those coping mechanisms and use them all their lives. The trick is they have to work for them, with them and their personality. It's easy as a parent to try and fix something by throwing what would work for us at our kids. Sometimes that may work but when it doesn't we need to look to our kids to voice possible solutions. Any system that we create as a coping mechanism is more effective with their buy in. It also trains them to problem solve for themselves, to recognize when they are struggling with something and seek effective solutions (long range parenting mixed with the here and now). Ultimately, it has to work for them, they have to use it, and we want them to be able to use it on their own when we aren't there to make it happen.

This is a long process of hits and misses. I have to remind myself to be patient as we always seem to figure out more systems that don't work than systems that do.

Discipline with learning in mind

In our home, sometimes, in fact I would say most of the time, our discipline doesn't look like discipline at all. It looks like teaching and learning. That is on purpose. We learned long ago that traditional method of discipline don't work at all. I remember more than one frustrating conversation after another (before I understood this principle) where I would lay out a punishment, "no TV." Countered by, "well, that's okay I have been meaning to watch less TV." I would add to the punishment no this, no that. Countered by mental adjustments making whatever punishment was given a good thing. Frustrating at best.

Then at some point I realized my goal was not, should not be to to punish. The goal, the thing I wanted was for them to learn. A long time ago our punishments changed. We don't do timeouts for set times, they are dependent on the kid and how long it takes them to pull things back under control. We use them as a reset button. As soon as they are calm and ready to talk and listen then we are done with punishment and ready to learn. Learning is the goal. We talk about why something was wrong, how to handle a situation differently, what to do, how to communicate. Whatever the situation requires so that next time we can achieve a different outcome.

Accept progress as progress even if it's a tiny bit - celebrate it!

Progress can be so slow that sometimes it doesn't feel like we're making it at all. Be watchful for progress, find it where ever you can and point it out, celebrate it. Especially when you are in the middle of disciplining and teaching because something went wrong find the ways in which your child has improved and point those out. Eventually you will look around and realize you are much farther up the mountain than you realized. They will see it too. One of that hardest battles our kids face is self esteem. The sense that they are less than others because of their struggles is evident to them all the time, even when no one is specifically pointing it out. It often leaves them feeling like they are broken. Who can effect change in their life when they feel broken? I don't believe anyone can. We need our kids to feel empowered, to know that they are brilliant, and that whatever problem that lies in front of them is not bigger than their ability to meet it head on and conquer it.

Encourage your child to engage in what they are passionate about in a healthy way

Pursuing the things that they are passionate about, sports, music, art, drama, science, literature, whatever it is, creates balance in our children and that translates into balance in our lives and home. It is important enough that despite pressing schedules we carve out time for them to engage in whatever their passion is. It feeds them the best things in life, confidence, creativity, empowerment, teaches them to set goals, to endure hardship and opposition, conquer failure and in the end find success. It gives them joy. It gives me joy as I watch them.

Enjoy your children

Don't allow yourself to be so tired or worn out by the day to day battle that you can't enjoy your children. Find ways to stop and enjoy the wonderful spark that makes them an individual. Laugh with them, celebrate them. Approach life with a healthy dose of humor. Our sense of humor is a lifeline. It is an anchor in our home and often the vehicle by which we use to teach most effectively.

In fact, as my husband is quick to point out there is nothing like humor in its ability to turn around a tense situation or meltdown.

We have a motto: Aro family making simple things hard. And when we have really made life more difficult than it has to be we drag out the motto and laugh at ourselves. We enjoy our impulsiveness, our creativity, our whims, our diversions. We laugh together, sing together, get frustrated together, make up parody lyrics together. Those are our things, your things will be specific to your family, maybe its have Nerf wars together or playing sports together, whatever it is do it and have fun doing it.

Make time to take care of yourself

Admittedly I am horrible at this, so my advice would have to be either do what I say not what I do or enlist friends and family to make you stop and get some time to yourself to retreat and regroup. I have great family and friends who drag me out of it all so I can keep perspective. I remember sometimes when my kids were all younger and life seemed very overwhelming I would put myself in a time out. That's right, realizing that my kids were just being kids not doing anything wrong, I would say to them, "Mommy is overwhelmed I need a time out." I would go take a few minutes where I had some space but could still be aware and hit my own reset button. I have found hobbies and diversions that help me cope, find more patience, more enjoyment, more love, more fun.

And as Dory says, "Just keep swimming!"

Just keep at it. I have hard days, I have times that I think we're not making any progress at all, I lose my temper. However,  I know that if I can just "keep swimming" I will be surprised how far we've come, how much progress we've made and how much fun we've had getting there. Our family is older now, I can look back and see with ease the things that have worked and the things that were disastrous failures. In the end, it is the guiding principles that have made the difference in our home, that have helped us find our own normal and embrace it. I have to say we've covered a whole lot of ocean by just following Dory's advice in Finding Nemo and we've had some great adventures. No doubt we have lots more ocean to cover, certainly some uncharted territory yet to explore, and undoubtedly more amazing adventures as we just keep swimming.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

From Making the Grade to Making the Adjustment to Summer

NO books ~ ALL papers
Summer time ~ In so many ways the end of school is a huge relief. No more racing, pushing, begging, pleading, bargaining to get kids out the door and to school. No more stressing over homework to be done, doing it, or the last and oh so critical step of turning it in which seems to be the hardest sometimes. No more worrying about missed days and make up work or late assignments, social issues with friends or lack of friends to have social issues with. No more banging your head on the nearest hard surface when the school's number pops up on your phone because you know that your over dramatic, anxiety ridden child is once again in the nurses office.

But summer isn't always the get out of jail free card that we would hope it would be.  Summer can bring its own set of issues - change in routines, change in social situations, change in mental stimulus all can lead to their own kind of stress and trouble taking some of the joy and relaxation out of this much awaited vacation time.

We by no means have mastered the ADHD summer but over the years we have come up with some great
ways to cope and counter a lot of the draw backs to summer - I thought I would share some here.

Routine - I have found that my ADHD kids have a strange sort of love hate relationship with routine. I used to think that they hated it altogether. As my continued push towards staying on a routine met their innate ability to forget that we had one at all I was sure that they were routine resistant. I took as evidence their looks of utter surprise when I would remind them what they were doing and what came next, as if we didn't do the same thing everyday.  I used to think that until I changed the morning routine and everyone fell apart, they got mad at me. They were correcting me, telling me what was supposed to be next, and then fell apart at the thought that I had changed it.  I was stunned.

We start our morning the same regardless of where we are, what time of year it is, whether its a holiday, school day or vacation day.  It has added a lot of stability to our house. Your routine may be different - I don't think it is what you do or the order you do it that matters, rather it is the fact that you consistently do the same things in the same order. The fact that it never changes acts like an anchor emotionally giving each day common ground to start off on.  In our house the kids, of all ages, get up, take meds, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, and ready to start the day. 

Structure - we add in some structure to our days not necessarily the same as routine because they aren't as scheduled. But my kids know that during the summer days they are most likely going to do chores in the morning, they will have some time on the computer, they will have time to be creative, to play, to read, and probably watch a show.  These activities aren't scheduled for the most part but they happen regularly almost every day of summer.

Boredom can be the start of much trouble as that brilliant ADHD mind seeks for stimulus to satisfy itself. One thing I have done with my kids is have them make lists of things they like to do, things they find relaxing or fun, stimulating and satisfying, things that won't get them in trouble. When they have some down time and are starting to feel the itch of boredom they can refer to the list for ideas.We use summer to catch up on the things that there is little time for during the school year. Summer is a time we choose to feed our kids creativity with their imaginations we really don't accept the, "I'm Bored," complaint from any of them.  From the time they were little they have known that if they come to me and say I am bored I will give them some ideas of things I know they would enjoy, but if they complain my answer will most likely include a chore - they rarely complain to me that they are bored.

Fun activities or outings - Included in your structure can be small trips or activities you do regularly during the summer. Trips to the park, to the zoo, to visit with friends and family, or book store story times. Even the library, which, for us, is finally not an exercise in late fees, lost books and the fear of landing on the library's most wanted list for us. Knowing that one or two of these activities are going to happen during the week gives something to look forward to and is a great bargaining chip to get chores and other mind numbing activities done.

If plans change - heaven forbid - give as much warning as possible and try to replace it with another activity like reading a story together, playing a game together, something to ease the blow.  ADHD kids have a very hard time when plans change - they set these activities in their minds as markers for the day or week, they become pillars on which they build a sense of stability when those things change its like pulling the foundation out from under them. In offering an alternative activity in a sense you are shoring up their foundation, keeping the world stable. Being understanding to the their experience is the first step in handling it patiently and patience allows you to use the moment to teach. We often tell our kids that we understand what they are feeling, but life is about things changing so it is important to develop strategies to cope with change. Change, ironically is a constant in life.

Maintaining and Building Skills - One of my favorite books is The Out of Sync Child has Fun. It
is packed with fun activities that build skills, focusing on Sensory Processing Disorders. Probably as much as the book helped me better understand what my children may be experiencing and provided so many fun activities to help; it also opened my mind to the idea of making learning new skills fun and exciting.  I am already writing a more in depth post on different fun ways we have found over the years to build and maintain skills during the summer, but here is one example that is happening right now in our house.

One of our daughters, so far this summer, has been working on making and applying latex wounds and special effects make up (decided to leave out the picture of my daughter's gross fake gaping neck wound - though if you want you can see it if you look at the pictures on my twitter @ADHDqueen) as well as sculpting. This is a great example of an activity that  crosses over and serve as both fun and help build or maintain skills.  She has dysgraphia and the use of fine motor skills required to sculpt keeps her hands strong. If you are creative you can find lots of ways to build and maintain skills that don't seem like work.

Social Opportunities - We are kind of our own flash mob.  With so many kids in the house much of our
social skills training comes just from interacting with each other. Though we still try to maintain relationships that have been built during the school year. Having friends over is a great way to do this. Just like I have my kids make lists of what they might want to do and explore during the summer when they have a friend coming over I ask them to come up with some activities that they plan on doing. Having some plans lessens the likelihood of awkward times with friends. We go over the ground rules and social rules before the friend comes over so that they remember things like paying attention to their guests feelings and needs, compromising, and make clear parameters like what time things are beginning and ending. While knowing there is a time that things are going to wind down doesn't prevent them for asking for more time I can always remind them that we agreed ahead of time when things would end.  I try to always give transition time, warnings that social time is going to end so it doesn't end abruptly setting off a meltdown.

We had whirlwind of activity to wrap up the school year with multiple awards assemblies, class parties, and one of our daughters turning 18 and graduating all in the same week. The backpacks are sitting right where they were left on the last day of school. The stress of grades is over. The California High School Exit Exam has been passed (both math and reading). The report cards came in the mail. There are no after school clubs, play practices, or homework. Thank Goodness, everyone has welcomed the shift in activity from over scheduled and pressurized to the calmer more even pace of summer. I for one am not missing the near daily calls from the school nurse. Though I have appreciated her patience and help, I really don't want to know her as well as I do. So far it has been the best transition to summer we have ever had.  One thing that is for certain in an ADHD household is that nothing is for certain - we'll see what tomorrow bring - heaven knows the tide can turn at any moment.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

That's Just Not Normal

Hannah wrote a picture book last year. A beautiful story about being different. A little kid born into a fabulously famous clown family has no inclination towards the family business, the kid just isn't funny in the way that everyone else in the family is. Throughout the story this little clown finds his own place, his own voice, his own way to be fabulous and still be a wonderful important part of his family. Really it was her story, her experience.

I knew something was different about Hannah when she was an infant - she slept like infants are supposed to sleep, ate like they are supposed to eat, played and grew like they were supposed to play and grow.  From the time she was tiny she would sit on my lap, in the swing, car seat, bouncy chair, and quietly watch her older two sisters in complete amusement.  I used to say that Hannah was so easy she was an argument for having a 4th child.

Later when Rachel had been finally diagnosed with ADHD, then their father, my husband Mark, then younger sister Mary, then Mariah I started to panic and took all the rest of the family in for testing. I was afraid I was going to miss something and have another child struggle needlessly without proper help and intervention. Sure enough there was something different about Hannah, she was the only one of our 6 (biological) children that did NOT have ADHD and all the accompanying co-conditions. It was me and her in a sea of ADHD.

It has been a remarkable difference to watch. One night when we had told everyone to get ready for bed and then meet in the living room for family prayer. Mark and I sat on the couch and chuckled as chaos circled around us. We reminded, then we followed up, then followed up again and again. Jaren was swinging from the bars of the top bunk in between the two beds hooting like a monkey. Mary was still dressed in her day clothes with robes on, holding some kind of stick as a scepter, and a crown wanting someone to give her some proper processional music before she would head to the living room, still not ready for bed.  Older sisters Rachel and Mariah were writing and/or drawing, both insisting that they had to finish getting out the idea before it was lost forever. Hunter had a bike helmet on his back using it for a jet pack, Nerf guns in both hands running in circles with sound effects for both the guns and jet pack.  Hannah was sitting quietly on the
couch with us ready for bed, waiting, watching in complete amusement.

By fourth grade a friend of hers made a remark that, much to Hannah's chagrin, has never gone away.  They were playing on the playground and she turned to Hannah and said, "Hannah, you're perfect and that's just not normal." It stuck! We loved it! and still to this day the we tell it to her all the time. She is certainly perfect to us in so many
wonderful individual ways.

Hannah is the uncontested favorite of everyone in the house. One year, after we had carefully drawn secret Santas for our Christmas gift exchange Hannah came to us privately, she was very upset.  As it turned out everyone of her siblings had come to her separately and confided who their person was and asked advice on what to give them.  She knew everyone's secret santa, which took all the fun out of it. We redrew then and every year after that with strict orders NOT to reveal to ANYONE, especially Hannah, who their person was.
It is easy to confide in her. She is calm and listens intently. She is wise in her advice, trustworthy and loving, and above all patient.  In fact, you know you have really crossed the line when Hannah gets upset because she is so patient. She is an anchor in this house.

People frequently ask how we balance her needs and the many needs of our ADHD kids. I think the answer is the same way we handle our ADHD kids. We treat her individually just like we treat them.  Looking to what she needs. We have treated all of our kids with the philosophy that each of us comes to this earth with strengths and weaknesses and our job as parents is to teach our kids how to strengthen and use their talents and conquer their weaknesses. She just has different weaknesses than the rest - she is allergic to bees and walnuts, she has terrible asthma, had to have eye surgery, she is quiet and reserved. While we were trying to get everyone else to control their actions and tone down their presence a bit we were pushing Hannah to be bolder. It has worked, and now as she is getting ready to step into the world as an adult and high school graduate (both events happened this week) she has come up with her own saying, "Why Not Be Bold!" She even wears a little leather bracelet with BB printed on it around her wrist to remind herself to step out of the shadows.

Capitalizing on her strengths has been the easier part. Like the rest of our children Hannah is a creative genius. Her amazing imaginative mind swirls with stories, drawings, characters, the perfect shot to set the perfect emotion sailing across the big screen.  In many ways she is a product of her natural talents and the free spirited talents and imagination of her siblings, which they wear so readily on their sleeve, unable to control or contain it. They like her are learning to find the right balance, each benefiting from the others struggle and experiences. And she is finding the boldness, last year it was applying to go to the California
Summer School for the Arts, getting accepted, and spending a month immersed in the amazing creative environment and learning they provide there. It was what gave her the courage to apply and get accepted to Cornish College of the Arts. It is that experience that will give her the courage to leave home in a couple

months, move to another state, and pursue her dreams.

We will not be the same without her here, she is a great part of the balance in our hearts BUT we will love her from here, support her in all the ways we can, and cheer her on her path as we do the rest of our children, each finding their own way, the way they will make a difference in this world.

Hannah, I know I speak for everyone when I say you are perfect for us and while it may not be normal, especially in our house, we love you and are so proud of who you are and who you are becoming.

Interested in other post about Hannah and her life as our only child without ADHD you might like these...

Studebakers and Bullet Trains

Creativity and ADHD Part I

Creativity and ADHD Part II

The Magical Drawing Fairy is Real

* all art work is the copyrighted property of Hannah Aro

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Do as David Boreanaz Says - NOT as I do

If I thought there was any chance at all that David Boreanaz would actually see it or read it I would send the man a thank you note for his wonderfully insightful commencement address to the students of Ithica College.  He said, what I truly believe, every good parent wants their child to hear, to know, to internalize, and live their life by. He certainly said what I want my children to live by and what I believe in my heart is essential for them to understand as individuals that break the mold of normal, who think differently, who combine limitless energy and creativity with great intelligence in the pursuit of paths that are truly less traveled.

I was introduced to the show Bones not too long ago when my world came to a screeching halt with a long bout of pneumonia. It was my husband and children who encouraged me to watch it. I fell in love with it, in fact it may be the only TV show that I have ever fallen in love with.  Now they tease me because I follow the actors and actresses, the writers, and every bit of news I can find out about it. I became equally interested in the lead actor, David Boreanaz, as I watched interviews etc. because his energy, playfulness, impulsivity, and creativity reminds me of my children. I like finding successful adults who I can see my children's attributes in - it gives me hope that all the work and effort I put into raising mine will one day end well.  I like to see what has contributed to their success and hope to instill those principles into mine while they are still young and learn ways to encourage them as they grow older and struggle in a world that pushes for conformity rather than individuality.

early play
The commencement address given by David Boreanaz is great motivation and direction for young adults and adults; a pep talk before the big game, a reminder of what to seek and how to seek it to get the most out of life. It is also a great playbook of lessons to teach children as they grow up so that those messages are instilled in them from an early age. Whether you have children that are "normal" or kids like mine these messages are important. But when you have kids that march to the beat of their own drum, brake all the molds, and never knew there was even a box to think outside of these messages are critical.

One of the first things Mr Boreanaz laid out in his address was the importance finding your own authentic existence. To me he was saying find and own who you are, at your core. All of us have strengths and weaknesses it is not until we figure them out, until we own them, that we can begin to capitalize on our strengths and conquer our weaknesses.

He says he came by his authentic self through the honest process of play, "I cannot tell you the amount of times I spent and hours and the lives I lived among the gas cans and snow shovels and snow tires playing with those puppets and doing skits with my sisters. I learned early on that playing is so important...remember to play."

still playing
Play comes naturally to our children. In fact, they have played long beyond the age that society says they should and until I was listening to this talk and considering this post I never connected the absolute importance of it.  Next time I am complimented on the creativity, the talent in music and acting, their writing abilities, or what great artist they are and someone asks me how they all ended up so talented I know what to say.  Thank you, they are this way because we have always encouraged them to play.  And when my oldest, who has had such a wrestle with the notion of leaving childhood behind, is frustrated in her search for her path, I will remind her that growing up, when done right, does not mean you can no longer play. In fact, given her talents and desires playing may be the key to her

Play, of course, must be combined with work to add up to progress. And work, the many jobs we hold on the path of life add dimension and experience to who we are.  David Boreanaz talked of the many jobs he held on the path to becoming what he is today and how those jobs worked for him in the end. He spoke of how each of those jobs helped him in his search for his authentic existence.  Some were, "tough...you guys have to work," he advised, "you have to earn it. No one is going to give you anything in this life. You have to earn it."

In a world where everything comes instantly it is hard for this generation to see that between steps A and step Z is a whole alphabet of experience. If we were to skip the experiences we skip all the wonderful stories and character they bring into our lives.

"laughing is essential." says David Boreanaz, "Laugh in your journey, laugh at yourself." I think I might have this one put on a plaque in my living room. Humor is critical to surviving the stresses and trials of life.  It is one thing that has made our family successful and saved us - otherwise the complete amount of chaos in this house would push us all over the mental edge. We have so many contradictory traits clamoring over each other, so much impulsivity, no filters on actions or mouths, people who need quiet and those that want everything loud, emerging social skills (and I use the term loosely) if we could not laugh at our weaknesses we would never have to strength to conquer them.

Get off the couch he advises, "it took an earth quake to get me off that couch." Taking charge of our lives and where we going takes effort and comes with risk and fear. Here, here is where I stumble, personally, and where I got the title for this post.  Mr Boreanaz says, "you see fear is a great motivator. So be uncomfortable, its okay, it gets you off the couch." And where I can say I have worked hard to instill these wonderful messages in my kids, whether I understood there relevance or not. I cannot say that I have been a good example of facing and conquering fear.  While Mr. Boreanaz seems to have a great relationship with fear I fall prey to it. While it is his motivator it is most certainly my captor, I think there might even be some water boarding involved. One of my greatest fears would be that while I tell my kids to take risks and not to let fear stop them they see that my example is just the opposite of my words.

In using the wonderful story Where the Wild Things Are (a family favorite in our house) he comes to a most beautiful conclusion saying, "there are so many malicious beasts at work in the world...the most destructive of all are the monsters born out of our own insecurities, you know them, its the negative messages that we give to ourselves. I can't do this. I'm going to fail. I'm not good enough. Don't listen to them...block them out...you can tame those thoughts. Don't be afraid. Fear blocks faith in yourself. it blocks your ability to love, it blocks out the sun if you let it ... be fearless."

And of course facing your fears brings you full circle to that search for your own self, your own story, the life you build and make and live. He says, "really living is the art of cutting through all the distractions of the day, finding a calm place in your head and your heart and getting to that core of yourself where you are most vulnerable and then own it."

This commencement address seemed perfectly timed.  It seems like for quite a while now we have been in a conversational rut with one of our older children. She tells us how frustrated she is with life and that it isn't progressing towards the end she really wants it to be going.  She points out how all of her friends lives are going places and how they are all doing things. She lists all their accomplishments. She laments that maybe she should take a different path, a more practical path like her friends.  She then sobs, real tears, over the path that she would abandon to be more practical.  I tell her to walk her own path, to recognize that her path
is different and different is good. I tell her to own who she is to not get lost in who other people are or distracted by what they are doing.

And after I listened to this address I said to her, "you HAVE to watch this, this was for you." I wanted her to hear someone else, who has lived a big life, tell her to trust herself, that authentic self that she has tapped into but is afraid to follow and act upon so she can live the big life she knows is inside of her. I wanted her to hear these powerful words that Boreanz spoke, "trust that what you love doing the most is what you're meant to do."  I wanted her to hear, not just listen, but hear him make this simple but beautiful comparison, "the dance floor of life is yours for the taking. Get out there, learn the moves, remember to strap on shoes that fit you, it's very important, not the ones that are perfect for someone else. Your turn on the dance floor, it won't be a minute waltz, more like a dance marathon."

And to her fear and mine he spoke, "You're going to make mistakes. Make them big, make huge mistakes, learn from your mistakes. You're going to get sidetracked, everybody gets sidetracked you might even get cancelled, don't take it personally please just get back out there because you know what, if you make it through season two they just might give you guys a spin off."

ADHD, dyslexia, SPD, dyspraxia, anxiety, OCD, dyscalculia, ODD, ASD depression they are all diagnosis, definitions, and parameters that help me understand the way my children think and how the way they are wired affects their actions.  When I say I wouldn't change those things about them if I could, I mean it.  They are amazing.  They are destined to live big lives and do great things using their unique perspective, their intelligence, creativity, energy, impulsiveness, imagination and more to change the world. Unique creative thinkers require unique and creative parenting. That is my passion, my children. I am certainly a work in progress myself  so for now I will say to my kids, you have to watch this, with the same enthusiasm and excitement  that they told me I had to watch Bones. I will sit them down and say listen to this, this is true and then I will add, "do as David Boreanaz says and I will try to also."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Introducing The Mighty Kubar: Redefining Entertainment

Saying there is a lot of creative energy in our house is like saying there's some corn in the Midwest or cows in Texas, it's a complete and utter understatement.  While other families may have sports or NASCAR we live squarely in the middle of a creative hotspot.  We are constantly looking for ways to channel and use that creative energy in a positive and productive way.

stop-motion with Now & Laters
Why?  It's not just about self preservation.  Okay, admittedly there is an element of self preservation too.  We NEED positive outlets for that extra ADHD/ADD energy.  But, as parents, Mark and I feel strongly that helping our kids find and develop their talents and passions is important to their success as adults.  It becomes even more important when you add ADHD/ADD and it co-occurring conditions into the mix.  We know, from experience, that finding a career that falls within those passions increases the odds of being successful.

the duct tape armor upgrade
We feel so strongly about it that we're willing to walk around the table, camera, and lights that are set up in the middle of the living room to make stop motion movies. We try not to trip over easels, paint jars, and brushes in the kitchen. We laugh as we walk by a ninja scaling the side of the house.  Endure months of frustration from failed attempts at cracking a locked briefcase code (we practically threw a party when he cracked it).  We had no qualms about upgrading cardboard armor to duct tape/ chicken wire armor.  We've even dismissed the nearly constant injuries to the arches of our feet from Legos and toy army men as an acceptable price to pay.

Although at times it may seem hard to see where a healthy obsession may lead in future years as far as careers are concerned we know that it is all part of the process.  Sometimes it's the process of elimination, sorting out the things they thought they would love and found out they didn't.  Sometimes finding a talent that they didn't know they were extraordinary at.  Either way it helps teach them the process of success, setting goals, working hard, overcoming adversity, learning confidence, and resilience.  All of which are very valuable life skills.

Yep, that's my living room
Usually these quests are individual, sometimes a couple of our kids will pair off in the passionate pursuit. This newest endeavor involves our entire family and I tell you we couldn't be more EXCITED about this latest adventure.  So excited we want to share the journey with you.

In our house we have artists, writers, musicians, actors (oh do we have actors, they practice their dramatic skills at home for me, my husband, and their siblings as well as for audiences on the stage). And as a family of film buffs we have worked on both short films and feature film projects from pre-production through production to the completion of post production. It dawned on us that we have, talent wise, everything it takes to write, direct, and produce a web series.  So that is exactly what we've set out to do.

We are excited to introduce The Mighty Kubar.

Kubar is prince and great warrior from another realm. He has been hidden away on Earth by his parents for his own protection from a formidable foe.  They have cleverly placed him where no one will think to look, in the body of a puny high school freshman.  Kubar struggles to accept his new stature and physical limitations as well as trying to function in a world that does not think or act the way he does.  He is quickly befriended by a highly intelligent and eccentric friend, Roswell, who will try and help Kubar come to terms will his own uniqueness.

Roswell and Kubar
People say write what you know.  Well, we know neuro-biological disorders.  You will see in Kubar just what it's like to be completely wired differently than everyone around you.  He will struggle with great intelligence and simple mundane tasks, with sensory issues, with insomnia, social skills, attention, hyper-focus, communication, and more.  My family says the story is written by I.T. Self because it is so easy to turn our real life experiences into Kubar's life that it writes itself.

We are in pre-production right now.  Crazy busy with concept art, story meetings, writing sessions,wardrobe and prop acquisitions, marketing meetings, and scheduling shoots for our first episodes.  We would like to invite you along for the ride.  We're all having a blast.  We will be posting our experiences as we go, as we redefine Family Entertainment.

Follow The Mighty Kubar on twitter @themightykubar and on Facebook at The Mighty Kubar

What passions do you pursue as a family? What passions have your kids found to add balance to their ADHD/ADD or ASD lives?

If you LIKE it, please SHARE it!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Up on My Soapbox: Regarding Adderall Addiction

the following was a response I posted on both Dr. Oz's website and Dr. Kenny Handleman's website regarding pieces done on Adderall Addiction

I may be selfish but stories like these strike fear into my heart.  I have a large family of ADHDers, my husband and 6 of my 7 children. All of them except one take medication for their ADHD, 2 of which are on Adderall products. Those two are by far have the most severe ADHD in our house and have been the hardest to find the right balance of medication for.  Adderall XR has been a godsend for them, for relief from symptoms, for their success in every aspect of their lives, not just educationally.  My fear for them is that abuse and negative press will put at risk the availability of a needed treatment.

My heart goes out to the families whose children are suffering from any sort of addiction. If anyone understands fighting for your children, for their needs, for understanding, for help I would say the ADHD community of parents does. We engage the court of public opinion, school systems, health care professionals (not all of which understand or accept ADHD) and often well meaning but uneducated family members as we push for help, treatment, acceptance, education, understanding, reform.
I worry that those that don't struggle with this disorder daily don't realize what a tenuous walk on the tightrope it is. The court of public opinion is always anxious to negate ADHD as a made up disorder, as bad parenting. There are always discussions about the risks of medication that seem to circle not around facts or case studies but around fear mongering and shock value. This debate, these sensationalized arguments negate the real struggles of people with real ADHD and the value of real treatment in their lives.They sit on either end of the tightrope and shake the wire we are trying so hard to successfully navigate. I felt like Dr. Oz was shaking my rope today as I watched the clips from his show, seeing clearly his concerns about Adderall addiction but not really seeing him make a distinction between those who need and appropriately use the medication and those that abuse it.  My question to him is this: is he willing to do a special on glaucoma where he addresses those who abuse glaucoma medicine in the same manner and title it A Case Against Glaucoma Medicine? Or insulin or any other medication that can and is abused but has real and necessary applications for those who need it, properly use it, and don't abuse it.  I really feel he did a disservice to those who have ADHD and need treatment by fueling the fire.  What about the child who is now not properly medicated because their parents watched that Dr. Oz piece and fear medication is going to turn their child into an addict? What about when that child turns to self medication and ends up committing suicide because they struggle with depression related to ADHD, because they feel ineffective in their life, because they live in a whirlpool of failure, because despite their efforts they don't finish, can't focus, drop out of school,or end up in prison, because they were not under the care of a doctor, getting the help they need, using medication wisely. While there is no doubt that this is an issue that needs to be addressed the manner in which we address it is critical.

I certainly don't want to be guilty of diminishing the experience of those parents of children suffering from an addiction to a medication they don't need and shouldn't have access too.  At the same time I feel protective of a treatment that I have seen work wonderfully when needed, properly accessed, and monitored by our psychiatrist.  It brings out the mother bear, I want to protect and defend the experience of my family members. It makes me want to sit these young people (and adults) down and do a little parenting myself. I want them to understand the risk they are taking not only with their own life but also with the lives of others, those who need the treatment and don't abuse it but run the risk of losing it to a panicked public and reactive uneducated law makers. 

Having said that - I agree with the solutions that were put forth on this by Dr Kenny Handleman and the couple addressed by Dr oz and Dr. Hallowell. I think they indicate the problem areas rather effectively.  Dr. Handleman certainly deals with the issue in a considerably more effective, less inflammatory way. Truth is there is no way to completely eliminate abuse of any substance.  Those that want to sell it and those that want to abuse it will always find a way, but we can make it more difficult. There is no doubt that this is an issue that needs to be addressed - the answer is not to stop medicating those that need it or to make medication out to be the bad guy (creating fear in those facing the decision whether or not to medicate).  The issue that needs to be addressed is how to stop the flow into the hands of those that don't need it and would abuse it. A clear distinction needs to be made. Sensationalism will never solve any problem and in its wake will certainly create as many problems as it attempts to solve. Let's remove the fire from the discussion, approach it in an open and honest manner and actually make strides towards real solutions.

Lisa Aro
The Queen of the Distracted

Monday, January 28, 2013

You've Come a Long Way, Baby - Happy 16th

Oh Mary,

I can't believe that you turned 16 years old today.  My mind is filled with snapshots of all we've been through together.  You have been my greatest adventure, sometimes my greatest trial, always my greatest joy, and watching you continue to overcome the trials you've faced fills me with more pride than you will ever know.

You have taught me so much about parenting and life. How else would I know how to get royal blue fabric paint out of cream carpet. How to identify the sounds and smells of danger from across the house. How to listen to that mother's voice within just in time to catch a child who has decided to make a tightrope out of a bathrobe tie and traverse the distance from the crib to the bunk beds. How to unlock almost any door in record speed to stop you before you got into too much trouble.

You may be the most fearless person I know!

You taught me that while I may be a fearful person at heart, content to hide and operate in my little circle, there are things in this world worth fighting for. You, my dear, are one of them.You, facing your struggles, awoke the mother bear in me. Pushed me to be better, more dedicated, more courageous, persevere, fight both for you and for me.

Without you I would never know the power of a plastic pair of preschool scissors and that they could cut dollar bills into tiny strips or perfect squares out of metal mini blinds. For that matter I would never understand the value of your fierce independence.  Independence that made a little girl "problem solve" by taking those same scissors and cutting a huge strip of hair right off the top of your head to remove a comb that was stuck in it, giving yourself a reverse Mohawk.

I can see now that you needed that fierce independence. I can see now how that quality has served you in facing the litany of learning disabilities that you have had to face. I can see now how it helped you and continues to help you conquer them.

When we were doing the test shots for The Mighty Kubar and you were working the slate, you wrote the 5 backwards - I thought it was so funny when you started talking about all you dys-es.  As if it wasn't enough to have severe ADHD you came with your own special package.  Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, auditory processing, sensory processing, motor processing, wow, what a list and you only see out of one eye. How does this all fit together? It all fits together in you. You are so much more than your disabilities, though I know that sometimes it seems like the struggle to push past them is the only thing you can see.

I almost hugged the school psychologist that did your last set of IEP evaluations.  Why? Because she saw a fraction of what I see.  She started by saying, "Mary is really intelligent, so intelligent that she has come up with incredible measures to compensate for her disorders."  That my dear is the truth.  So intelligent.  More intelligent than you may ever realize despite our repeated efforts to drill it into your head.  But what you have is more than intelligence. Your fierce determination and perseverance, your fixation or obsessions, whatever you want to label it, pushes you. Your intelligence combined with your determination, perseverance, dedication, fueled by that fierce independence makes you nearly unstoppable.

That fierceness has driven you from a place where you couldn't read to a place where you read all the time. You write, draw, paint, film, act, invent, create, dream, anything you want to do, you set your sights on and do it. No learning disability has ever stopped you from pursuing what you want. I love that about you.  I admire that about you.  And when people see you doing all the things your peers do with ease I wish they knew what it took, the monumental effort you make, the hours of speech and OT, and work that you have put into doing what others do with ease. The fact that they don't think twice about it is a compliment to you. You make it look easy, natural, like a skilled ice skater or gymnast who makes it look easy, but has put hours of effort into their skill.

I know some days you wish you were "normal" that all the aspects of life and social skills came easily. We've talked about it. Mary, normal is overrated. You are so much more than normal could ever hope to be. At the end of the day you have a foundation of qualities that will push you past what normal could ever hope or dream of achieving.  I know it because I have seen it in your strong, determined, beautiful blue eyes.

Happy 16th  Birthday!

You've come a long way, Baby! I look forward to the adventure ahead, to watch and enjoy all the places you go, all the dreams you'll reach for, all the goals you'll achieve.