A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: methods (page 1 of 6)

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: 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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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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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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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: (Relatively) Painless Ideas to Help Kids Share Their Faith

New to this series? For the thoughts behind it, start here.

It was yesterday, walking to a train, that we met her—I’ll call her Gretchen. Conversation unfolded among us in the blistering sunshine. We were all drawn in by the details of her home country; the stories of her life there. At thirty, Gretchen is pretty and successful. She vacations around the world.

Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by both my daughter and my son after disembarking the train, when she’d warmly wished us well and waved to us out the window. Completely separately, they asked me if we could pray for her, that she’d know Jesus, too.

I could tell you this is because I’m some kind of fantastic parent, but if anything, I hope you’ve picked up through this blog that I’m muscling my way through this parenting thing like anything else. (I’m sure perfect parenting is on the next blog over from mine.)

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11 Ideas toward More Emotionally-whole and -healthy Parenting

The other day, both a bad thing and a good thing happened. My son—the one with ADHD—had a meltdown after lunch over his math homework. Maybe you’re thinking, I missed the “good” part. Good part: I realized he hadn’t melted down in a long time. So we were actually able to tease apart some of the factors for the meltdown (math after lunch, when his brain is tired; worrying that he wouldn’t get enough time to mess around at the pool after swim practice). We had time to deal not just with the meltdown, but to recognize it as the dashboard light it was—and hopefully circumvent it in the future.

One of the things I’m loving about some friends who’ve done the hard work of going—and responding to!—counseling is their remarkable capacity to love even better. As they’re combing out some of the tangles in their brains, everyone around them is cashing in on more enjoyable, meaningful interactions. My point? The time we spend investing in our homes’ emotional health pays untold dividends both to people around us now, and the countless ones in the future—including generations to come. Here, I’ve compiled some new and best-of ideas to take us to the next level (including yours truly).

Never underestimate the impact of a healthy home.

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Know Thy [Stressed] Self, Part II: The Stressed Version of Your Marriage

Missed Part I? Grab it here.

One of the unexpected delights of our final couple of months in Africa was the arrival of a college friend who’s known my husband and I since the beginning. She watched us meet, cautiously date, giddily become engaged. She played the piano when the two of us spring chickens said “I do” forever. Later, I stood with her as she spoke her own vows beneath a spreading tree. And when she visited us in Africa and we stayed up entirely too late, she gave us this gift: I told my husband, “I love that she reminds us how good we are together. That you and I together are a really good thing.”

I wrote before that this time of leaving Africa, of setting a foot on two highly divergent continents, has delivered unavoidable stress to our relationship. Both of us are strained, so it makes sense that our most intimate relationships would bear that weight. So it was kind of God to remind us that despite the ways we occasionally feel like the losers in a three-legged-race right now—“us” is still a really good thing.

Part I of this post outlined some essential reasons we need to identify when we’re stressed. If you’re convinced, let’s get down to it. What are the signs your marriage is under stress?

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Fun Ways to Study God’s Word (with FREE printables)

Missed the other posts in this series? Check out these on Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation, Simplicity, Solitude, Service, and Fasting.

 

Okay, so if it’s not obvious—problem numero uno may be getting our kids to study anything, right?

Maybe.

Because the truth is, our kids will naturally study whatever they’re interested in. My eleven-year-old, for example has wanted to be a zoologist ever since he knew what one was. It’s why I’m lugging back from Africa no less than three animal encyclopedias; why I know the name of nearly every bird perching in our yard. Any teacher will let you know that kids are self-driven to study whatever they’ve got the bug for. (This is a key concept in this series!)

If our disciplines for God don’t lead to joy…we need to take a serious look at them.

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Guest post: God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray

Of the many nuggets I’ve gleaned from my father-in-law, perhaps one I am most grateful for is his response to my husband’s teen years.

A lot of people find merit in Mark Twain’s quip: When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.

But my father-in-law wasn’t one of them. Those tornadic years of my not-yet-husband’s were a signal to pull out the outdoor gear, summit as many of Colorado’s fourteeners as they could knock out, and tack on some decent kayaking, cycling, and snow caving along the way. My father-in-law saw the rippling strength of the teen years as a chance to explore manhood together.

teaching teens to pray

As people have forecast heartbreak for these years of parenting—and I realize my portion will come—my husband and I loved our six years of youth ministry. It was a little like working with wet cement, these textured, gravelly years of becoming. We could hold gut-level conversations about real, heartrending issues. Our faith offers unmatched answers to the question marks looming in the teen mind: unfathomable meaning and purpose for their lives, far beyond themselves.

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray, offers ideas to come alongside teens in prayer.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

 

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Ideas to Be Your Spouse’s Wingman

If you’re thinking of Goose and Mav, you’re getting my idea. How can we be our spouse’s “intimate ally”*? Get this: The word God used to describe Eve in the Bible (ezer) translated as helper—is most often used in the Bible as either as a term for a military ally…or for God Himself, helping us. Here are a few practical ideas—for husbands and wives–to act as your mate’s shield, advocate, and protector. (Like this? Be sure to check out 50 Ways to Inspire Your Wife and 50 Ways to Inspire Your Husband.)

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