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Mom to Live By: Debbie Phelps

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He has focus, discipline, and drive. He has 14 Olympic Gold medals. And he has ADHD. His mom, Debbie talked to us about how she discovered his condition and then helped him overcome it.

When did Michael start showing signs of ADHD?
At age 9, his teachers started saying things like 'He can't sit still,' 'He's always hurrying,' and 'He won't slow down.' The way I looked at it, he was just an energetic little guy. It took a lot of people noticing and saying something to me.

What did you do first?
My first thought was 'It's just the teacher!' Was I in denial? Maybe. I just thought his brain was going faster, and his hand maybe wasn't getting done what needed to get done. But his teachers were all saying 'We need to slow Michael down.' I took him to the pediatrician, read any resources I could get my hands on. All of Michael's teachers assessed his needs. In classes like phys ed, music, and art, where it was more hands-on and he had more freedom, he was fine. It was when he had to be contained to read or do math that he had a hard time.

How did you talk to him about this? Did he feel ashamed or different than the other kids?
I would ask him 'What is not allowing you to finish? Why are you writing so quickly and not thoroughly?' He would say 'Well, I got the work done, Mom.' He would tell me that his teacher was boring, that he couldn't sit still or listen. He really didn't like going to the nurse for his medication. When he was eleven, he told his doctor "I don't want to take this medicine anymore, I don't need this." I thought it was very mature.

How should parents talk to teachers?
Talk to the teachers as much as you can. If there is something wrong, there should be an open dialogue. If I wasn't satisfied with Michael's work, I would tear up his paper. His teachers were shocked. But it was done too quickly. He needed someone to teach him how to make his work better and more thorough.

What if teachers aren't doing enough or being too helpful?
There are lots of ADHD resources out there—parents need to use them. I'm so glad McNeil Pediatrics launched this Facebook Group because parents can access information in their own homes with absolutely no pressure. I encourage people to access it and think: Does this apply to me? What am I going to do about it?