So yeah…I think I gave my child ADHD.
When I originally wrote this post I felt guilty. It was the spring and he was struggling at school.
I don’t feel as guilty anymore. So…
I thought that perhaps if I shared my new perspective it might help to alleviate the guilt some other parents feel over carrying the ADHD gene. This is not something you can blame yourself for. Blaming yourself for this is like blaming yourself for giving your child brown eyes. It’s silly, really.
What follows is my explanation for why I (and you) should lose the guilt.
You are raising your child with awareness
As a kid I struggled to deal with my frustration over my home life and my school life. I remember this itchy, frustrated feeling very clearly. Sometimes school was an escape from the trouble at home. My parents did not fully understand my diagnosis.
My son, on the other hand, has only to worry about whether or not he will earn an episode of his favorite show if he is good at school.
These days our understanding of ADHD and its symptoms is lightyears ahead of where it was when I was diagnosed in 1990. My son is benefitting from both my experiences and the fact that I am living with it.
You understand the associated diagnosis
My son also has some sensory integration issues. For us this means that he becomes very reactive in certain situations.
As an example, earlier today I asked him to grab his school papers as he got out of the car. He ignored my request and then jumped into the drivers seat of my car. He immediately began beeping the horn, turning the dials and even flashing the interior lights. I asked him twice in a very calm voice to stop what he was doing and climb out.
I told him: “you know I like to reward you for following directions. I am kind of bummed that now I cannot reward you.” He looked at me and immediately screamed at the top of his lungs, “You aren’t following directions”, and then blew raspberries at me with his tongue.
The realization hit me: He can’t control this. Any more than I can control my own frustration. From what I can tell this is partially due to his sensory issues and partially due to being ADHD. The two conditions often occur together. I spend a lot of my time trying to remain calm while my 5 year-old runs circles around me and everyone else.
This kid runs circles figuratively and literally.
You accept the good with the bad
I have a horrendously bad family history when it comes to ADHD and other associated disorders. I have a younger brother who is the traditional hyperactive and risk-taking type ADHD. I have relatives who meet basically every single criterion for ADD/ADHD. My paternal family history includes more inattentive symptoms, similar to my own ADHD, as well as clinical depression.
I also have family members who are gifted athletes, scientists, doctors and artists.
My husband’s family history includes no ADHD whatsoever. His nieces and nephews graduated at the top of their classes and went on to extremely well respected universities. My husband has a sister who went to Harvard. My husband is the opposite of ADHD. He is focused, detail oriented, engaged and able to utilize all of the executive functions of his brain.
You cannot forget that your child has your spouse’s genes. I used to forget this all the time and blame myself for everything.
Family is interesting and complicated. You are linked to your family not just by blood but also by a shared history. The good, the bad and the ugly.
You share symptoms
The more I read about sensory integration the more I think I have had issues with this my whole life. I become overwhelmed and tense when there is a sudden sound, like a door slamming or a person shouting. I used to cover my ears when my mother shouted in our tiny house.
I find loud sounds jarring and frightening. I cannot handle my dog barking when I get home; the sound makes me crazy and I often react by shouting. This is startlingly similar to the way my son reacts to sensory stimuli that are upsetting to him.
I was a nail biter. In fact, sometimes when I am going through something particularly stressful I still bite my nails. I frequently bite my lips and the inside of my cheeks. I do this because I cannot stop.
My son sucks his thumb. I don’t think he can stop either.
You know how it feels
My son knows he is different from his peers. I always knew too. While his classmates in preK hold their pencils the preferred way and write their names, my son holds his pencil in a fist. He becomes easily frustrated and acts out.
Just as I did, he has an active imagination and very high-level verbal skills for a child his age. Many adults find this charming until they are on the receiving end of a tantrum. Like my son, I always knew that I was able to do so much more than I could demonstrate in school.
My frustration was internalized. I was more self –conscious and quiet. Right now he is not particularly self-conscious. He still enjoys being the center of attention.
I once told my mother that ADHD is a “curse.” While I no longer believe that, I do believe it is something that can affect your whole life’s trajectory if you do not manage it. I am doing everything in my power to give my son the tools to manage this. And I am seeing signs of progress.
Just today, one of his teachers told me that a classmate had disassembled a large “car” that he had built. Six months ago he would have hit the child. Today he “self regulated”, and through his tears, he told his classmate how he felt. The boy responded by helping him rebuild.
When I got to school the two were playing together, laughing and having a great time.
I gave my Child ADHD. But I no longer feel guilty.
We (my husband and I) are doing everything we can to ensure that his school experience will not be what mine was. His life experience, with or without ADHD, will not be the same as mine.
If you are wondering if you gave your child ADHD – don’t. Just be the parent that your child needs. Provide the resources and the support at home that your conscience dictates.
Instill the idea that your child can figure things out. He/she doesn’t always need you to do it for him. It’s called self-efficacy. And it is so very important to their future success and motivation.
Maybe if we are lucky we will be able to repair our faulty chromosomes by the time we are grandparents.