The presence of ADHD exacerbates a roller coaster of emotions for both their parents and the children themselves. Especially when the pressure’s really on.
In the same way as when you parent a child who doesn’t have the condition, you never know as the parent of an ADHD child if you’re doing the right thing. But when you’re dealing with mental health issues, the risks of screwing these kids up are even more scary.
It’s one thing to understand your child’s difficulties – such as their problems regulating emotions, their impulsivity and poor executive functioning – but it’s another thing to be able to recognize where these difficulties come into play in their day-to-day life, and how far you can push them.
No one is the perfect parent. We’re only human.
During the past three weeks of exams, Kurt has been stretched to his emotional limits. And so have I. Each time I’ve caught myself nagging him to revise and been ignored, shouted at or when he’s stormed out of the apartment to vent his anger in some other dubious activity, I’ve tried to remember that this time last year we didn’t think he would even still be at school. So we’re doing well.
I know lots of ADHD kids that have dropped out of the education system well before Kurt’s age.
And I’m not perfect… and all of us parents are guilty of striving for the best for our children. Society tells us that our kids need their HSC. The difficulty with a children with ADHD lies in knowing what our children’s ‘best’ is and accepting that it won’t necessarily be the same as ours.
Every adult that meets Kurt comments upon how bright my boy is. For some reason, there seems to be this general assumption that all ADHD kids are stupid because they are often the class clown or because their behaviour is poor in class; whereas in fact, the opposite is often true. ADHD kids often socialise better with people from different age groups and my boy has always been able to perform on demand. And it’s not all show – talk to him about any one of his passions and he’ll discuss the topic with the same intelligence as an adult three times his age.
It’s persuading these kids to do things they don’t want to do or that they find difficult, that’s the problem.
And it’s not just ‘difficult’, in the normal sense of how a kid might react to doing something they don’t want to do, like a tantrum or an argument. No, it’s hard in the sense that they will refuse outright and nothing will change their mind. Or in the sense that if they feel too overwhelmed by your demands, they won’t just shout at you or go off and sulk – they might self-harm, threaten suicide or leave home, because ADHD has co-morbidities such as depression and Bi-Polar Disorder.
Kurt is happy for the first time in his life at his current school. But unfortunately we are getting closer to the end of his school journey and it’s all starting to become a bit serious. While Kurt has found friends for the first time in his life and is ready to party, his friends know they have to knuckle down to work now, as they head towards Year 12. Which is good for Kurt. That positive peer pressure of mixing with kids who care, has had a great effect on his attitude to school.
As these exams loomed a few months ago, I heard my son mention the word ‘revision’ for the first time, which was music to my ears. He brought home his exam timetable with pride, didn’t throw a wobbly when I suggested a tutor, and dug out the English books that had been collecting dust under his bed for months. I was encouraged.
He still referred to his ‘study leave’ as ‘holidays’ and considered an hour and a half of revision a day to be child labour. He refused to read the English texts or learn any quotes, and we shared many lengthy discussions about why Shakespeare was stupid, too. Imagine a child who has never read a book before being given Othello to study, when Kurt taught himself to read from the biographies of his favourite rock stars and the lyrics of songs. So we had to make revision as appealing as possible – Mnemonics for English techniques, the film ‘Gladiator’ for his Ancient History and the old man used the analogy of his company to help make his Business Studies sound more interesting.
You have to think laterally to gain the interest of a child with ADHD, but even then you’re fighting a battle against their innate procrastination, poor concentration and distraction problems, white might mean that even that special, ‘all singing all dancing’ quote board that you laboured over to make it more simple, still doesn’t captivate their attention.
His interest in exams lasted to the end of his first exam.
‘Some people get nervous before exams, but I just get excited!’ he shouted at me manically across the breakfast table on the first morning, as I tried to cram Othello quotes into him along with his high protein Smoothie. He was hyper, like a young Jack Nicholas in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – how he managed to sit down for two hours afterwards, I will never know.
After the novelty had worn off and with five exams still to go, it was impossible to get him to focus and the arguments started over again about how LITTLE school work he was doing and how MUCH he was ‘smoking’ to keep himself calm.
In my head, all I could think was – surely you’d be calmer if you just did some fucking work!
But then he reacted and turned to self-harm again – because that’s the way he handles his emotional regulation when the pressure gets too much – and I knew I had to lay off and remember how far we’d come.
He didn’t pass his English exam and he was devastated because he thought he’d ‘done so much work.’ (He probably did need to read the texts – just saying). But he has passed the other two subjects he’s received the marks for. And he’s over the moon, and I’m over the moon, even though I fear that those pass marks have justified in Kurt’s mind that you don’t really have to do any work for exams.
Imagine what my son could achieve if he was on the same starting block as the other kids in his class and could regulate his emotions, organise himself effectively and could share the same executive functioning skills, fear of consequences and concentration levels?