Queen of the Distracted

Imagine life in a house with 6 kids - now imagine if 5 of those kids and their father have ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - that is our house! Welcome to an inside view of my life and our home dominated by ADHD... THERE IS NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls!"

Those were our oldest daughter Rachel's first words, from the time she was a toddler she would belt them out proudly standing on the arm of the couch. At the time we had no idea what ADHD was or that it would play such a central roll in our lives.

Since then we have learned a lot, not the least of which is how many individuals and families suffer in silence. We have experienced first hand how misunderstood and misrepresented a disorder can be.

As a family we decided to take action - to risk embarrassment and labeling to get this important message out to the world. Come join our family, share in our lives, and see ADD/ADHD as we see it...
A gift with a heavy price tag.

WELCOME to life in the ADD/ADHD House!

Wednesday, 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