ADHD, My Daughter And Me

The years prior to her child being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were lonely and confusing for Michelle Reid.

I have a daughter who is turning 13 next month and we are planning a big birthday bash. She is very excited and has a big group of friends to invite, and it’s sure to be a night to remember. But it hasn’t always been this way. There have been years of parties she hasn’t been invited to, and years when no-one would come to hers. This is because I have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and, until recently, this was a very lonely place to be.

It is like having a job that there is no training for. The people who know something about the job are elusive, and if you find one of them, they may not be able to help you (that’s if you are brave enough to ask them). You’re on your own, and you start to blame yourself when things are not working. Normal daily activities such as leaving the house, doing homework and going on family outings are unbelievably difficult, but your child looks perfectly normal, so people assume the problem must lie with you.

She is the kid who is ‘off with the fairies’

Diagnosis took some time because my daughter has the predominantly ‘inattentive’ type of ADHD, which means that she is the kid who is ‘off with the fairies’, is distracted by anything and everything, and can’t get organised to save herself. The children who are bouncing off the walls in an obvious manner get noticed and diagnosed sooner than the inattentive ADHD kids.

However, there have been issues with my daughter from when she was four. She was socially out of step, impulsive and lacking in self-control, and she struggled to keep up at school.

Unfortunately, as is true for a lot of ADHD kids, she has also been bullied physically (yes, bloody noses, the lot) and emotionally, even before she reached the ripe old age of nine. If you have ever had this happen to your child, you will know how devastating it can be, and the bullying served to further complicate the issue.

The years before diagnosis were lonely and painful

Fortunately, after a lot of dodging bad advice (including from professionals), pointless hearing and sight testing, self-education, blood, sweat and tears, and dogged determination, my daughter was properly diagnosed at the age of 10-and-a-half and placed on appropriate stimulant medication. The effects were immediate. I was at the end of my resources and was suffering guilt and lack of confidence in my parenting abilities, so this came as a huge relief. My daughter began to make eye contact and listen. We had her attention, the teachers had her attention, and relationships within the family and her peer group began to be repaired.

Medication is not a whole solution in itself, just part of the management of ADHD, which should also include specialised support, routine, assistance with practical matters (such as help in getting organised), reminders, getting enough sleep, and preparation for any non-routine events.

Riding a roller-coaster is the best way to describe life with a child who has ADHD. The years before diagnosis were lonely and painful because other parents distanced their children from mine, thus distancing themselves from me. I was in the dark and couldn’t pin down what was wrong, and the minute I opened my mouth about things that seemed amiss, it was misinterpreted as whingeing or criticising my daughter, and I was given useless advice and platitudes. So I stopped talking about it and carried the burden around, which affected every part of my life.

As a parent, I have educated myself, become more resilient and assertive

Obviously, it was no picnic for my daughter either, and her behaviour told us what she couldn’t – she felt misunderstood, angry, unloved, a failure, frustrated and confused by her lack of social success and by people’s reactions to her. Our relationships suffered, as she raged at and abused those closest to her. There were times (I’m ashamed to say) that I felt I didn’t love my daughter.

The diagnosis brought great relief, but also unexpected rage – at myself and at the people who’d steered me in the wrong direction, causing more years of pain and frustration than were necessary. There was a teacher who had suggested assessment when my daughter was seven, but through poor advice from a school counsellor and my own lack of knowledge, it was three more years before diagnosis and the commencement of treatment.

But it’s not all bad. As a parent, I have educated myself, become more resilient and assertive and have more patience than I thought possible. I have met some amazing people along the way, repaired relationships and learned to communicate better.

My daughter is very artistic, gorgeous, the life of the party and adapts to new circumstances easily. She hasn’t got the memory to hold a grudge, and is a total crack-up!

The beginnings of adolescence have brought new challenges, and I have had to adapt my parenting accordingly. A good suggestion in a book I read recently was to write introductory and explanatory letters to teachers at the start of each school year. I used the template provided in the book, and have had success with open communication and helpful feedback.

If there is anything I’ve learned from this process it’s to trust myself

There is a support group near us that has an extensive list of books in its specialised library – and membership is dirt cheap. I’ve finally attended a support-group meeting and realise that I am definitely not alone. I exchanged phone numbers with other parents and walked away feeling pretty lucky after hearing of other people’s battles.

There is no end date for the effort that goes into a child with ADHD; it’s a work in progress, and I’m okay with that because when it is your child, you don’t give up. They need you like they need oxygen because you are their best chance of achieving their potential and enjoying a happy, fulfilling life. They need you to be in their corner because sometimes, you are the only one who is.

If there is anything I’ve learned from this process it’s to trust myself, not to take no for an answer, to surround myself with supportive people, to read, read, read, and above all, to be brave.

Illustration by Amanda Upton