An inside look at parenting a child with ADHD: Kate’s Story

Kate is the mother of Sarah, an 18-year-old diagnosed with ADHD at age six. I sat down with Kate to get an inside look at what it’s like to raise a child with ADHD. We discussed the everyday challenges she faces, the treatments she has considered and tried and how she works to ensure that Sarah succeeds. Kate provided valuable insight into the difficult decisions surrounding parenting a child with ADHD.

To start out we discussed when Kate started noticing differences in the way that Sarah behaved. She told me that because Sarah’s case was so severe, she noticed it right away:

“As soon as she was having play dates… preschool, so three years old? Any sort of small class setting. If everyone was sitting, she was standing. If everyone was going to the right she was going left.”

She explained that it wasn’t until Sarah was really in a classroom environment that her differences were brought into perspective. She was tested and diagnosed in first grade.

I then asked Kate about her frustrations and everyday difficulties as a parent. “Oh, Sophie, do you have all day?” she laughed. She explained that her primary frustration comes from the general lack of understanding from the public:

“I think that people don’t really understand that ADHD is true brain dysfunction and there are not always appropriate accommodations put in place to help these kids. They are still required or expected to perform normally, but just because there are accommodations like extended time, doesn’t mean that they can.”

She put it into perspective: “Sarah gets extended time on an exam, but she doesn’t get extended time on her homework. If it takes the average kid three hours to complete their homework, and she has been tested and proven to need 100% extra time…it takes her six hours. Throw in an extracurricular and she’s still expected to sleep! It’s too much sometimes.

“I also think the social piece is really difficult to parent, especially having a daughter. Kids expect different things…Boys are kind of expected to be disorganized or late or socially inappropriate. When you have a girl with ADHD, and it’s so much less common in girls, it’s different and it can be hard to watch.”

Once we had discussed most of the general background, I began to ask Kate about choosing a treatment plan. She was very open about her decision: “The only treatment options that I was aware of at the time that were broadly accepted were medication and/or social training. We actually did both. We assessed that she definitely needed some sort of behavioral intervention and we believed in medication. We read the studies, so we chose [medication] right away. Then in addition we used a social support group for her to learn how to be appropriate with her peers. I’d say that has pretty much stayed the same except for the social training, which she stopped after a couple of years.”

I decided to probe a bit deeper, asking Kate if should would have done anything differently if she did it all over again. “Because she went to private school, we didn’t need a 504 plan for her. So we just made accommodations based on her testing from the psychiatrist, but there was no concrete plan in place. I think I could have been a stronger advocate for her in reducing the amount of work at times. Other than that she’s done very well. Oh one other thing…she’s never had an executive function coach. I’ve always been there for her as her coach. Now that she’s going to college I kind of wish I had one for her. I think it would have reduced conflict between us, and I think, how is she going to get up in the morning for class? How’s she going to get her work done? But no one ever suggested one.” An executive function coach is exactly what it sounds like, a mentor that helps kids with all types of cognitive impairment by providing strategies that help them organize and execute their time and energy efficiently.

Finally, Kate and I discussed neurotraining and biofeedback as a treatment plan. She was skeptical, as any parent should be, and asked me question after question about the product, time and research surrounding neurofeedback treatments. However, Kate was also excited by it:

“I have a million questions, but it’s definitely interesting. There are so many people who don’t want to medicate their kids…they will be drawn to this. Parents are desperate for help and for treatment. My God, they’ll do anything to get their kids help. As a mother, if somebody told me this worked, I’d buy it in a second!”