A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: children (page 1 of 11)

ADHD and What Works for Us: Tips, tactics–and hope

Author’s note: This post veers a bit to a niche audience. But my posts on what I’m learning from my son’s learning disorders—ADHD and dysgraphia—and this one on helping our kids turn suffering into praise have been perennially visited by whom I can only assume are parents hoping to adjust to similarly harrowing and frustrating diagnoses. I’m not a doctor or an expert—just a parent who has found some gratitude in all this.

Six years ago, my heart wasn’t just gripped by preparations to heave our family of six over to Africa. It took only till September of my son’s kindergarten year to piece together that something wasn’t right. Perhaps I should have seen it in the way he couldn’t pay attention to the end of a flashcard. Or that he had no friends to invite to his birthday aside from his brother’s buddies. Or that his mind was so regularly drifting from any reality at hand.

The statistics, let alone my realization that in Africa, I would be one of his only advocates—wrapped around me like seaweed in an undertow. Depression. Addiction. Worse words I won’t use here. But I’ll say this: This is why accurate diagnoses matter. Because diagnoses mean we can get help for our kids. We’re not planting our heads in the sand, hoping a label won’t stick to that son or daughter we love. We’re finally able to utilize tools that help them have a promising future.

 

Laying out six years of trial and error, of tears (his and mine), of miles of change for both of us isn’t possible in a single post. I can’t outline all the playdates where we installed extensive rewards and consequences for not melting down, yelling, or (yes) striking someone at a playdate. I have formatted countless charts and chore to-do-index cards and teachers’ daily progress reports. We have cried together over spelling lists that felt impossible.

Yet here’s what my son wrote recently in an endearing report about his disorder:

ADHD has some undeniable setbacks that make it almost impossible to function In the way people expect me to. But ADHD has more treasures than you think…

I agree with a Yale professor that people with ADHD tend to be creative, intuitive, tenacious and high-energy.

I am glad for the way I am. I am still amazed the way God made me.

And I will say–my original post was going to be an open letter to the God who gave my son this disorder. It was a letter of thanks.

Don’t misunderstand me. Someday I cannot wait to get to know my son in heaven, the fully-healed version. The majority of ADHD is part of the disorder in our world. But as a wise adult friend with ADHD told me in those frightening beginning days, this is not just part of the Fall of humanity. God has good plans for this, too. This is part of my son’s unique creation.

Dr. Russell Barkley, who is my current favorite resource for this disorder, has said, “Do not misunderstand. ADHD is not a gift.” What comes to mind is the poetry of Mary Oliver: Someone I loved once gave me/a box full of darkness. /It took me years to understand/that this, too, was a gift.

Because of ADHD, my son has unparalleled senses of creativity, perspective, and emotional and spiritual intuition. He also is the funniest, one of the most compassionate—and some would even argue most loveable—member of our family.

Raising a child with ADHD can make you want to take a baseball bat to your soup tureen. It at times resembles how Jerry Seinfeld described life with toddlers: like running a blender with the lid off. But I will argue that with a great deal of perseverance, help, and tight, consistent, immediate discipline, it’s also vibrant and full of depth. It requires much more involvement and advocacy than children without these obstacles–but as I recalled in this post and this post, God has showed me his own advocacy for me therein.

ADHD for dummies, according to a non-doctor: ADHD is 90% genetic. It directly results from physiology of the brain involving three neurotransmitters and sort of neurological “vacuums” that suck up those (often under-produced) neurotransmitters. This means the nerves’ messages don’t finish their circuit. On brain scans, the frontal lobe–which controls impulses, planning, emotional control, and other executive skills–looks sort of “asleep”. This is why medications are a form of methamphetamines–speed–to illuminate that frontal lobe.

Here are some ideas and resources that work for us. I’d love your comments below from your own experience. Let’s get a helpful dialogue going!

  • Teachers and parents should keep eyes out for other concurrent learning disorders; 30% of ADHD sufferers have these.
  • Understand, Barkley notes, that this is primarily a social disorder, deeply affecting our kids’ friendships. It’s also primarily a disorder of executive functions, seeing as how ADHD is based in the frontal lobe. It’s not as much about forgetfulness or being “spacey”; those occur, but people will forgive you for that. (Less so when you’re the kid who loses his temper and scatters Candy Land.) Because this is a “sleepy” frontal lobe, they lack impulse control. Barkley, in these very helpful tips, advises stronger and more immediate consequences and rewards to, in my understanding, lodge the cause and effects in the child’s brain (think Pavlov’s dogs, here).
  • Structure is super-helpful for kids with ADHD. (They tend to succeed in the military and military schools!) As I’ve heard it described, it’s like their brains are flipping channels, and they can’t help it. Structure helps give them scaffolding to hang the rest of their day on—something to expect. The more you can give them lead time to expect changes, the better. Similarly, I have also found those with ADHD to be very black-and-white thinkers; my son, for example, very much loves rules and has a strong sense of (at times slightly miscalibrated) justice. We seek to help our son understand nuances and gray areas, and to avoid extremes and jumping to conclusions.

 

  • For discipline and executive skills, Smart but Scattered is one of my top picks. I would isolate target behaviors we needed—no hitting during playdates, for example—and offer small, consistent reminders before the playdates and during, with quick responses on consequences (homeschooling gave me advantages in being able to respond right away). Since ADHD restrains both foresight or hindsight, again–consequences need to be embedded in their frontal lobe.  
  • Mornings are best for subjects and behaviors that demand a lot of attention.

 

  • I find that when my son gets in a rut with his fears or whining or attitude, active time helps a lot. He prefers repetitive behaviors outside, which increase serotonin (the neurotransmitter) naturally. You can also increase serotonin by serving protein (its building blocks) at breakfast and lunch, when our bodies naturally make it.
  • At the risk of opening a massive can o’ worms–after finding little success in natural methods, medication provided an immediate and clear result for us, particularly in social respects. (We do find results from Vitamin B complex gummy vitamins every morning.) ADHD meds inhibit the neurotransmitter “vacuums”, so the neural messages finish their circuit. We saw immediate improvements in relationships–including our ability to feel connected to him–and school performance, as well as moods (specifically a lot less whining!) and responsiveness. We realize that’s not for everyone, though these medications have been used and refined for over 50 years with a lot of solid science and research behind them. If your children do go on meds, realize those meds often change their metabolism; they’ll eat a big breakfast and dinner, but a small lunch, and may lose a little weight. Find common side effects here.  Some parents who don’t use extended-release medications (which are well worth it for their consistency of medication throughout the day–a smooth plateau) often give more meds at homework time after school.

 

  • For teaching skills, this post has some key takeaways from another ADHD book. At the recommendations of the books below, I developed “good job charts” (you can see my printable ones here, that we now attach to screen time, which is very motivating for my son; video games have immediate consequences, which are super-rewarding for ADHD kids, for better or worse). For chores, I created index cards with step-by-step instructions and supplies he needed, since he has a hard time with the “file cabinet” in his brain—also known as executive skills, discussed in Smart but Scattered.

 

  • For memorization, like multiplication facts, try them on flashcards with the answers on them, and then put them to a metronome (there are free apps or websites for this). Say them to the beat. My son has found the metronome soothing to him! (See related studies here.) Rap music and other music with a strong beat can also be soothing.

 

  • For anxious times, I found it helpful to give my son “scripts” for what to expect. You can read about that a little here. (I’ve also compiled some ideas about helping kids through their fears here and here, and on dealing with kid drama without squashing emotion here and here. This post deals with some of the fears we face ourselves as parents!)

 

  • This YouTube video—and Russell Barkley’s podcasts—have been really helpful for me.

 His fact sheets are also great for some basic ideas on discipline.

 

  • My favorite, most helpful books:

 Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach their Potential (there’s a teen version now, too!)

How to Reach and Teach Kids with ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and Interventions (Great for teachers–but so helpful for involved parents, too)

The ADHD Book of Lists: A Practical Guide for Helping Children and Teens with Attention Deficit Disorders

 

 

Parents, I’m praying for you as I write—and trusting God knew exactly what He did in giving you those kids. 

Edited: For those of you confused between ADD and ADHD–the DSM 5 (the latest version of the diagnostic and statistical manual for mental health professionals) has made ADHD all that’s left; there really is no “ADD” without the hyperactivity. (Barkley elaborates on this in one of his podcasts.)

Also, we’ve found the “Motivaider” app to be somewhat helpful in keeping our son on task.

And one statistic that’s been helpful for me to keep in mind: Developmentally, kids with ADHD lag an estimated 30% behind in maturity (the video above explains why). This helps me to manage my expectations with my son.

 

Help us out! What practical coping skills have been helpful for you as a parent or teacher of ADHD?

 

Like this post? You might like

Helping Kids Turn Suffering Into Praise

What I’m (Slowly) Learning from my Son’s Learning Disorders

Why our kids need to struggle

11 Ideas toward Emotionally-whole and -healthy Parenting

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 14 Creative Ways to Help Your Kids Praise God

Want to catch up on this series? Start here.spiritual disciplines for real families

Would your kids believe me if I told them eating mac and cheese could praise God?

True story.

If Romans 12 is true–then it’s all His. (Um. Even that questionable, nuclear-orange variety of tube-y pasta.)

 

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 13 Simple Ways to Teach Hospitality

spiritual disciplines real families

Missed the previous posts and the ideas behind this series? Catch ’em here.

He was barely in the front door, cheeks flushed from the bike ride home. He smelled like the cold and that faintest puff of little-boy sweat. “Mom! Guess what! We’re getting a new kid and his name is Toby and the teacher wants me to show him around and tell him all about the school!” He drew a breath, those Chiclet-sized adult teeth still, charmingly, just a bit too big for his eight-year-old mouth.

I grinned. Just a month ago, he’d been the new kid. Now my little guy was thrilled to be the one ushering in a new friend.

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Guest Post: Helping Our Kids Become a Safe Place

becoming a safe place person of refuge

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Guest Post: Helping Kids Learn to Walk with the Holy Spirit

Helping Kids Learn to Walk in the Holy Spirit

Take good care of my baby. (Yep, the kid actually managed to get five front teeth in this photo.)

It’s happening.

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12 Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Teachers (FREE printables!)

12 ways to pray text

It’s happening.
Tomorrow, I’m sending all four kids to school for the first time. Lunch box chaos, carpool lines, field trips extracurricular activities, homework, track and field day–these are all mine at the crack of dawn tomorrow. There’s some anxiety, some excitement. (And you should see the kids!)
In celebration of the new school year–and since many of you are new to this blog –I’m reposting these specific prayers for these individuals who powerfully influence our kids, families, and communities day after day. 
DOWNLOAD HERE FREE here as a pdf–great for small groups, personal use, parent prayer groups, or this format for church bulletin inserts. I’m hoping it’s a great way to kick off loving on the teachers in our lives and cheering them on throughout the year. Please share if you find this useful!   -Janel

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On God and the Dreams of Women

Author’s note: I write this post to you with a sliver of trepidation and a big slice of humility, because it’s heavily nuanced and divided (even among Christians). And essentially, I loathe conflict. I’d rather write on topics no one disagrees with and that I only felt sheer confidence. Consider me just getting a conversation started. 

The Dark Question

I feel God was actually somewhat clear about our decision to leave Africa. But I need to confess: Some part of me felt raw, then calloused–specifically connected to my femininity.

My heart was still squarely in Uganda, living out its technicolor dream. But collectively as a family, it was necessary for us to move back. And after all the years of setting dreams aside for the dream that is loving a family, I wondered why I seemed to hold in my hand the short straw.

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Guest Post: When Parenting Means…Fear

I didn’t know what a turquoise-painted pumpkin was—until my nephew, the one with the chocolatey eyes and the wide grin, was allergic to peanuts. Now I know that a teal pumpkin outside a house on Halloween means they have non-food treats for kids with food allergies. When I was a young youth intern, it felt extreme of one mom to walk through the mission-trip bus and ask all the kids to surrender snacks with peanuts. Now, having known at least three moms who grappled with this life-or-death allergy on a daily basis—I get it.

My sister-in-law have had some heart-rending conversations over the last year about the fear she deals with around this allergy—which could take her son in ten minutes’ time. One wrong snack, one EpiPen too far away.

But my heart balled up with a single text last week from the same sister-in-law: Her daughter, who’s not yet one, had an anaphylactic reaction. …To eggs.

What do we do with the legitimate fear that seizes our hearts as parents?

I’m thinking out loud about this over on my friend Kristen’s site, WeareTHATFamily.com. I hope it lifts your head a bit today. Hop on over and check it out!

 

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An Open Letter to a Mom of Young Kids

Hey.

I don’t know how you found time to read this. But then again, it’s possible you were hoping for a sliver of personal time. (The short people in your house are maybe sleeping.) Maybe you wanted to be reminded you’ll make it through this. Um, and that everything in your house will not always be sticky. That there is a REM cycle in your future.

And that you’re not alone.

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A Mountain of [Surprising] Reasons to Get Our Kids Outdoors this Summer (…and Maybe Follow Them)

In all honesty, with my house still lined with cardboard moving boxes, camping was not at the top of my priority. When my dad burst into a rendition of a song entitled (I kid you not) “We’re Going Camping Now!”, I admit to replying with a chipper, “Whether we like it or not!” I could barely find underwear for everyone. I’d been in some form of transitional housing for the last year. Let’s go sleep in a tent without a shower!

But as we wove through the mountains, I had to admit that maybe it was good this was blacked out on the calendar. How long had it been since I’d been able to tell everyday life “Stop. For right now, just stop”?

My sheepishness reached its hilt the next day when my kids’ skin was glittering and shivering as they picked their way through the river, counting rainbow trout and daring each other to duck beneath the current. Their courage and confidence mounted before my eyes. The spikes of pine behind them were stunning; the rock formations solid and timeless.

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