ADHD is unpredictable

The most difficult part of parenting a child with ADHD, for me, is the unpredictability. My son might be calm as a cucumber one day and then blazing his trail, like he literally has a colony of fire ants in his pants, the very next. This lack of predictability makes it most difficult to parent consistently and calmly, the two pillars of parenting a child with ADHD.

It’s difficult to plan without predictability. Take our trip to the grocery store yesterday for example. For at least a week now, my son, Ricochet, has been begging for some cereal I don’t normally allow him to have. I asked him to wait until we went to Aldi, where I could get it for a lot less money. As we drove to school yesterday morning, I let him know that he and I would go to Aldi after I picked him up from school that afternoon. He agreed and reminded me that he could finally get the cereal he wanted.

I picked him up from school as usual that afternoon. “How was your day, Buddy?” I asked (predictably).

“Great!” he answered. Kicking his feet and writhing in his seat as he attempted to buckle.

“Awesome,” I replied. “We’re going to Aldi, then home.”

“No,” he whined. “I just want to go home. I like to go home after school.”

I had my work cut out for me. “Buddy, I told you this morning that we would go to the store after school. I know you don’t like unexpected trips after school, but I told you about this already. You’re going to get your cereal, remember?”

A belabored sigh was the only answer I got. I was happy with that though, it beats arguments and meltdowns any day. I’d noticed a lot more arguments and meltdowns since having to change his ADHD medication three weeks ago. I was seeing a lot more hyperactivity too… a whole lot more.

I can handle hyperactivity. It’s tough, but I understand that Ricochet’s wild bodily jerks and dances are due to his lack of proprioceptive input and his sensory processing disorder (SPD). The hyperactivity from ADHD is magnified by his sensory issues — it’s a double whammy that often puts us on display in public settings where that much movement is out of the ordinary.

Yesterday was no different. My boy was zipping through the aisles, pushing the cart in a zig-zag fashion as speedily as he could. When we stopped to consider a product, he broke out in dance. You know, the kind of outrageous dance moves Julia Louis-Dreyfus made famous in the TV show, Seinfeld, but with a little Running Man added in. Let’s just say, it garners lots of attention.


Truly understanding ADHD

If I didn’t understand my son, truly understand his intricacies and disabilities, I would have been aggravated by his behavior and embarrassed. However, I’ve spent the last five and a half years getting to know my son in a meaningful way as it relates to his alphabet soup of disorders (ADHD, SPD, EFD, Dysgraphia, Written Expression Disorder, possible HFA). That insight helps me stay calm, and it has also helped me develop a thicker skin where the thoughts of opinions of others are concerned — a coping mechanism I couldn’t live without when parenting a child with ADHD.

One of the top pieces of advice I give to parents of a child with ADHD is to remain calm. Remain calm NO MATTER WHAT. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, I do lose my cool sometimes still. But remaining calm is the only way to keep a situation from escalating. When my son was younger (he’s eleven now), he would get angry with me when I said no to the foods he begged for at the grocery store. So angry he would yell, “You don’t love me,” or “I’m never gonna love you again,” repeatedly, at the top of his lungs. I learned (the hard way) that getting angry back only made his behavior worse. I also learned that he didn’t have the skills to manage frustration appropriately, and that was the reason for his over-the-top outbursts. Those insights helped me remain calm and disengaged when these public outbursts (inevitably) happened.

The need for self-preservation lead me to a new mantra, “Who cares!” I’ve used it countless times over the last several years to maintain my composure in the face of parenting an (unpredictable) child with ADHD. I know his behavior is not a reflection of my parenting skills, and that’s what matters.