Our Journey Raising Two Children with Special Needs

This blog chronicles our life raising two children, Nicholas 14, diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome and Weston 17, diagnosed with Autism/Asperger's/ADHD. It's the ups, the downs, the joys, the sorrows and most importantly, the beauty of living a life less perfect, a life more meaningful.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One Mother's Secret Tools for Coping with ADHD

OK, so I have read every book ever written about ADHD. I have followed the advice of consummate professionals, folks like Dr. Russell Barkley and Ed Hallowell.

I have utilized every strategy ever invented for managing a fuel-injected child and his explosive hemi-powered engine.

I've tried:
Fish oils
Removing sugars and dye
Behavior management plans
Exercise programs

And while all of these tools have been very helpful, I can tell you without a doubt......that I could teach these experts a thing or two about taming my wild beast.

As a mother entrenched in the day to day combat of calming an out-of-control child, I have come up with my own list of secret weapons and "enemy control" observations.

And the list goes something like this.......

1) Legos:     Never ever underestimate the power of the Lego!

For some kids it may be coin-struction, techno gears, timber logs or erector sets but for my son, Weston, it is all about the Legos. I have purchased countless planes, trains and automobiles for my son to build out of legos. And build he does, usually forgoing the accompanying instructions and building the vehicle strictly by instinct. Once completed, it will last a few days before it is quickly disassembled and re-engineered into a moving vehicle "thing of beauty".

But more importantly, for my son, Weston, Legos help him to listen.

While furiously engaged in building the latest wheeled wonder, my son's ears are finally opened. If there is something important I need to discuss with my child, I simply hand him a box of lego pieces and viola... presto chango....a little boy with the ability to sit in one place and just listen.

Secret number one....if you want to get a boy with ADHD to listen....put something in his hands.

ps.....I think this one also works on husbands!

2) The Great Outdoors:    There is something about fresh air that seems to contain some magical combination of positively charged proton and electrons that actually hypnotizes the brains of bustling boys. The simple act of being outside has the power to calm my son's restless spirit. If it were up to me, I would design a school for boys that holds all its classes outdoors, even in winter.

3) Masculine Energy:  My son gravitates almost instinctively toward any kind of male energy. Husbands, male teachers and older high school boys all have the ability to easily engage my son. Difficult activities for my son will always be approached easier if a male is doing the prompting. And like magnets that repel, mothers, female teachers and girls can send my poor son squirming. Don't ask me why!

The school had experienced a lot of trouble getting Weston to participate (happily or appropriately) in social skills training groups. I suggested they add a very "cool" high school boy to the class. Sure enough, it is now Weston's favorite class of the day.

4) Music/IPOD's:   The louder the better. In fact, I have another mother's theory......

Secret number two...if your child enjoys listening to loud heavy metal music like Metallica, there is a probably a pretty good chance that they could be diagnosed with ADHD.

But once again the interesting concept is that certain types of loud, awful, noisy music actually helps my child with ADHD to calm down and focus. I have motivated my child through dinner and difficult homework assignments simply by using an IPOD. The louder the music, the calmer my child....again..don't ask me why!

5) Swimming:   Simply place my child into a warm (!) pool and watch how much he starts to talk. And since Michael Phelps, the Olympic Champion and fellow ADHDer has also been so successful in this environment, I think there is really something to the magical properties of water.

6) The Beach:  My son Weston is a born treasure finder. His eyes are constantly scanning the ground for interesting items that have been discarded by others. He has found more lost baseballs, coins and paper money than anyone I have ever met in my life. The beach environment provides an endless environment of interesting "finds". It is the only outdoor place I can take him where he can spend hours and hours happily engaged.

7) Video Games and Computers:  I know that every family therapist and practitioner worth their weight in salt will disagree with me vehemently..... but I will swear by these tools until I die. This form of entertainment is one of only a few indoor outlets I have found that enables my child to engage in a single activity for any length of time.

8) Individual Sports: (stressing the word "individual" here) Things like, tennis, running, hiking, cycling.....anything where he can expend lots of energy on an individual basis is good for Weston.

9) Give Him a Job To Do: If I want to keep my son happy all I need to do is give him a job. He will gladly sweep the floor or wash the windows provided it is fun and he doesn't have to do it for long.

When Weston was younger he had a lot of trouble during recess. I asked the principal if she had any outdoor jobs that needed completing. So instead of wandering the fields with no friends or suitable activities to do, Weston could do things like pick up the trash and place it in big bags or rake some of the flower beds. The interesting thing was.....many of his fellow classmates were also drawn almost instinctively to these types of activities and joined Weston in his cool new role.

There are also some things that negatively effect my sensitive son. And they are (in no particular order)

1) Smells:  I was never more aware of this until I brought my son into a Yankee Candle Shop. The overwhelming aromas of Christmas tree needles and orange blossoms  nearly put my son into cardiac arrest. He left the store running. He once had a classroom next to the cafeteria and well........you can just imagine.

I have often thought, however, that he may be able to have a career in the perfume industry since he has one of the most discriminating sniffers in the world.

2) Low Pressure Fronts:  OMG is all I can say. If there is a powerful rain or snow storm coming....I can always tell by the grouchy behavior of my eldest son. He is miserable. By the same token, sunny and clear days are when he is the happiest. I have become somewhat of a weather expert using my son as my daily barometer.

3) Blood Sugar:  If I could somehow place an intravenous needle into my son's arm just before he wakes up in the morning, I would save myself and other unsuspecting family members and pets from merciless moody melt down mornings. I have learned to make his breakfast before he wakes up so that when he arises....he eats as soon as humanly possible.

Meals and snacks must be provided on a consistent and timely basis throughout the day so that his stomach is somewhat full....if not....watch out...because in my son....hunger=anger, they are synonymous.

4) Organized Sports: Very difficult for my son to be successful in these types of venues. The overwhelming noise level, the disarray, the necessary teamwork and cooperation......his lack of ability to tune out extraneous stimulus inhibits his ability to be successful in these types of programs.

5) Bathroom Functions: My son absolutely positively CAN NOT concentrate if he has to go to the bathroom. If he has the urge....he has to go....no if ands or buts (pardon the pun). Many teachers believed it was an excuse my son used to escape from class. But I can tell you without a doubt that the bathroom is one of our most utilized rooms in the house. I think this must relate to his inability to control impulses...bathroom impulses included!

This list is a work in progress. I add to it as I discover new things that effect my hypersensitive son. For instance, we learned over the holidays that warm jacuzzi baths (powered on full blast) have the power to calm my restless son and help him to sleep better.......

For me, as a mother of a child diagnosed with ADHD, I have found success in the most unlikely of places. By uncovering unusual tools and employing "opposite thinking" the restless spirit within my son is finally calmed.....at least for a few moments.