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Living with ADHD

Posted by Val Fox on April 1, 2012 at 6:40 PM

  I first learned about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ( ADHD) while providing services for a Calgary agency that worked with youth from across Canada.  These kids came into treatment with a myriad of diagnoses, many of them coupled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  

They were the kids who couldn't sit still. Many had difficulty staying focused in school, fidgeted and disrupted the focus of others.  Most were impulsive and hyper-sensitive to stimulating environments. They could also be intelligent, compassionate and creative.

 I learned later that children with ADHD are not always hyperactive.  The acronym has come to be an umbrella term that describes a variation of symptoms from chronic daydreaming to severe hyperactivity plus additional symptoms resulting from the frustration of dealing with the daily stress of feeling overwhelmed (example: depression)

For those readers seeking more clinical information about ADHD, there is a huge amount of material in libraries and on the internet that can answer questions from a medical and research perspective.  My experience has been with the day-to-day challenges of working with youth who often suffer and do not understand why they do what they do. I always encourage others to seek medical direction beginning with their family physician.

On the morning of September 11, 2011 the world watched in horror as two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.  The kids and I were preparing for school.  There were scrambled eggs thrown on the kitchen walls and two of my little sweethearts fought over who would get the last orange.  

Stop a minute, I cried.  Look at this.  I wondered if I was watching a Hollywood movie until I heard the newscaster's voice and saw the first tower fall in a massive cloud of dust and debris.  There were still people in there, I said.  But no one heard me.  One teenaged girl pounded holes in the walls with her fists, screamed I hate it here! before she ran out of the house, slamming the door.  The morning was typically chaotic and noisy as three teenagers with ADHD struggled to get organized.  A fourth child just sat and stared at the coat closet, wondering what he was supposed to be doing.  And the day was still young.

Later that week I'd get a call from a teacher reporting that one of the kids had been injured after jumping off the roof at school.   A second call came in after lunch asking for support as another youth refused to comply and was disrupting the entire classroom.  Nothing the teachers tried had settled this young man so I was asked to come and help or to take him home for the day.  As was often the case, the third child was extra well-behaved for the remainder of that day, and talked about it non-stop during supper.  The fourth trashed his room after receiving a call from his parents.



The usual treatment for many of these children involves giving them medications designed to help them focus, to help improve function and performance.  As each child is different, physicians must supervise and assess, trying different medications until they find the one that works for a particular child.  Stimulants have been successful at helping with many symptoms but they can also have side effects such as weight loss.  

Other treatments include teaching behavior managment methods (working outside the classroom), counselling, teaching organization and how to complete a task.  School involvment helps but not all teachers are able to provide the time and attention these kids require.  And if they haven't been properly diagnosed, then they aren't flagged at school for special help.  It can be challenging for both the ADHD kids and family members.

After working the front lines with many ADHD children I've come to depend on a few strategies that can help everyone get through the days with less noise, less frustration and more laughter.  My goals are to promote safety, coach the most important skills needed for each child, and to search for ways to help each child experience increased success.  Some methods have worked better than others.  But after 16 years and more than 100 kids, these are the ones I've come to use the most.

- Provide clear rules and consequences.  Review them often.  Post them for all to see.

- Re-direct the child's focus on something pleasant such as music and dance.

- Provide a structured environment where kids learn what to expect and when.

- Slow transitions work best.  Give them time to adjust their mindset to a pending change rather than springing change on the child (in 10 minutes you will need to turn the television off...TV off in three minutes...okay, one minute left.)

- I choose my battles carefully, focusing on safety issues first, letting go of many smaller issues that they probably won't remember anyway.

- Pay attention to what triggers each child - and what they love to do.  Use this information wisely.  Knowing ahead what triggers a child can          prevent setting the child up to "fail."  e.g.  I avoid large, noisy crowds with lots of kids running around, as this environment is overstimulating.

- Use fewer words.  I used to talk too much, losing the message in too many words.  Fewer is better and easier for many kids to understand.

- When feeling frustrated I change my own thoughts about the situation.  Re-framing events helps control emotional reactions.  Use this technique for yourself and for the kids.    e.g. Why does she lie to me every day?      Re-frame: Her lies are not about me.  She believes lies will help her avoid trouble with others.  I'll show her some ways that work better and accept it may take longer for her to remember.

- Take regular respite, even if you don't think you need it.  Burn out can creep up before you realize it's happening.

- I like to use a communication notebook to talk daily with teachers.  It helps when the adults are all on the same page, knowing what's occuring at home and at school.

- Teach protocols, especially around safety.  I drill them over and over (in a casual manner but repeatedly) so that children have an idea ahead of time about what they can do (if the door is locked, if they encounter a bully on the walk home etc..)

- I like to involve the kids in planning trips and events so they can learn over time what the steps are and what they need to remember.  A couple of years we planned large yard sales.  We all worked together at: sorting, displaying, pricing and helping customers.  We've also involved the kids in planning trips - what to bring, how far to go, how to get a camping spot etc.

- I encourage lots of fresh air and exercise, and limit TV time to no more than two hours a day.

- Using Brain Gym movements helps kids clear their minds and prepare to focus.  Look up Brain Gym on the internet to learn more.

- Have safety plans already in place for high-risk situations, so the child can have a better chance of feeling safe and empowered.  e.g.  If a teen finds it difficult to resist temptation to steal a car, devise a plan with the youth, as to what he could do first before succumbing.  This can help, depending on the youth's willingness to try.  OR   What can the child do if a family visit starts to get uncomfortable.

- I pay attention to diet, noting what they eat so perhaps I can trace hyperactivity back to a certain food.  Some people advocate a gluten-free, sugar-free or additive-free diet.  Research has not supported the belief around sugar but there does appear to be a link to hyperactivity and food additives and artificial colors.

- My goal each day is to give the kids seven positive, encouraging messages for every one criticism or correction.

- Celebrating success is cruicial for developing a healthy self esteem in any child, but especially in children with disabilities or other challenges.  We give acknowledgment and praise (within reason) and have gone out to celebrate milestones, however small with an ice cream cone, a trip to the beach or having our young person choose his own celebration.

If you find yourself dealing with a child with challenges such as ADHD, remember you are not alone.  Seek support, any services that are available in your area and check often with a pediatrician.  There is a lot of valuable experience out there through clinicians, foster parents, on the internet and members of support groups.  Reach out to others and take care of yourselves too.

For anyone interested, the following link provides information on the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.  Tomorrow's blog will have something to do with the letter B.  Bye for now.

tags: atozchallenge, atozblogging, blogging challenge, blog hop


Categories: Children As Teachers

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Reply Val Fox
7:44 AM on April 2, 2012 
Thanks for your helpful comment. After some checking I learned that I cannot disable the word verification on this site. I may just have to move my blog or start a new one somewhere else. Do you have any suggestions?
Reply sidne
1:52 AM on April 2, 2012 
thanks for this wonderful post. I enjoyed the knowledge provided.
the word verifying is suppose to be off for the duration of the challenge. it really slows people down that is trying to write comments and move to the next one. some folks with skip if on.


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This is the personal website of writer Val Fox from Alberta, Canada: soon-to-be published author; freelance writer/editor; ghost writer; animal and child advocate; amateur photographer and avid camper.  Welcome!


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