First there was the biting and other impulsive behavior. Then there was the irritability and defiance. By the time my son was in elementary school, we realized what we thought was normal boy behavior probably wasn't. School work that should have taken a few minutes at most, sometimes wasn't done after an hour or more of crying. By second grade, we had the diagnosis: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Finally, a diagnosis to work with and a list of treatment options outlined like an a la carte menu. My husband and I selected what we thought we could afford. We were on our way with a plan in a nicely wrapped package. A lot of kids have ADHD so this shouldn't be a huge challenge, I thought.
I really had no idea how wrong I was. It's actually a time-consuming, stressful challenge we struggle with daily and one that affects our entire family. We are all on a journey together whether we like it or not.
Before we had a name, this is what my husband and I heard: He's just a boy. We need to have more structure. He's manipulating us. He's tired. He's just cranky.
He didn't always bounce off the walls with the stereotypical energy people often joke about. He struggles with focus, impulse control and emotional regulation. ADHD is no joke.
ADHD isn't because of bad parenting. It isn't about boys being boys, and it isn't limited to boys. Girls have it too and so do many adults. Fifteen million people in the United States have ADHD, according to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, (CHADD) a membership organization that provides education, advocacy and support.
The name ADHD doesn't quite capture it, as my husband and I continue to learn. Russell Barkley, Ph.D., is a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, says ADHD is about "deficits in inhibition, sustained attention and behavior regulation." And it often comes with tag-along disorders too, like depression and anxiety, which make it even harder to diagnose. I didn't realize this because so many kids have ADHD.
It took years of filling out questionnaires, talking to teachers and pushing on doctors. Our final push for an answer was in 2013, when we ended up spending several hundreds of dollars with a private counseling practice for intensive testing. We did this because our son was falling behind in reading and it was affecting all of his learning. It was also causing problems at home, especially around meal time. Hypersensitivity to tastes, smells, sounds and textures can be part of the package.
We've been trying medications, therapy and neurofeedback and are still searching for the right treatment. What we have been through over the last six years to get to this point makes me wonder how other parents with fewer resources can tackle this same situation. My son in another situation could easily fall through the cracks and face a grim future. Here are some thoughts for those starting their own ADHD journeys that might save some time and money:
1. Your child needs your acceptance and help, not excuses.
Your son isn't just acting like a boy. Your daughter isn't just a daydreamer. ADHD is not something your child can control–right now. Just as your child might have to learn how to manage allergies or diabetes, he has to learn how to manage ADHD. You have to help.
2. Talk to your pediatrician.
It doesn't take a specialist to diagnose ADHD. Your pediatrician can do it with enough information from questionnaires filled out by you, teachers and caregivers, in addition to talking to your child.
3. Check your insurance policy.
Health insurance coverage of ADHD diagnosis and treatments are inconsistent. You may be eligible for some coverage even if you submit the claim yourself. The Affordable Care Act covers behavioral assessments and some treatments.
4. Communicate with the teacher.
Communication can't wait until official parent-teacher conferences. Teachers are busy, but they appreciate knowing they can partner with a parent. The same is true for other faculty members. They are your eyes and ears on the ground and part of your support system.
5. Request a school evaluation.
Write a formal letter to your school principal requesting an evaluation of your child. Your child may be eligible for a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantees full access to public education. IEPs are covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and require schools to create an individual learning plan for children receiving special education services.
6. Use the school guidance office.
Our school periodically offers small group sessions for children to focus on social skills, anger management and other behaviors. Ask your school guidance counselor if your school offers something similar.
7. Be pushy and persistent.
Be pushy if a teacher tells you one thing and your gut tells you something else. Maybe an IEP isn't the solution but a 504 is.
8. Request a teacher.
Write a letter to your principal outlining your child's challenges and request your child be placed with a teacher who is experienced with ADHD children.
9. Be patient and empathize.
Yelling only makes things worse. Connect with your child and let her know you hear what she's saying so she knows you are her ally.
10. Contact CHADD.
It has a number of helpful online resources at on its website and also offers support groups for parents. It's really comforting to know there are other parents out there struggling and who can expand your network of resources. Another really helpful resource is Lives in the Balance, which was founded by Ross Greene, Ph.D, and associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Tech, and focuses on the best ways to help behaviorally challenging kids.
If you're a parent with ADHD who is raising a child with ADHD, check out these tips.