Parenting an ADHD Child: When We Finally Got a Diagnosis

Before I even start this blog post, I want to make sure everyone who reads it knows my intentions. I know in this age of social media and information, it can be easy to assume that sometimes we are sharing too much or too candidly. I’ve struggled over the past three years (since we received Cooper’s diagnosis) with the following questions: should I talk about this? Who should I talk about this with? Is it ok to share this much information about my child? If I do share, will he resent me for it later in his life? How much sharing is too much?

I have spent much time praying over these very questions. I love my child and my family, and I would never want to dishonor him, God, or our family. I very much believe that the struggles we face are at times meant to happen so that we can encourage and help others that walk or will walk in our shoes. I believe God has given me a platform to talk about certain topics, and this is one of them. Jason and I have had many talks about this, and he agrees with and is supportive of me talking about our struggles with parenting.

When I felt certain that this was something both God wanted and my husband was supportive of, I then approached my child, Cooper. He knows that I blog and have social media pages where I discuss my family and our lives. He knows that both his father and I feel that his ADHD and other diagnosis are struggles he is meant to overcome in his life – that these seasons of hard times will lead to a fruitful future. I explained to him my desire to share our daily reality as a family, and in particular the challenges we have faced when dealing with his ADHD. I explained that there are other moms and kids out there that may be in our shoes, and they desperately want to be told they are ok and there are other people just like them in this world. He has given me permission to speak about this. He also knows that if any time in the future he changes his mind, he can tell me and I will stop.

With that said, let’s dive right in…

getting an adhd diagnosis for your child

Is this normal behavior?

Cooper is 8. I begin to be concerned when he was 3. He’s always been a high energy child, and childcare workers have always labeled him “stubborn” and “strong-willed.” He was an only child until he was 4.

Shortly after we moved to Georgia in 2011, I enrolled him in daycare as I was working full time. He initially started in the 2-year-old room, and things went very well. He loved his teachers, he got along well with others, and he even potty trained months ahead of the timeline I had anticipated.

A few months before his third birthday, his teachers mentioned the possibility of moving him into the 3-year-old classroom early. He was in a class with younger children, and they felt developmentally it would be best to make the move. The owner of the daycare was on board, so I agreed. Things began to go downhill shortly after that move.

Every single day thereafter, there was a problem. He didn’t finish his worksheets for the day. He pushed another child. He didn’t sit when he was asked to sit. Honestly, I felt like a lot of that was on his teacher. It was clear to me she and Cooper did not mesh well, and to be fair I didn’t care for her either.

Then I began to be pulled into the owner’s office each day when I could come to pick him up. “He bit someone today.” “He told Miss Susy no.” “He pushed another child.” “He won’t line up with the other children.”

I made many a doctor appointment with his pediatrician, asking for discipline advice. How can I fix this? Our pediatrician suggested his actions were age appropriate and that while I should discipline him when he disobeyed, I should also give him grace for doing what a 3-year-old tends to do.

Eventually, I saw the writing on the wall and began to look at other childcare options. The day I signed the paperwork for another daycare, the owner of his current daycare suggested a meeting and ever so politely kicked my child out. “He is hard to manage,” he said. “Our resources are needed elsewhere,” he said. “Maybe you should look into parenting classes. These things tend to start at home,” he said.

Yep, that last one was WAY over the line.

At this point I began to wonder – was this my parenting? What was I doing wrong? My child didn’t bite at home. He wasn’t overly disobedient. He didn’t push or refuse to share or anything else I felt wasn’t normal 3-year-old behavior.

For the next 5 months, he attended another daycare. They reported no problems, and things were going well at home.

Maybe he’s just transitioning.

In August of 2013, I was 9 months pregnant with my second child and was placed on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy. My husband and I decided I would quit my job after my maternity leave and stay at home with my two children. I removed Cooper from full-time daycare and enrolled him in a church Mother’s Day Out program. Beginning in September, he would attend preschool 3 days a week from 9:00 – 1:00.

I had Sullivan in September, and his birth directly coincided with Cooper’s first days of preschool. We all struggled to adjust to me being home full time, a new baby, preschool, and all the other chaos a new birth brings.

His teachers began to tell me of their concerns. He didn’t like to share. He was disruptive. He would stand when others were sitting and sit when others were standing.

The director of the preschool pulled me in numerous time to talk to me. She used the word “strong-willed”. She gave me parenting books to read, resources, encouragement, and support. I would sit in her office and cry, clutching my newborn, wondering what I was doing wrong.

Then Cooper started to bite his classmates. They had a no tolerance policy for biting (which I understand!) and he ended up missing the entire month of December as his break from preschool. Despondent, I decided to just pull him out of the preschool, but the Director called me and suggested bumping him down to 2 days a week and moving him to a new classroom. We tried that change, and he did well. We didn’t have any more episodes of biting and he loved his teacher.

We start to notice problems in his interactions with his peers.

As a new stay at home mom with a newborn, I began to seek out interaction for myself and my children. I joined a Mom’s Club and met a bunch of different moms with children around my son’s age.

It was around this time that I really started to notice Cooper’s hyperactivity. He was what everyone else would describe as “wild.” He was always high energy: whirling in circles, running, yelling, in a rush to play and get things done.

I started to really watch how he interacted with his friends and what I saw scared me. He loved to play with other children, but often his “wild” nature would be overwhelming for other kids. I would see them drift away to play with others or in some cases, they would tell him he needed to be quiet or calm down.

A turning point came for me when I was speaking with a friend about some of my concerns about Cooper. I told her that I worried about his interactions with other kids and that it hurt me to see him be shunned or to have other children not want to play with him. “Yeah,” she said, “my husband doesn’t want {her child} to play with Cooper because he’s too wild.”

That was hard. That was incredibly hard. For me, it was this realization that other people did see my child differently, and that left untreated this could become a bigger problem that would lead to isolation and a lack of friendships in the future.

Houses, we have a problem.

Jason and I made the decision to withdraw him from preschool and have him stay at home with me during his 4K year. He had not done well, it seemed, in 3K and I thought I would try loosely homeschooling and see if that made a difference.

It did not. I had already come to terms with his hyperactivity, but it was at this point that I started to realize that he was not retaining information. We would spend a solid hour a day working on letters: tracing, writing, phonics, etc and that afternoon I would review and he wouldn’t recognize the letter we had worked on all morning. I would spend a full week on a single letter, finally feeling as if I was making progress, only to find out that after a weekend he had no recollection of what we worked on the week prior.

I feel like I was constantly at his pediatrician’s office during this time. “Is this a sick visit?” the receptionist would ask. “No, I just want to talk about his behavior.” During his 4-year-old well check his doctor introduced the idea of ADHD and I resisted it hard. In later visits, he continually urged me to do my own research, look into testing, and consider medication. No, nope, never going to happen.

His 5 year well check came and Cooper was formally diagnosed with ADHD. I still refused to even entertain the idea of medication. “Think about it,” my pediatrician urged. His own son is diagnosed with ADHD, he medicates his child, and I knew his advice did not just come from a medical standpoint but a parenting standpoint. The next few weeks after his appointment was some of the worst we’ve ever experienced behavior wise. He was defiant, his energy levels were through the roof, he refused to do school work, he wasn’t sleeping, and I was ending each day crying because I just wanted what was best for my child and I didn’t know how to give that to him. I finally, in complete desperation, agreed to try medication.

The change in my child was staggering.

Medication was an answer (for us).

I don’t want to mislead you about medication. It is not for everyone. I fully believe some children can live their lives, function, and do well without medication. But others cannot, and my child is one of those others. We can’t do medication breaks. We can’t skip dosages. Medication allows him to live his best life. Cooper 100% agrees with this and will tell you he WANTS to take his medication because in his words “my head is finally quiet.”

Cooper was 5 when we started medication (this is young – but he is an extreme case). He was not yet in school. We started medication in February 2015 and he started school that August. However, one of the biggest “this was the right thing” signs I ever received was Legos. Yes – Legos.

Cooper is obsessed with Legos. That Christmas he had asked for and received tons of Lego sets. He would sit and try to put the sets together, only to give up after a few minutes, often throwing the blocks and crying in frustration because he couldn’t make sense of the directions. Even when he would play creatively, not following instructions, he would give up and move on to something else within minutes.

The day we started medication, he sat down and played with his Legos for 2 hours. He put together several sets following the instructions. He even made a few creations of his own. I can remember that day vividly not because of his accomplishment, but because that was one of the first times he had ever approached me in pure pride of what he had been able to do.

“Mom! Look what I did! I like this medicine! I can put together awesome sets!”

That day we sat down and I reviewed a bunch of letters with him – tracing, writing, phonics – things in the past he had never been able to recall. And he pushed my hand away from the paper and wrote each and every letter on his own, without prompting or instruction because HE REMEMBERED.

That was a day of extreme highs and lows for me as a mother. I can remember sitting outside of his room at the end of the night, weeping, because I was so very proud of my child – and ashamed of myself that I had for so long denied his ADHD and refused to accept medication to treat it.

What were the warning signs of ADHD?

These are warning signs FOR MY CHILD. These are not signs of ADHD across the board. There are different types of ADHD and different signs or symptoms. These were things I noticed that stood out as red flags to me:

  • “Wild” or hyperactivity: I describe this to people as spinning around like a top, because that’s very much Cooper when he’s unmedicated. He will careen around the house, bumping into things, windmilling his arms, exaggerating his moments and voice
  • Yelling: when speaking, he is very loud even in situations where a quieter tone of voice is called for
  • Getting easily frustrated, and overreacting to his frustrations
  • Being overly emotional: meltdowns during times where they were not warranted
  • Impulsive: having a thought or desire and immediately acting upon it, even if he knew it was not right or he would get into trouble
  • When he was younger: biting, pushing, refusing to share
  • Extreme defiance or disobedience
  • Not retaining information
  • Not being able to remember things he just did or said: An example is when I would pick him up from Sunday School and ask what they talked about, he would not be able to tell me.
  • Not progressing or failing academically or developmentally

I’ve been so lucky to have found both a pediatrician and a psychologist who understand, work with, and are supportive of ADHD. I encourage to your seek those relationships out. If you feel your child has ADHD, please find a doctor that has knowledge of ADHD. If you ever go to a doctor that refuses to even discuss treatment options (including mediation – and medication IS NOT ALWAYS the answer) find a new doctor that will support you.

As always, friends, I am here for you if you are going through something similar. I remember all too well those early days of diagnosis and being desperate to get advice from another mom who had been there. I think there are three camps of people: the “let’s not talk about it” (as if it is shameful), the “boys are just wild naturally”, or those that understand that ADHD is a serious problem that can really negatively affect your life and future. I greatly encourage you to do research regarding the risks of untreated ADHD – left untreated, kids who have ADHD are likely to turn to self-harm or suicide in their future. Moms, let’s not let our children be those kids. Our kids are TREASURES – they are unique and special and they have amazing futures in store for them. I’m here for you as you walk the path towards that future.