The Journey Continues
A school day morning, and we need to get out the door. “Please get dressed,” dad says. When he doesn’t come downstairs I go up to find him sitting on his floor, in his pajamas, playing with Legos. “Please get dressed,” I repeat but now I hear the sound of his ukulele coming from his room. He explains to me how he is making up a new song for his sister and can he please play it for me, right now! After a third reminder he comes downstairs for breakfast mostly dressed, somewhat disheveled, and without socks and shoes. After breakfast the routine is to brush teeth and hair and “don’t forget to please get your socks and shoes on!” I should know better than to request more than one action at a time during the morning routine…
My 9-year-old son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at the age of 3 and dyslexiaat 6. While ADHD has been suggested on numerous occasions, I have held the diagnosis at arm’s length for the last several years. In part, because of the common assumption that ADHD requires medication.
“I remind myself, a child is not a diagnosis. A child is an individual with his or her own way of organizing experiences. My goal, as a parent and as a professional who works with children, is to allow children to teach me about the complex intricacies of their inner world.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz
I am adjusting my stance towards ADHD and am getting honest with myself regarding my son’s behaviors, his testing results and self-reported challenges, the school’s feedback, and our parenting frustrations. I recognize that ADHD does not necessitate pharmaceutical intervention and I am allowing myself to hear the pros and cons regarding medication as well as other therapeutic interventions. When I turn towards the research, I see statistics as high as 10% of all school age children are diagnosed with ADHD and 40% of children already diagnosed with sensory processing disorder will also have ADHD.(Read more here)
I recall my initial fears when my son was diagnosed with dyslexia. I felt as though I was looking into a vast black hole of his future–will he ever learn to read, love to read, will learning always be this hard. Yet the diagnosis of dyslexia has been indescribably helpful in facilitating understanding of our son’s experiences and behaviors. This gives us more patience with these behaviors and more patience with ourselves. Likewise, when both of my children were diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder the diagnosis directed us toward the tools to intervene in beneficial ways. I have educated myself, joined support groups, and strived to become an advocate and supporter of my children as they navigate the world.
I am letting down my defensive momma bear position against ADHD. I am beginning to see the benefits of turning towards the diagnosis as a good enough description for a complex set of experiences and behaviors.
Like a snowflake
The three main symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. However, each child’s expression of these symptoms can vary greatly and this can be further complicated because ADHD often accompanies other diagnoses such as Sensory Processing Disorder, anxiety, dyslexia, and autism spectrum disorders. Often, teasing apart a child’s cluster of symptoms and choosing appropriate treatments requires careful diagnostic attention.
When my son was 5-years-old we took what would normally be a 10 minute walk to our local recreation center. However, the pavement was glistening in the sunlight so he stopped to notice each sparkling piece of the concrete. Then the sound of the train in the distance took his full attention, requiring a complete stop. And there was the discovery of the texture of the fence with this hand, and…luckily we were not on a tight schedule.
No matter what the “symptoms”, the intention is to connect with and understand the inner experience of a child who, like a snowflake, has a unique and irreplaceable presence in the world.
Filters, creativity, and impulsivity
Navigating the world around us requires that we naturally filter and narrow our perceptual field. We are constantly challenged to discriminate what is important to pay attention to. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and/or ADHD often have difficulty with this filtering process. Like an artist, this child approaches the world as an open canvas with an endless palette of colors. These children have difficulty controlling their initial response to a situation and tend to act before they think about the consequences of their actions–classical impulsivity. When unscheduled or unrestricted this broad field of attention can be extraordinary.
When my son was 6 we participated in a summer reading program and I read an abridged version of Moby Dick. At the end of the summer we went to the library and each child was asked to share their favorite book . One by one, the children responded to the librarian by giving succinct overarching summaries of their books. When it was my son’s turn he began to tell the entire story, detail by detail as if he were seeing each of the pictures in his mind. I smiled at the patient librarian and said, “How much time do you have?”
In daily living, this endless palette makes it difficult to navigate school or household routines. Here is what this might look like in the classroom:
The teacher is giving an important lecture in preparation for an upcoming quiz. He knows it is important to take good notes. However, the sounds of the other children rustling, the movement of his pencil on the paper, and the light flickering in the corner of the room are all competing for his attention. He turns his attention back to the lecture and starts to write but feels an itch on his leg and begins to scratch. This reminds him of the camping trip he took last weekend and the mosquitoes. He looks up at the teacher who gives him a stern look and starts writing again. That evening he looks at his notes to study for tomorrow’s quiz. It doesn’t add up, there is so much that he missed.
My husband and I have long remarked that our son functions best without time constraints; but that is not the world we live in. Reigning in the creative, impulsive child can sometimes feel impossible.
When parents and children feel supported we are better able to access our capacities to handle life’s challenges. I ask myself, “What does my son need to feel capable and strong?” and “What do I need as his parent to best support him?” When we are communicating well and feel connected to each other I trust in our capacity to handle what lies ahead. Parenting a child with ADHD involves patience and respect. My task as a mother is to find a balance of curiosity regarding his inner world and accountability towards the outer world he lives in. Diagnoses can help us as parents to take on a larger understand the inner workings of a child and stop blaming ourselves. Where diagnoses fail is in their inability to capture the inventive, creative, and resourceful traits of a person. I remind myself, a child is not a diagnosis. A child is an individual with his or her own way of organizing experiences. My goal, as a parent and as a professional who works with children, is to allow children to teach me about the complex intricacies of their inner world.
- Parenting a child with Dyslexia
- Parenting a child with Sensory Processing Disorder
- Raising the Highly Sensitive Child
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook or sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all my posts.
Image credit: Ernst Vikne Creative Commons