Some Typical Emotions You May Experience
Raising ADHD kids can be an emotional roller coaster. We keep questioning ourselves about what we have done wrong, what we could have done differently and if we should change our parenting in the future. Are we being too demanding in light of their difficulties or are we letting them off the hook too easily? All the while everyone else seems to know exactly what we should be doing. Neighbours, family members, and even total strangers are sure they can do it better, endlessly offering unsolicited advice: you must have given your child too much sugar, let her watch too much TV or play too many computer games, your child needs more discipline and structure, but no wait you're just too hard on him, he's just being a boy. The worst, perhaps, is when others do not acknowledge a problem at all and tell you that it must be you, because your child is just fine when you are not there.
We know that the stress of parenting an ADHD child can rip a family apart. Parents often blame each other's parenting styles before and after the diagnosis. There can be great discord over accepting the diagnosis and deciding on treatment options. Statistically, chances of divorce increase when ADHD occurs within a family. This, of course, is not the child's fault, but the added stress on a family can be tremendous. When there are added diagnoses or co-existing disorders, such as Opposition Defiant Disorder (ODD), Anxiety, Depression, Tourette Syndrome and Learning Disabilities, that coexist with ADHD, the anxiety level only increases.
Added to this is the distinct possibility that one or both of the parents are struggling with ADHD themselves. We know that ADHD is highly hereditary. Children with ADHD are two to eight times more likely to have a parent with ADHD and three to five times more likely to have a sibling with ADHD. Often the spouse and siblings without ADHD are called upon to carry the brunt of the load for organizing and running the family. This can lead to resentment over time. Many of the behaviours exhibited by both the child and adult with ADHD can easily be misinterpreted as uncaring and unloving. Education about ADHD is the best way to combat this, but hurt feelings are often unavoidable, at least some of the time.
After the Diagnosis:
Finding the resources that you need to have your child properly assessed is difficult, but what some parents find surprising, is the multitude of feelings they themselves experience during the process and after their child is diagnosed.
Feelings or Stages That You May Expect to go Through:
Disbelief and Denial
“Not my child” is a common mantra among parents of newly diagnosed children. This is one of the stages where the stigma of ADHD can affect parents to a great degree. The media has been known to feature sensationalized horror stories about children with ADHD, and parents rightfully have a difficult time viewing their child in this light. These children are not undisciplined monsters as sometimes portrayed by the media. These are kids with strengths and weaknesses like any other kids. Frequently when a child with multiple diagnoses, family problems, emotional problems, and ADHD is portrayed in the media, it is the ADHD that is focused on. Situations can be complicated and families can be highly dysfunctional outside of the existing ADHD. Unfortunately, the media usually does not differentiate between ADHD and ADHD in amongst some extremely complex situations and events. This can result in a skewed view of what ADHD really is.
The parent who identifies closely with his or her child, may be the parent who is in total denial that there is anything wrong. Fathers have been known to say “He's a chip off the old block. I was just the same when I was a child and look how well I turned out.” Defensiveness may occur, if this parent decides to interpret the diagnosis as a personal attack on his own character and doesn't remain focused on the child's situation. But a parent who has ADHD themselves can also be a strong ally and role model, offering a level of understanding that others cannot. Adults who have worked through their feelings, have come to an understanding about their own ADHD, and have used the positive attributes of ADHD to their advantage, are an asset to all with ADHD.
When parents remain stuck in the phase of denial, it does a great disservice to the child. You must first make sure that your child has received a thorough assessment. This will help you and other family members have confidence in the diagnosis and help to ensure that you have a correct diagnosis. Do not feel uncomfortable about questioning the doctor until you feel satisfied that everything necessary has been done. Then, get on with it. Inform yourself about ADHD as much as you possibly can. The more you learn about ADHD the more support you can offer your child and family. Parents also find this a good way of testing the accuracy of the diagnosis. No one knows your child better than you do and if the diagnosis is a fit, the more you read and hear about ADHD, the more 'light bulb' moments you should have about your child's behaviour.
After hearing the diagnosis, some parents may feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment. They may feel that any dreams and aspirations they have had for their child have been shredded. Living through our kids is not uncommon, but in this case it may become a significant problem, especially if we punish our child, even indirectly, for not living up to our dreams. All children need to find their own strengths in order to succeed, but this is especially true for children with ADHD. Children who are struggling with so much do not need the added guilt of not living up to their parents' dreams. But the joy that is experienced when watching our children fulfill their own dreams can be wonderful.
After receiving the diagnosis parents may feel a great deal of anger towards a number of sources: fate, the doctor or other medical professionals who may have misdiagnosed the child earlier, the teacher who was convinced that your child was simply a behaviour problem, your spouse or other family members who did not recognize or admit to a problem, and perhaps the government for the lack of available services. As parents, and especially as mothers, we are also very good at blaming ourselves for not recognizing the problem earlier. Anger may be helpful if we use it to fight for our children, becoming effective advocates within the education and medical systems, and seeking out all available resources to help them, but holding onto anger indefinitely can be terribly destructive.
Fear of the unknown and of what the future holds for your child is common for all parents, but is so much easier to dwell on when you are the parent of a child with any type of disorder or disability. Listening to the statistics on ADHD can drive numbing fear into a parent's heart. But we are now diagnosing and treating more children at an earlier age, which can only contribute to be better outcomes. It is difficult to provide effective help if the true nature of the problem is unknown. There are many successful adults out there who were never diagnosed with ADHD, but clearly have it. So just imagine how much better your child's chances are if he or she is diagnosed and receives the help needed.
Looking for the Magic Bullet and Bargaining
Often parents feel the need to try on other diagnoses that seem less threatening. They may also try unconventional treatments for ADHD, in the hopes of finding that 'magic bullet' that will make all of this go away. Unfortunately there are a great many entrepreneurs making a great deal of money on alternative treatments that have no basis in scientific research. Many of these treatments are very expensive and have no scientific proof that they actually work.
Not all alternative treatments are bad and some may even be helpful if they deal with a contributing problem. There are a small number of children with ADHD who may be affected by food additives or sensitivities just as there are children without ADHD who may be affected by this. If you remove any irritant, like an allergy that is causing the child's symptoms to appear worse than they are, the ADHD symptoms appear to decrease. However, at this time there has been no scientific proof to confirm that any of these alternative treatments cure or treat ADHD in the long term. If you feel that trying any of these treatments will help satisfy your need to know, do all the research that you can on possible side effects and speak with your doctor to confirm that there are no contraindications with any treatment your child may be currently taking.
As parents and especially mothers, we beat ourselves up about our children a great deal. Remember, a late diagnosis is so much better than no diagnosis and hindsight is always perfect. If your child was diagnosed late in life, or diagnosed but not treated earlier, it is never too late to do something about it. Unfortunately the one thing you do need is a child who is willing to get help.
Probably the most heart breaking situation to deal with, is that of a child who is in denial that anything is wrong with him/her and is sure that everyone other than he/she is the problem. This usually is not as much of a problem in younger children, especially if both parents are in agreement with the diagnosis and the treatment, but is more commonly a problem in adolescence. Anything that you can get your child to read or view on ADHD may be helpful. If more adults in the public, who are successfully living with ADHD, would come out of the closet, it would go a long way to decrease the stigma of ADHD and to allow children and adolescents to feel better about themselves. It is very difficult for parents to watch their child with ADHD be his/her own worst enemy. Unfortunately, many a parent will tell you that stubbornness seems to be an inherent trait of ADHD and sometimes time and learning the hard way are the only things that seem to change these kid's minds.
There is much to learn and many decisions that you will need to make. There are many conflicting opinions out there about ADHD and even if it exists. Deciding on treatment options can also be confusing and scary. Do as much research as you can, but make sure that the information that you are receiving comes from a reputable source. Reliable information needs to be based on accurate scientific research, whether you receive it from the Internet, books, presenters, or by word of mouth. Data that can be reproduced in numerous studies by several reputable groups and is peer reviewed is the most dependable.
This may seem like an unusual feeling, but it can be a very common one. If, as a parent you have known for some time that there is a problem and your child has been struggling, not knowing where and what to concentrate your efforts on can be frustrating. For some children it can take years of seeing doctors and enduring many misdiagnoses to actually obtain the correct one. Children who have ADHD without hyperactivity (often girls), or children who are bright, can often be overlooked. ADHD inattentive subtype (without hyperactivity and impulsivity), or what used to be known as ADD, can frequently present with anxiety and/or depression. Unfortunately if the underlying ADHD is not treated, the chances of success are not encouraging. If you were unable to find help in receiving an assessment and diagnosis in the past and now feel that you are on the right track, relief can be a very legitimate feeling. Many older children, adolescents and adults frequently express a feeling of relief at the diagnosis. Many have felt that something was wrong their whole lives and finally feel they have been handed the missing piece of the puzzle.