Living with ADHD
Living with ADHD: Area Teen Shares Personal Insight, Advice
For one area teen, living with ADHD is a daily battle–but one she is finally winning. accessHealth was granted permission to tell parts of her story, but was asked not to reveal her name. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call this teen, “Lynn.”
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is clinically defined as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity, or impulsivity, that interferes with functioning or development at school, home or within the community.
Isabelle Sands, EdS, LPC and a program supervisor and therapist for Pathways Community Health’s Community Patient Resource Center Program, sees firsthand ADHD symptoms and behaviors that negatively affect a child’s academic success. “These children have difficulties staying on task, completing most class assignments and paying attention at school and at home–even when it comes to simple requests,” she said. “Most children diagnosed with ADHD retain 20 percent of what a person says and the other 80 percent is gone.” ADHD affects 4 to 20 percent of school-aged children.
A child with ADHD may have difficulty following instructions, listening or paying attention, is forgetful, easily distracted, fidgets, plays loudly, runs and climbs inappropriately, blurts out answers, can’t stay seated, is always on the go and has trouble waiting for his or her turn. The disorder prohibits necessary amounts of chemicals in key areas of the brain responsible for thought. Without these chemicals, the organizing centers of the brain don’t work well.
“Having ADHD feels like one part of your mind is racing, while another part is struggling to keep up,” Lynn said, adding that even after she has “rehearsed” what she wants to say, it still comes out wrong. “I convey the wrong thing without realizing what I said,” she explained. “Having this difficulty with thought often makes me feel unsure of what I say or try to express. I’m often afraid that whatever I say or try to explain makes no sense, [even now]. Sometimes when I am searching for an answer to a question, even something simple, it feels like my mind goes blank and it takes a moment or two for me to put a thought into words. As I speak, my head still chases my thoughts to come up with something that makes sense. This makes articulation difficult.”
Sands said for some parents, this can seem hard to believe. “Some parents view their children as ‘bad’ children who don’t want to listen when, they can only hear 20 percent of what was asked of them,” she said. “I ask parents to reduce the amount of tasks given to the child at one time and to follow up on the first task, before assigning the next.” She adds that some parents simply think they need to be more stern, instead of shortening the task or breaking down the task into smaller steps.
“Before I was diagnosed with ADHD, especially in elementary school, I thought something was wrong with me,” Lynn said. “I didn’t understand why it was so easy for other kids to behave in class, but so difficult for me. I really wanted to do better. Now I know that I didn’t have the right tools to do better on my own.”
Sands recommends that children with ADHD participate in sports or in any gross motor activity. She said as the heart rate lowers, so does the child’s activity level. “I suggest keeping the child moving, like riding bikes, running, jumping or other gross motor activities,” she said.
Some parents have a hard time believing their child has ADHD because he or she can sit and watch cartoons or play video games. Sands explains that these types of activities keep the eyes moving, therefore, stimulate the brain waves which slows the activity level.
Lynn stressed that parents who are in denial about their child having ADHD make it harder to cope with the condition.
“It’s really frustrating when parents don’t understand,” she said. “It’s like they want you to just snap out of it. What they don’t realize is, if you could, you would. You know they love you, but sometimes it feels like they resent you for a problem that you have no idea how to fix. You want to confide in them and ask for help, but you are scared because it’s like they don’t take you seriously. And thanks to the stigma associated with mental illness, you feel like they’ll be disappointed in you if you tell them that you are struggling.”
Medication is the most common treatment for children with ADHD. Sands said there are also “tricks to the trade” to help children academically. “Some children with ADHD are sensory sensitive,” Sands said. “Listening to rhythmic music can help them learn better and stay on task.” Because children with ADHD are easily distracted and feel that other children’s noises are too loud, placing these students in the front near the teacher is sometimes helpful. Sands also recommends using colored place- mats under their books to help the child stay on task, as their eyes don’t stray far from the mat.
Lynn suggests that parents have more patience. “Chances are the child is more frustrated than the parent about forgetting to do what he or she was asked to do, or about not doing well in school,” she said. “Try to remember that what the kid is going through is something out of their control. And don’t let fear of stigma keep you from getting your child treatment.”
Lynn also suggests that parents educate themselves about ADHD. She said it is important for parents to know how the disorder affects brain chemistry. “The more you know about ADHD and how it affects your child, the easier it is to understand symptoms and behaviors like clutter, forgetfulness, agitation, mood swings and difficulties at school.”
Also, Lynn said it is important for parents to understand that for children with ADHD, focus is like a “physical task.” Personally, she said when it comes to instruction, there is always a disconnect, except when she is writing a story, drawing or listening to music.
“The part of my brain that controls creativity seems to be the only part that operates smoothly.
On the other hand, when my mind is racing, it’s hard for me to keep still. I end up pacing to music to calm down.”
Sands said most of the children she has diagnosed with ADHD have been boys, although girls suffer from the condition too. Sands said she has also found that some children who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder may also exhibit symptoms and behaviors of ADHD. This includes lack of concentration, pacing and unable to stay on task. The difference between the two diagnoses is the frequency and duration of the symptoms.
For children dealing with these conditions, Lynn offers this advice: “It’s not your fault and this disorder doesn’t define you. Just because you have to work extra hard to do things, simple things, like read or pay attention, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Your brain just operates a little differently, and although frustrating, it doesn’t mean you are inadequate, weird or unintelligent. The irritability, anxiety and sadness you feel is not how you are supposed to feel, so it is okay to ask for help.”
Lynn, who is 17 years old, said she is managing ADHD with medication, therapy and through her Christian faith. She said the condition has taught her to take care of her physical self, too. This means getting adequate rest, not skipping meals, eating balanced meals and limiting intake of processed foods and refined sugars.
As for advice for children with the condition, she said: “Know what ADHD stands for, the different types of ADHD, how it affects the brain, how it manifests differently in boys than in girls, and how it changes with age. Kidshealth.org and AllAboutADHD.com are two great resources.”