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…
Parenting a child with sensory processing disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, a trauma history, often presents a range of challenges for parents. Helping kids manage transitions, learn emotional self-control, and develop focus requires time, patience, and support.
“A child is not a diagnosis. A child is an individual with his or her own way of organizing experiences. It is important to allow children to teach us about the complex intricacies of their inner world.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz
What is a diagnosis? It is a term that is used to account for a complex set of experiences and behaviors.
Having a diagnosis can be beneficial. It can allow parents to develop patience with the challenging behaviors of children and, increase their patience with themselves. A diagnosis can guide us toward the tools to intervene in beneficial ways. A diagnosis can help you be educated. Maybe you join support groups and help you children as they navigate the world.
Importantly, ADHD does not necessitate pharmaceutical intervention. 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)
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, having a trauma history, 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.”
Remember, a child, like a snowflake, has a unique and irreplaceable presence in the world. No matter what your child’s “symptoms” are, explore what happens when you have an intention to connect with and understand the inner experience of your child.
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. 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 middle school teacher is giving an important lecture in preparation for an upcoming quiz. The 12 year old boy 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.”
Reigning in the creative, impulsive child can sometimes feel impossible. I encourage you to find a balance of curiosity regarding the inner world of your child and accountability towards the outer world that he or she lives in. Often this requires setting predictable routines, being realistic about the amount of time needed for transitions, and providing your child with enough space and time to be creative.
When parents and children feel supported we are better able to access our capacities to handle life’s challenges. Ask yourself, “What does my child need to feel capable and strong?” and “What support do I need as a parent to be the best I can be?” 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.
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 you, a child is not a diagnosis. A child is an individual with his or her own way of organizing experiences. Allow children to teach you about the complex intricacies of their inner worlds.
- 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. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. 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, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.
Image credit: Ernst Vikne Creative Commons