Last week I wrote about the increasingly common challenge of dealing with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and one of the biggest factors in helping a child or teen that may not normally be much of a part of the conversation. As more and more of us have someone in our world who is working to understand and manage the unique aspects of ADHD, it is equally important to be aware of one of the main dangers often faced. Parents especially can fall into a trap that can present a serious limitation on the degree to which they can support their child or teenager, and ultimately lead to continually increasing levels of frustration and discouragement for those in the family, as well as in the classroom.
Let me get right to the point: in more than a decade of working with children and youth of all ages, several hundred of whom either had formally diagnosed ADHD or were displaying very similar symptoms, there continued to be a disproportionate amount of attention paid to the actual diagnosis of ADHD being made, and finding some quick “one-size-fits-all” tips and strategies for kids. The reason this is disproportionate in my view is not because diagnosis is unimportant or that parents’ and teachers’ efforts are futile, but rather because there can be acceptance that we are powerless to work through the challenges of ADHD in an effective way. In other words, if my son is diagnosed with it, then why would I put great effort into helping encourage his number and quality of social connections, participate in school efforts to modify assignments when needed, while supporting him with healthy boundaries and authentic connection at home? Isn’t his ability to thrive now out of our control?
We live in an increasingly busy world, and most of us have more items on our agenda for the day than we realistically have time to complete in a matter of a few hours. It is a natural human tendency to want to optimize our day by spending more time on actions we feel are effective and likely to have a noticeable payoff. As such, there is a puzzling phenomenon where it can be easy to tell ourselves that because an ADHD diagnosis has been made, there must therefore be a genetic or physiological cause for it, and we are therefore nearly powerless to create any meaningful change. Our efforts to learn more about its challenges and how we can best help can be completely short-circuited at this point, while frustration and resentment often start to grow like weeds as a result.
The reality, and this is good news, is there is a whole lot we can (and should!) do to help those dealing with the challenges posed by ADHD. Part of the effort involves accessing information that is easily available, such as this useful primer and action plan from Interior Health. To go one step further, there are several opportunities for coaching and counseling in the Kelowna area that can help us to understand how to meet the needs of children and teens with ADHD on a deeper level, which can be found with a simple search online. These can all be accessed simply and often inexpensively, with one important caveat: parents and those working with children must be active and healthy supports in the process, with a minimal degree of “let the professionals fix my kid”.
It is not uncommon to hear a frustrated parent remark on how difficult it has been to deal with their child, and then follow up with a form of this question: “Do you think it might be because of his ADHD?” At this point I usually like to help that parent take a step back and examine the larger life picture they are experiencing, including their own struggles and stresses they are going through. As occurred with a mom I worked with very recently, she needed to make the connection between the separation she was currently in the middle of, and the effects both direct and indirect this could have on her children, even very young ones. Once this had occurred, she was able to see that while ADHD might be an ever-present factor for one of her boys, there was also much she could control, such as structured home environment and meaningful connection between each child and their mother, and this could absolutely help their ability to deal with a changing reality on the homefront.
When dealing with children who have, or seem to have ADHD, always remember that you don’t have to be a professional to make a big difference in supporting them. Taking a realistic look at home stressors, understanding how your own emotions affect everyone in the home, and taking positive steps forward can all be essential pieces in everyone being able to enjoy life, and nurture the meaningful connections that are so vital to healthy functioning.