It is as if you are driving through thick fog, on a dark road, trying to get to where you know you are supposed to be. The problem is, you lost the directions and have no GPS to guide you–and, in the background, the radio is playing loud songs that are changing.
These days, it seems that everyone has ADD or ADHD or whatever the latest terminology is. I know many people who use ADHD as a punchline or people who truly believe that it is over diagnosed and not a real condition. I will not try to convince anyone what they should think about ADHD, it is most certainly not my place. What I can tell you is that I was diagnosed with ADD at age 20 and it is something that I have continued to struggle with more and more into adulthood. It is without a doubt very real for me personally and is much more than simply being excitable, hyper, easily distracted and unfocused. ADHD (or ADD) has many implications and is more far reaching than many people can imagine. A person with ADHD who goes undiagnosed may suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. He or she may struggle to manage daily tasks or may develop methods to overcompensate for their struggles. This is not the end of the world and in the grand scheme of life, being diagnosed with and managing this condition is not nearly as challenging as so many others may be. It is not life threatening and with the proper awareness, acknowledgement and understanding it is a condition that can be managed very well.
I was always concerned about the potential of passing along my ADHD to my child and thought a lot about this when pregnant. When Charlie turned 1 year, I was immediately struck by many of his actions which led me to believe he would eventually be diagnosed. I know toddlers by nature have limited attention spans and are all over the place – but as a mother sometimes you just know. Also, as someone with ADD it was very easy to identify with Charlie’s inability to focus on one thing for too long, his constant movement, his need for energy busting activities, his hyperactive tendencies. We can play very well together as a result and are similar in many ways as we bounce from activity to activity.
When we met with our developmental pediatrician, he diagnosed Charlie with impulsivity and hyperactivity; apparently a young child cannot receive a diagnoses of ADHD until they are 5+ years of age. Our doctor, who recently retired, is an expert in the field and has over 40 years of experience treating thousands of children. He told us after his first evaluation with Charlie that his hyperactivity level was at a 99.9%! He then asked us how tired we were from keeping up with him which was funny but very true. At that time, the DR suggested we consider medication and quite frankly I was shocked as I had not anticipated medicating my 3 year old son (at least not at such a young age). My husband and I left that first meeting unsure of what to do or what to think and agreed to do some research and get back to the DR after discussing our options. On the one hand, I felt relieved because an expert had confirmed what I had been thinking for quite some time; on the other hand I felt very torn and distraught over medicating my son, especially at such a young age.
I was not a hyperactive child and it was not until I reached college age that my ADD became a major issue and challenge for me. I had somehow managed to succeed academically and manage my life regardless of the fact that I had struggles paying attention and focusing. As I have gotten older, faced different life challenges and become busier, my ADD has certainly become an obstacle that I have had to manage and overcome. Personally, I had developed many coping mechanisms including constant list making, note taking and advance preparation in order to manage my tendency to lose focus and concentration. Looking back on it and even now as I continue to need these crutches in order to manage my daily life, I realize that it is exhausting and stressful to have to constantly plan ahead, list things out and manage the internal anxiety that coexists with having ADD but that is who I am, how I am wired and I am always learning new ways to manage my own challenges.
The interesting part of this process for me has been seeing the impact of this condition on Charlie. He is so young, has so much to experience and I don’t want to put labels on him or limit him in any way with a diagnosis. At the same time, I know from experience how this may potentially impact his learning, his self awareness and more than anything else his self-esteem and confidence in his own abilities. Children being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD was certainly not prevalent when I was his age. When I was in grade school as young as second grade, I was often in trouble or receiving poor grades in areas such as behavior and self-control. I remember telling my mom that I thought this time I would receive a “G” in behavior after my teacher gave me a sad face for 25 of the 30 days in my journal being sent home. I don’t know many other second graders who were receiving such poor marks in this area and looking back now, I think it definitely impacted my self-esteem and awareness of who I was as a student and person. I often was being reprimanded for not sitting still, for walking around the classroom and talking to other children in class – but I was not doing this to be disrespectful or rude I simply was doing what felt natural. Even as I grew older I had a tendency to walk away mid-conversation or change topics. This is something I have had to really work on in an effort not to offend people. My husband, who has been with me for 15 years, is very accustomed to this behavior and often times can be heard saying – “wait, finish your sentence, come back here and pay attention, or focus Kelly focus.”
For me, the ADD became a major issue after I had my first son and went back to work. The overwhelm of being a working mom, managing multiple nannies and childcare schedules as well as managing our household and social lives became my breaking point and I decided to seek help and started medication for my ADD. This helped me tremendously and made it easier and more natural for me to focus and hold my level of concentration in order to get my never-ending list of items completed. I avoided taking medication for so many years because I did not want to be dependent on a substance to manage my own condition but seeing the positive impact and results really opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone can manage conditions on their own and sometimes (not all of the time) medication is the solution even if for a short time.
My husband and I talked a lot about whether or not to take the DR’s suggestion of medicating Charlie on a small dose to help with his focus and attention. We had been through so many evaluations where they could not be completed due to Charlie’s inability to pay attention and complete the assigned tasks. We knew he had the capability to participate and succeed in many of the requests, yet he did not have the attention span to complete what was being asked. For some reason, we felt better about the fact that the medication being recommended was not a stimulant but rather a medication for adults with high blood pressure that is being utilized for young children with ADHD. Realizing that his own ADHD was delaying his development was eye-opening for me and my husband. The learning that takes place in his early years is key to his future growth and development and he is already a year behind; if his inability to pay attention continued to impact his learning and development, we feared he would fall further and further behind. The other piece of the puzzle related to Charlie’s self-esteem. It is hard to know whether a 3 year old who does not talk very much has self-esteem issues but as I told my husband when we were debating the options, the last thing I wanted was for Charlie to doubt himself or his capabilities because of something that was uncontrollable for him personally. If being on medication would help him settle down long enough to learn, participate, engage and pay attention than how could we not give him that opportunity. He is not bad, he is not purposely disruptive and he truly wants to learn and be engaged but sometimes he is incapable of doing these things and it’s not his fault. So we agreed to give the medication a try and you know what, it worked very well. We noticed almost immediately an increased vocabulary from Charlie; he slowed down just a bit, paid more attention to books and puzzles, was able to follow directions better and started learning how to manage his behavior much more effectively. It is not a cure-all, nor should it be but it has helped in many ways and while I still struggle with the fact that we are medicating our 3 year old, I try to remember that our goal is simply to enable him to learn and be the best he can be.
I still have some guilt over the fact that I know ADHD is genetic and I am the reason why Charlie has this condition and of course I often feel bad for my husband when he is trying to get both Charlie and me to pay attention ( we have a lot of laughs about this one)! But in the end I feel we are doing our best, doing what we can to help Charlie succeed. In addition, I am well aware that my ADD also has helped me become successful, led me to try new things, provided me with the ability to achieve what other people may not and has benefited me in multiple ways. These same characteristics will also lead Charlie to try new things, seek new ways and view his life as an adventure and I believe we are all perfectly fine with that!