A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: discouragement (page 1 of 7)

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?

 

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Helping Kids Turn Suffering Into Praise

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

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11 Ideas toward Emotionally-whole and -healthy Parenting

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Guest Post: Helping Our Kids Become a Safe Place

becoming a safe place person of refuge

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A Symphony around My Chopsticks: Thoughts on Everyday Faithfulness

symphony alongside my chopsticks everyday faithfulness

My house is (blissfully) quiet now. I sit at my clean wooden table. My stomach is comfortably satisfied. My kids are actually adjusting remarkably well to school life—something I couldn’t have anticipated after five years homeschooling them in Africa. (Adjusting so well, in fact, that after their dental appointments last week, the younger two begged me to return to the last hour of school. Um…okay!) My new job as a freelance writer—after a few weeks of what might be called panic—is actually a delight. And my husband is happy, which is just a good gift all around. We are all healing mpola mpola (slowly by slowly).

This is to say: I have a lot I am thankful for. Many of you have asked about our transition, probably because my heart has seeped out a bit into cyberspace. I would not be telling the truth to say something other than—wow. This has all gone much more smoothly than I thought possible. (Thank you, friends, for praying. He hears.)

I noticed in myself this weekend—I guess you could call it a longing. As a friend pointed out, I’ve lost a couple of my jobs in the last year. And I think the slight gap I feel, where the wind whistles through, could be called purpose. Occasionally I see flashes of it, like light on water. But a little part of me is still puzzled. It whispers, see–when I’m not flying around with school lunches and permission slips and work deadlines. Why am I here? (And maybe, Why am I not there?)

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The Safe Place Series, #3: Practical Tips to Becoming a Person of Refuge

The other night, one of my kids was at his finest. It was as if a switch had been flipped. He went from easy-going to stonewalling us, arms crossed, resolutely stubborn. And man, was I getting the stinkeye.

Though his attitude was not without consequences, God was kind to me. I think He reminded me that disproportionate reactions are a lot of times symptoms that something deeper’s being triggered. Thankfully, this tipped my husband and I off to dig and uncover the problem more than just slam down the symptom.

Because when you’re going through a hard time, life can feel a little…naked. So our emotional safety is directly tied to the degree of acceptance we sense from someone.

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7 Prayers for Those Battered by Natural Disasters

7 prayers for those battered by natural disasters

Like you, my heart is twisting as all eyes turn toward Hurricane Irma, which has already devastated the lives of so many in the Caribbean–and soon followed by Jose and Katia. With this morning’s earthquake in Mexico, the pummeling by Hurricane Harvey, and wildfires torching the West–pray with me for those torn from their homes and relying on the kindness of others for their next meal.

Victims of these natural disasters: We remember you, and we’re on our knees.

Readers: Will you pray with us?

  1. Peace. Let them give all their anxiety and fear to you. As they trust you, guard their hearts in Your peace that’s beyond what makes sense (Philippians 4:8).
  2. Provision. Please, care for their physical needs; their daily “bread”. Let them not worry about what they’ll eat or drink or wear, but trust that you see them and care deeply (Matthew 6:26). Let them seek you, and lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10). In times of deep need or even when they have plenty, give them the strength to endure anything (Philippians 4:13).
  3. Wisdom. There are so many decisions to be made when life has been shattered. Help them to move forward not in impulsive fear, seeking peace–but operating from peace and in careful wisdom. Help them know each next step as they seek you (James 1:5-6).
  4. Trust. It can be hardest to trust you when we walk through overwhelming grief and loss. Show each person the tender, specific care You take of them, the small graces, and your personal remembering of them. Let them trust You even when you take away (Job 1:21).
  5. Care and hospitality. Father, let them see you in every open door, every glass of water, every kind smile and gentle grasp. Provide love for them through friends, family, and strangers. Go before these victims of tragedy, paving their way in graciousness. Motivate your people to love generously, as an act of love to you (Matthew 25:34-40).
  6. Restoration. Yours is a story of resurrection; of ultimately giving so much more than You ask of us. Restore the happiness and necessities taken by these disasters (Joel 2:24-26).
  7. Refuge. Lord, be their hiding place and refuge, a constant presence and help in trouble. Intimately and personally let them know You are there with them (Psalm 46:1).
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From My Pinterest-imperfect Day to Yours: Simple Thoughts about What Goes Wrong

I padded downstairs to shake my daughter’s shoulder, waking her for school. But instead, she woke to my “Oh, no.”

‘Cause that’s generally what you say when you see liquid pooling in the hall in the half-light, oozing from the laundry-room-slash-pantry.

That was the price-club-sized empty detergent bottle on its side, the cap to the air vent lying surrendered beside it, and the laundry room now flooded with a pleasantly lemony, biodegradable, outstandingly viscous liquid soap.

pinterest imperfect day

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Friday Quotables #6: A Terrible Force

Dostoyevsky humility humble love terrible force Karamazov

At some thoughts one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide “I will combat it by humble love.” If you resolve on that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humiity is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing like it.

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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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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Guest post: Where’s the Holy Spirit When My Marriage is Hard?

It was late, and she was crying now. Her marriage had been hard–hard for a long time.

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Here in the Waiting

Last week I was remarkably privileged to spend three days with global women from around the world. I love the work of Thrive, a ministry which works diligently to provide a respite from the very real demands of cross-cultural work. Personally, you know a bit of the discombobulated state in which I left for the retreat.

It was in the meal line when I was laughing with a young 20-something who’d just left her home in Sweden after years serving there. As I reached for the fresh berries (berries! I missed those in Uganda. I may have taken an inappropriate amount, maybe four times), I was getting her name, her country of service, her tenure. “And you’re back now?” I asked.

Her: “Yup. Um, transition stinks.”

Me: “Yes. Yes, it does.”

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