As parents, the backpack we carry when our journey starts with our child can place a heavy burden on the shoulders. Some days it seems light and almost feathery, though without warning, other days it becomes so weighty it feels almost unbearable.
For me the weight of a backpack coupled with the ‘briefcase of a career’ seemed at times, to be the cause of the challenges that arose with what I thought was a wonderful, happy child.
The first occasion of my ‘talks’ arose at day care when the staff were keen to advise me daily that out of all the children my child would not take a nap. “Is he upset”? “No” was the answer. “Is he disrupting the other children?” “No”. “Is he trying to keep them awake or play with them?” “No”. I struggled to see the problem. Here was a lovely happy little 18 month old boy that seemed happy to be on the mat but just sit and play or look around at others. Not disturbing just happy to day dream but not sleep. This was mirrored at home and I was perplexed with the daily ‘tut tut’ I would receive, like it was something I was teaching him to do!
Though a pattern started to emerge.
At pre school and in Grade One the same ‘talks’ were regularly presented. Not naughty, not disruptive just won’t sit and if he does he daydreams, won’t concentrate on his work, is forgetful, won’t stay on task, doesn’t seem to listen and has difficulty understand instructions. I kept asking all along the way, “Do you think he has Autism, is he ADHD.” This was always met by a negative response and in the expert opinion of these care givers and teachers it was a behavioural problem (whatever that meant?)
By Grade Two after one to many ‘chats’ about the negatives and few positives of our lovely little boy I trotted him off to a Psychologist. After countless weekly visits and over a thousand dollars later it was declared that there was nothing wrong with the child, must be the teachers. Again I kept asking “Could he have Autism or ADHD?” “Definitely not”, was the response. His grandparents, through the magical unconditional love that they possess declared him perfect and just too clever; they also suggested it must be the teaching practices employed these days.
By now I had shifted the blame into the ‘growing heavier by the day backpack’ and declared a self prognosis of it being my fault as a full time working mother. By Grade Three a wonderful young teacher reached in and lifted a brick from the pack. “Annette do you think Hunter might have Passive ADD?” She was anxious at presenting this suggestion but the relief was immense for me.
Here was someone who had identified through research the inattentive form of the condition, not the Predominately Hyperactive/Impulsive Sub Type that most of us relate to ADHD. A stream I had never heard of. After taking her advice I also researched the subject matter and found quickly that kids with this condition do often fall under the radar during school years. Not drawing attention to themselves with hyperactivity and strong social behaviours, these quiet souls are often labeled as lazy school workers and day dreamers.
The journey continued to be a struggle as a series of testing had to be under taken to determine the condition. Visits by the Education Psychologist (who also deemed him not to be ADHD from observations), a local Doctor (reluctant to refer him to a Specialist because there was a belief he didn’t have ADHD), to the wonderful Specialist that said “I have spent three minutes with him and I think he is but let’s try fish oil and at the same time let’s get him clinically tested before we consider any medication.”
He did, he was, and he was then offered medication.
The backpack got lighter but the emotional backlash from family and friends was at times brutal. I have since realised that if you don’t live with ADHD you can’t possibly appreciate the challenges that are presented hour by hour. Not to mention the struggles experienced by those living with ADHD. I learnt to keep my mouth shut and lean on those that were supportive and encouraging at taking a proactive approach to help my son.
My son’s medication regime is designed to assist him ‘get through the school hours’. Kicking in soon after he arrives at school and wearing off at the end of the school day. Now a teenager the medication schedule is constantly being monitored and adjusted to assist with the all important after school study that is now part of our society’s educational expectations.
While the medication allows the brain connectors to ‘switch on’ and encourage focus during these blocks of hours there is a huge gap in the emotional and social needs of a fully functioning human being. Getting ready for the day, being organised enough at school and home to be able to focus on the tasks and instructions, personal hygiene and that all important social connection we all need in our lives. Building friendships and relationships and being able to read others and their emotional needs.
In our house the gap continued to grow with the body as it morphed into a teenager. While there seemed some relief in a new high school that accepted and worked with great vigour in assisting the transition from primary to high school, things were getting emotionally strained in our normally passive home environment. Then I noticed disturbing behaviours.
Fingers picked raw from stress and anxiety, scratching of the face when being confronted – it started to scream self harm and the backpack was suddenly leaden.
After a stressful morning and in a fretful state I made a call to LADS, seeking advice for the name of a Psychiatrist that could help us. After calming me down and listening to my story this amazing woman was frank “I don’t think you need a Psychiatrist, I think your son might need a coach.” Coaching was not new to me, I had undertaken Professional Business Coaching at the height of the GFC and had gone on to learn from a couple of one on one Life Coaching sessions so the idea appealed.
We were given the contact, of whom in our own words is our ‘Family Angel’. In human form she is Dr Michele Toner, ADHD Coach.
The changes to my son and our family have been dramatic. He is now able, with strategies designed for him by Michele, to have some order and management of his personal routines, plan and manage his own study paths, and is now in the midst of learning the art of conversation and forming friendships.
The outcomes and results in a short six months? He can now get ready in the morning in a home that is ‘a screeching mother free zone’, his school grades have shot from Cs and Ds to As and Bs and his confidence in making new friends and forming stronger bonds with long time acquaintances is going from strength to strength.
I would love to say pop a pill and go to a coach and this magic cloak will appear and all will be perfect, but it isn’t true. It needs a team, made up of family and friends, a supportive school environment and an angel of a coach. You will still need to push, then run ahead and pull - but you will get them over the life line.
Perhaps our proudest moment was just a few weeks ago when at a parent teacher night we moved from teacher to teacher to be told our son was in the top ten per cent of each subject. A first! A wonderful academic achievement and great result for all his hard work, but it didn’t seem to compare to the comments promoting what a great person he was.
“Willing to try everything, someone you can trust, always putting forward a great effort even when he might not be so good at something, and more importantly if he is good at something, helping others that might not be finding it so easy. The best sum up of the night ‘This is a wonderful young man’. What more could you ask for as a parent? The backpack was empty that night!