At times Groves will feature guest posts, such as this, from guest writers.
Today, we bring you a post from an "Anonymous Mom".
What I Wish I’d Known About ADHD
And why I’m attending the ADHD Panel at Groves Academy on January 18th
This Thursday, Groves Academy is hosting a panel entitled “ADHD Over the Lifespan.” And if only I could time travel and tell my four-years-ago self to start attending the Groves Academy workshops (especially this one), I would. Like all of their workshops, this Groves session will feature presentations by true subject matter experts, including Groves’ own Ray Boyd, Ethan Schwehr and Ellen Engstrom. Unlike the other workshops, however, this panel invites us inside the personal story of one of those panelists. Ellen Engstrom and her son, Carl have agreed to share their family’s ADHD story from two perspectives: mother and son.
I’m still in the early learning phases, myself.
I’d “known” about ADHD for years because, seriously, who hasn’t? But to me, the whole Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder tag was just an overused label for other people’s out-of-control kids.
Then my son entered school.
And over the course of four years, I watched his proud BKS (Big Kindergarten Student) Swagger disintegrate into the hunch-shouldered shuffle of a struggling, deeply demoralized and increasingly isolated third grader. Like a weakling culled from the herd, he could see that space between himself and “all the other kids” growing wider and more impassable as they learned how to read and write and learn.
His failure to do these things was not for lack of desire or willingness to labor over pencil and paper. He yearned to be a reader. He believed that, if only he worked harder, took more vitamins, drank more milk, it would come to him. At home, he would sit at his desk “writing notes” to me… tilted lines of randomly assembled, awkwardly constructed letters… that he would show me and – to spare us both the discomfort of my failure to decipher them – “read” out loud. “Dear Mama, how do you like my love letter?” asked one note. “If I was a dog at the shelter, I’m worried nobody would ever pick me,” began another, a few years later.
Input from school staff seemed to tightly hover around one central idea: they were “meeting his educational needs, as required” and he was learning. Hewas just “learning more slowly.” Turns out, I, too, was learning slowly. It took me a long time to realize that illiteracy is not the worst thing that can happen to a young, struggling reader. Not even close. Shame, loneliness, grief… and the simultaneously decreasing senses of both self and community… these are the paving stones to a truly, irrevocably “worst thing” that can happen.
And so I began to realize that my efforts to get my son educational help had nothing to do with academics anymore. I was trying to save a life.
After months of dragging him from clinic to clinic and test to test, I found myself seated across from the newest player in my son’s ever expanding team of experts: the pediatric neuropsychologist. Yes, he has ADHD. But that wasn’t the only problem. Turns out, my son’s ADHD – like that of many, probably most kids with this disorder – was just one part of a “cluster of issues.” Along with the ADHD, his challenges include, but are not limited to dyslexia, anxiety and, surprise-surprise: a growing tendency toward depression.
This “cluster” (perfect, perfect word, for this situation by the way) was wreaking havoc on my son’s ability to participate, not to mention succeed, at school. And, like a multi-tentacled sea monster, it was pulling him deeper and deeper underwater. As the world’s kindest neuropsychologist walked me through all the new labels, definitions and urgent school changes I needed to consider, she also encouraged me to “ask as many questions” as I wanted. And I did ask her everything I could think of… but, who among us can come up with the right questions within minutes of receiving that kind of news?
Within a few hours, I’d googled each of the diagnostic terms and recommended schools. I’d ordered the books. I’d hopped online to the parent forums… And soon, I felt like my head was about to explode. How does anyone sort through all of that information, opinion and storytelling to make sense of it for their own kid? Which research is credible? What’s the latest on medications? Which “home remedies” are worth chasing and which ones are just… ridiculous? And school? What in the world was I going to do about school? I felt buried. And very, very alone.
I needed a Survival Guide, not 3.3 million search results. And that is exactly the way I now describe each of the Groves Academy workshops that I’ve attended.
The Groves presenters have the training to discern relevant brain science from unnecessary minutia (and outright quackery). But they also have real world, everyday observations of what works, what doesn’t and where to find today’s most helpful coping tools. In other words, it’s like they’ve curated those 3.3 million search results, packaged them in a child-centered, parent-friendly presentation and invited us all in to walk through it together.
I wish I’d known about this information – and this community – five years ago. But I didn’t. I can’t travel back in time to course-correct that overwhelmed, under-supported and increasingly frantic mom I was. But in this workshop, I will get a glimpse of the future. I don’t know how choppy the waters ever got for Ellen and her son. (She’s an actual expert so I can imagine she didn’t make as many mistakes as I have.) But I do know they’re living proof that these waters are passable. I do know they have stories to tell about the challenges they’ve faced, the strengths they’ve discovered, and where they find their greatest sources of support. And – in a gesture that I can only describe as a profound gift to the rest of us – Ellen and her son are willing to share those stories with everyone who walks through that door this Thursday.
I can’t wait. And I hope to see you there.