Queen of the Distracted

Imagine life in a house with 6 kids - now imagine if 5 of those kids and their father have ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - that is our house! Welcome to an inside view of my life and our home dominated by ADHD... THERE IS NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls!"

Those were our oldest daughter Rachel's first words, from the time she was a toddler she would belt them out proudly standing on the arm of the couch. At the time we had no idea what ADHD was or that it would play such a central roll in our lives.

Since then we have learned a lot, not the least of which is how many individuals and families suffer in silence. We have experienced first hand how misunderstood and misrepresented a disorder can be.

As a family we decided to take action - to risk embarrassment and labeling to get this important message out to the world. Come join our family, share in our lives, and see ADD/ADHD as we see it...
A gift with a heavy price tag.

WELCOME to life in the ADD/ADHD House!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Our ADHD Holiday ADDventures



We are no strangers to adventures in holiday life - I have way to many stories - some charming and humorous, some terrifying, honestly, most are both.  It's just what you juggle when you juggle disorders like ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD), anxiety, OCD, Aspergers, Autism, and many more.  Where "normal" families surely have bumps in their holiday road (I like to think they do anyways) navigating the special needs holiday highway can be a crazy obstacle course of road blocks and pot holes.

In case you're feeling like you're alone in having to juggle the holidays like exquisitely sharpened knives I thought I would share some of our families holiday adventures and mishaps

 I Saw Rachel Pantsing Santa Clause

Call it excitement, anticipation combined with impulsiveness.  Call it what ever you want to - I just remember sitting at a table with a bunch of other parents watching our adorable kids huddle around Santa, hankering for the candy he was passing out.  There was my daughter, about 8 years old at the time 9she's an adult now), impatiently tugging on his pants trying to get his attention. There was Santa, with his red furry pants around his ankles.  The parents were in an uproar, some racing to tell Santa - who had no clue he was flashing the entire Christmas Party.  Some literally rolling on the floor laughing.  Me, I was completely in shock - did that really just happen?

Twas the Night Before Christmas

One of our earliest holiday traditions seem to revolve around Christmas Eve.  Anticipation of the mornings stocking and present excitement building, cookies and milk set out, all the kids tucked safely in, surely it was time for mom and dad to relax a bit while everyone drifted off to sleep so the evenings real work could begin.  Magical, until, like clockwork, one children would wake up vomiting. Yep, we have an anxiety vomiter and Christmas Eve made her anxious.
Finally, one year, she cued us in on why we had established such a terrible Christmas tradition. When we were trying to get her calmed down she stammered out a question,"Why can't Santa leave the presents on the doorstep like the Easter Bunny?"

As she's gotten older she's expounded on her fear- she told us, 'think about it - an old man, who lives forever, who knows what you've been thinking, your deepest desires, who watches your every move, good or bad and sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake.  He waits until you're asleep then sneaks into your house, eats food, and leaves presents. Creepy."

It was NOT okay with her.  I never would have guessed that in a million years.  The magic of Santa had never translated into danger for me. We didn't change our tradition of finding the presents under the tree or stockings full of small surprises but we did address her fears and figured out ways for her to feel safe.  Over the years she found enough peace to ditch her nasty Christmas Eve tradition - one we were all happy to see go. She loves the season she still is no fan of Santa. Lucky for her Santa loves her anyways.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

A couple of years ago our oldest daughter was at the mall with our youngest son.  She thought she would do something special and sentimental with him so she offered to wait in line with him to see Santa Claus. He looked at her with skeptical eyes, "You want me to go sit on a strangers lap and reveal my deepest desires? Uh...NO thank you, that's not fun, that's creepy."

The Little Drummer Boy (Our not so little anymore flute girl)

Our daughter has played the flute since she was 7.  We got her started because she was such a little stress and anxiety ball and needed an outlet.  She's has always been gifted at it, had nearly perfect tone, and almost never hits the wrong notes.  Why?  She's has auditory defensiveness/sensitivity and hears wrong notes so intensely they drive her crazy.  She has a hard time enjoying music, though she loves it, writes it, breathes it like it was air to her, because she can't help but hear any missed variation.

Recently we were at a beautiful Christmas concert.  They had a flutist who had a very unnatural vibrato to everything she played.  Years ago our daughter would have loudly complained about it.  Everyone around us would have had a lecture on vibrato, and known exactly how violent this ladies was making our daughter.  We've found that progress in social skills and every other coping mechanism with our kids comes very slowly, sometimes it's down right imperceptible but then you wake up one day and all those little bits of progress have added up to something remarkable. 

She still complained, expressed her deep desire to run up to the stage, rip the flute out of the ladies hands and beat her with it. BUT, she didn't flee the building, huff and puff for everyone to see her disgust, and she whispered it.

"The Fire is so Delightful"

Our latest fascination it a video the kids stumbled onto while searching for Prep and Landing on Netflix.  It's a video of wood burning in the fireplace.  First of all, we have a fireplace to burn wood in but this has tripped every ADHD wire in their ADHD brains and they are fixated with it.  They keep joking about the special effects and fine quality of the video.  They were ecstatic to find out there was two episode and are eagerly awaiting a sequel.  They wanted to move the TV in front of the real fireplace just to watch the video, to buy a 100 inch TV so they could see it even bigger on the wall.  They run up and warm their hand in front of it, my son rips his shirt off because it's getting so hot, and they yell at each other for walking in front of the screen and obscuring the view.  Who knew a recorded fire could bring so much entertainment and fun, I didn't.


Hark, the Herald Angels Weep

My husband leaned over to me in church yesterday and said, "Do you think my plan for the tree topper angel is sacrilegious?" I honestly had to think about it for a minute or two.  I really don't hink of the Christmas tree is a very religious symbol of Christmas.  I know that their are all kind of explanations of how it represents different facets of faith but really I think those explanations  but personally I think the tree is a great decoration for the season and part of magical tradion and that's about it.

Qualifier, our kids are NOT very little anymore, our youngest is 12 in a couple weeks.  Fact, everyone in our house loves Dr. Who.  Add to this mix the fact that my husband has a deep seeded distaste for our Christmas Tree topper angel. Add to the old tree topper angel some serious ADHD, some creative genus, some impulsivity, some Modpodge, some spray paint, and you have a weeping angel Cristmas Tree topper.
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That's right, by tonight our new and improved weeping angel Christmas tree topper will be staring down from the top of the Christmas tree.  I leaned over to him and whispered back, "No, I don't think it's sacrilegious at all."

Holidays can be hard: uncomfortable clothes, overstimulating events, social skills war zone, organizational hell, too many demands coming from too many directions.  But in the midst of it all we have learned to compromise, teach, ditch the demands, and find what works for our family.  It's not perfect but it's our holiday, our traditions, and we love it.








Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dear Adam Levine, Thank You for Owning Your ADHD

We gathered as a family to watch the end of The Voice the other night.  But in my opinion the most important moment didn't come when all the superstars sang, or when they handed out keys to new cars for the finalist or even when they announced the winner.

As the mom to 6 ADHD kids (7 kids in all) and wife to an ADHD husband the most pivotal moment of the evening came as they played a video of Adam Levine playing the piano, the drums, the guitar, whistling, talked about him playing the accordion, and showed him singing.

In that moment one of my kids reminded everyone that Adam Levine had ADHD too. There was a level of pride filling the room.  "He's just like us." one said.  Another added, "you know it's because of his ADHD that he has to play all those instruments, that he's good at all of them!"  They know that drive, the unquenchable force that pushes you past distraction, past focus, and lands you on the positive side of hyper-focus.

and drums, basses, electric guitars & flutes
The excitement, the acceptance, the hope in that moment was tangible.

There are many successful ADHD people out there, more and more of them are coming forth and owning their ADHD.  I wonder if they will ever know the impact they have on the upcoming generation of kids with ADHD.  Those kids and struggling adults can find they have potential in the success of another person.  To struggle through school, through feeling different and awkward, through trying to master coping mechanisms, and find a way to use all this energy and potential seeing someone's success is a beacon, it's proof it can be done. Instead of just seeing all the things they aren't, they catch a glimmer of all they can be.

Every successful person who comes forth and owns their ADHD is important in the life of others who struggle with the same issues no matter what walk of life their success is in.  Adam Levine hits home in my house because he's creative.  Creative is what we do, art, music, singing, acting, writing, film, animation to see a successful person with ADHD inspires them towards their own greatness.

Stigma, shame, embarrassment, the threat of being judged by negative stereotypes for admitting your ADHD are real. The world would have us hide anything that is different or imperfect.  Ironically, the only way to change those negative stereotypes is to take that risk, to face that fear, and be bold about our disorders in front of the world until those walls are broken down.  Then, fear, stigma, shame,embarrassment, negative stereotypes can be replaced by knowledge and understanding.

There is no doubt that ADHD is a mixed bag.  There are struggles, endless struggles; but, there is greatness also.  Thank you Adam Levine for being willing to show both sides to the world.  Thank you to all successful people who stand up and own it.




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Friday, December 14, 2012

Tonight - Reflections on a Day of Tragedy

Tonight I'm sitting in my living room, firing blazing in the fireplace, kids bickering, watching movies, drawing, telling stories, complaining, laughing, being.

Tonight I am soaking them in.

Tonight I'm praying for the families who's hearts and homes have been torn apart by a truly senseless act of violence. I'm wishing, like the rest of the country and world, that there was some way to make sense of the senseless.  I'm wishing that there was some way to legislate this away so it would never happen again.  Even though I know that there is no sense to be made of it.  Even though I know that legislation may make it better but what is broken here was beyond the reach of laws.

Tonight I am thinking back on the day and my own list of what should have happened before and after, soothing my own sense of wanting to control the aspects of life we have no control over.  Furious that my son's teacher played the news feed in his classroom in high school. I understand her need to know, to be connected to it.  But, I also know she wasn't thinking of the students in her classroom.  How they would feel.  What they would think.  If they were going home to families equipped help them process this terrible event or if she was sending them home where no one will be there to help them. 

Tonight I am reliving my own conversation with my own children when they came home from school - figuring out what information they had been given, what they thought and felt, what they were worried about.  Reassuring them that even if they didn't want to talk then they could come when ever they did want to talk.  Telling them that we would not be watching the news about it on TV but if they wanted more information we would look it up.  I didn't watch long, after my husband called and told me what had happened.  I couldn't, still can't get the pictures of the day out of my head.  Forever the sight of the flag being lowered to half mast will reside next to it being raised at the 9-11 site.  Tragic.  Tragic for the families, tragic for our American family, our world family.

Tonight I'm looking for a way to restore our families sense of safety and control over their world. I was talking to my daughter who did come to me privately, crying, she told me of the thoughts plaguing her.  How she couldn't stop thinking about the Christmas presents those parents had bought for their babies, those precious children. Those presents that would never be opened.  We cried together.  I told her there are so many things in this world that we can't control and when things like this happen sometimes it feels like we have no control.  I reminded her that there are many things we do control, can control.  She told me about a class project they did today making cards for a young man with cystic fibrosis reach a goal to get into the Book of World records. Something we can do, a way we can serve, a great way to exercise the control we do have in this way. Later I will deal with the school and live news feeds in the classroom.  Tonight, I am thinking of opportunities we have to serve tomorrow and the chance my family has to see that they can make a positive difference in peoples' lives, the control they can exercise.

Tonight the importance of spreading mental health awareness is central in my thoughts.  I wonder what signs were missed, what help could have been given, what could have been different for the young man who ripped the lives from these innocent children and adults.  I wonder what if mental illness wasn't such a mystery to the general public. What if there wasn't so much stigma and shame associated with this type of illness.  What if there were easily accessible resource for those suffering from mental health issues and their families.  We want to control the uncontrollable and there is so much we can't control but we can do better.  Certainly awareness, education, help is something we can do better at.

Tonight I will give hugs and kisses, listen to prayers for safety, for comfort for those that are hurting, for love and peace.  Tonight I will say a few myself.



* When the shootings in Aurora took place we did a blog on handling crisis with special needs family members 1156 Miles to Aurora - Dealing with Crisis and ADHD



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Color Purple - An ADHD Homework Nightmare


He emptied his backpack onto the living room floor.  It was like Mary Poppins carpet bag or clowns coming out of a tiny circus car.  I still don't know how he fit it all in his backpack to begin with but after he started pulling things out I had no question why he couldn't find the purple piece of paper that was the last and final part of his Service Learning Project Board.

For my two youngest sons this is their first year back in public school after 5 years of home school.  There certainly have been some major adjustments, homework being at the top of the list.  To this day one of my favorite things about the home school years was no homework.  No homework to keep track of, no make up work after illness, no homework to agonize over when the meds have worn off and the brain just isn't functioning, no homework to lose.

Keeping track of homework, remembering to do it, doing it, remembering to turn it in are all hallmark problems for ADHD kids (and for adults though it wouldn't necessarily be called homework it would more likely translate into work assignments or projects).  My son's backpack is probably the stereotypical ADHD backpack.  Looking at it I, myself, had to wonder how on earth the child is getting good grades and turning anything in on time.

It's simple his absolute obsession and fear of disappointing a teacher overrides his absolute lack of organization.  His anxiety level is intense, it's one of the reasons why we went to home school right before the 4th grade when class size and intensity of curriculum were both going to take a big jump up. Nightly he paces the halls and worries that he didn't write something down in his planner, no matter how many times he reviews it.  Clearly organization is a coping skill we are working on but haven't come close to mastering.

This project board about sent him over the edge.  Projects with lots of pieces and parts are also notoriously difficult for ADHDers.  He had arranged to do the 10 hours of service at our local library, as an avid reader this was a magical place to serve.  He had written all the parts of the project up, printed out the blurbs and pictures to glue onto the project board he had painstakingly decorated like a huge book shelf.  All he had left was the purple paper.

For days I had suggested talking to his teacher.  His response, "I can't.  I truly fear that woman."  I reassured him as best I could, but, her strong PE teacher personality had him shaking in his boots. I've talked to her several times, truth is she loves him as a student, gets a kick out of his unique personality and intensity.  But he still wouldn't talk to he,r convinced that she didn't have anymore of the precious purple papers, not one.  Convinced that he was going to fail the entire project without that purple piece of paper he turned to any alternative he could come up with.

He was going to talk to the girl he was supposed to do the project with, who bailed at the last minute, she might have one.  She wasn't using hers, he explained, she's failing the class anyways so she didn't do a project or a board.  I questioned whether someone who was that disconnected would have the purple paper, "good point," he said.

At my request he braved the backpack and went through one paper at a time looking for the purple paper.  I tried to edge in a little organizational time by having him sort everything into piles, one for each class.  That didn't work, though he did find half of a white copy of the purple piece of paper.  Clearly it wouldn't do, in addition to being ripped, it was not purple.

He came up with a plan, he was trying to enlist the help of his oldest sister to "forge" the purple paper.  She could do the forgery on the computer and then we could go to the store and find the right color purple paper and print it out.  How is this easier than asking for a new one?  It's not, but, he reiterated that he really really fears that woman, so in his mind it's safer.

Board completed, minus the purple paper,  never having found the original, no copy to take from a fellow student, forgery vetoed by mom and dad - he took the project board to school to turn it in.  Clearly, he was going to have to brave his teacher and ask for a new one to glue on the board.

When he got home from school I asked how it all turned out.

"Oh," he exclaimed cheerfully, "the purple piece of paper didn't have to be on the board."

For your entertainment I have written down some of the fake book titles that my son put on his project board.  He and his sister, the one he was trying to rope into a life of crime as a forger, had a great time coming up with them.  It was late and the meds had definitely worn off.

Sometimes I Eat Paper Clips - Overcoming PICA

Prunes and Prejudice

Fish - A Complete History

101 Ways to Slay a Clown

Mayonnaise is NOT Marshmallow Cream

Tapping Into Your Inner Dolphin

The Super Guide to Malaga  and Beyond

How to be a Lumberjack - Sleep All Night - Work All Day

They Call Me The Rabbit Whisperer

Coping with Alien Abduction and Probing

So You Want to be a Llama Herder

Thank Goodness This is the Last Book by Ima Exhausted

and the banned book: 10 Reasons NOT to Get a Colonoscopy


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Monday, November 26, 2012

An Inheritance from the Distracted King - Mastering Hyperfocus

Besides inheriting their ADHD from their father, the Distracted King, our children are benefiting from his years of experience and the many coping mechanisms that he has found to pay the heavy price tag of ADHD and open the great and marvelous gifts which it offers.

The King and I were talking today about hyperfocus, a quality of ADHD that can easily hijack the mind making it easy to get lost in ideas, creative ventures, and activities.  The conversation was inspired by a wonderful blogpost I read written by Zoe Kessler for Psych Central called A Hyperfocus Balance Sheet: Is Hyperfocus Worth it?  A wonderful breakdown of pros and cons to hyperfocus.  In the discussion the King said he considers hyperfocus one of the greatest qualities he gains from his ADHD.  It has taken a long time to get the balance just right, to master it rather than it controlling him, but now it's an asset that he uses in many aspects of daily life.

The benefits to my husband and our family are really hard to quantify but I have pinned down specifics of this sizable inheritance beyond the obvious financial benefits we have gained from his successful career.

The King has taught them to use hyperfocus to accomplish an unwanted, even hated task.  One of the hardest things for the ADHD mind to do is focus on something boring, uninteresting, or undesirable.  Unfortunately life is full of such tasks. Right now, for our kids, school is full of such tasks.  The King uses something that his mind wants to hyperfocus on as a carrot to get through the mundane and irritating.

We have a son, now a freshman in high school, who is a grammar freak.  Until we had him diagnosed with ADHD and medicated in the 1st grade he couldn't remember his alphabet. Then, like someone turned on a switch, he started reading.  Within a couple of months he was reading at a 6th grade level and much to the chagrin of the teachers and office staff he was correcting the spelling and grammar of the school newsletter and returning it each week.  Now this same son had to read a book in honors English, House on Mango Street.  It has been several months and he still randomly breaks out into rants about how horrible that book was to get through.  Why?  It has no grammar at all - just one run-on sentence.  The boy who can sit down and read a 400- 600 page book that he wants to read in a day or two was struggling to get through a page.

With the help of his father he learned how to hyperfocus on the task he didn't want to do so he could get to the one he wanted to do.  Reading chunks for the reward of reading chunks.  Important to note that you have to set limits on your pleasurable hyperfocus or you will easily get swept away.  In this case it was pages or chapters, sometimes it minutes or hours.  Today he used those same skills to write an essay for the same class.  Each time he uses the skills he is learning about managing his focus and engaging the ability to hyperfocus he is able to do more and more on his own without the Kings help of guidance.

The King has taught them how to establish a state of hyperfocus, how to get into the groove.  Getting into that hyperfocus state of mind is easy when it's where your mind wants to go but when it doesn't want to go there it can be very difficult.  The King has certainly proven it can be done.  He has also passed the process onto our children. Recently we found out we had to move, the King took one of our daughters out to the garage, surveying it he said to her, "Mary, I need to know what is in this garage.  I need someone who can get lost in this job."  Other than a few parameters he didn't tell her how to do the job. She strung up Christmas lights, found an old boombox we thought was dead forever, fixed it, blasted music, created a system for finding and cataloging everything in the garage, and went to town.

As each day passed she employed the first lesson listed above by doing other chores that needed to be done and then headed back to the garage.  The King is still teaching her the lesson, helping her learn to take breaks, praising her work and progress, helping her see the value of the time and effort she is putting into the task, and satisfaction of finishing a long hard job.

Important to note that the King didn't dictate how she got into the groove of hyperfocus, that is a very individual process that changes for each person and each task.

The King has taught them there is a time to stop - pull yourself from the groove and pay attention to other things in life.  It took the King years to learn this and personally I would like to think that I had a little something to do with it.  Just like he would go out the garage to help Mary learn to monitor and balance her ability to hyperfocus I have helped him, over the years, to see when he was loosing perspective.  This has probably been one of the harder lessons to learn but he has really come to a place of where he can pull himself from that hyperfocus state and enjoy the world around him.  Having both the ability to put yourself into that frame of mind and take yourself out of it allows you to use it daily, finishing  small projects and making marked progress on long ones.

Part of learning it and teaching it is learning to recognize what you need and what those around you need.  While getting his focus ripped out from under him is hard - he even describes it as painful, he has learned to communicate it and teach ways to cope with it to our kids.  Being self aware and being able to express it to others helps them understand where you are coming from and what they can do to help.  He consistently includes them by asking them to look at something he's working on and for their critique.  When our rather random house is firing distractions like a war zone he asks for their help in keeping his focus.  He often says I can't think about that right now but let me get to this point in my work and my attention is all yours.

The kids have become very good at being equally self aware and expressive.  As they vocalize their struggle between what they need to be doing and the multitude of ideas that flood them we can help them manage the way their brains work while they learn to manage it themselves.

Most commonly we see this manifested in the uncontrollable need to write down an idea, record a melody, or draw an inspired picture.  He has taught them to jot down notes or record ideas quickly and then get back to the required task at hand.  He has taught them that even though it is hard to wait they can.  They can remember the inspiration and act on it in the appropriate time.


The King has taught them that you can include others in your hyperfocus state, making it not such a solitary quality.  Their are aspects of his job that are not very inclusive.  We can't all sit around and edit a film or draw the same picture.  He includes us in the source of his hyperfocus by including us where he can.  More than just asking our opinions he has pulled us into his world and activities.  When he worked on a film a couple of years ago our family became intimately involved.  Our older girls were production assistants, the younger ones acted as extras, we were often on set if nothing else just to watch and be there with him.  We write stories as a family, make movies, deeply discuss art, literature, and music.  He proves all the time that hyperfocus does not need to be a solitary place, in fact it can be very inclusive as we look for ways to share our joys and obsessions.  Many of our fondest memories revolve around getting lost together in a wonderfully creative world come to life.

It has passed along to our children and they are know to come and share their inspiration with us and involve each other in their creative endeavors.  Fernando asks Hannah or Rachel for drawings of characters for his story, Mariah has Rachel help her with lyrics and has her sing her songs, Rachel takes lyrics to Mariah, they help each other with plot ideas for stories and movie, they share and pull others into their process.

The King as taught them that there is a satisfaction that comes in finishing, a confidence that carries you through to the next hard thing to conquer that requires the ability to hyperfocus.  When our daughter Mariah was about 15 she was already heavily into the world of composing music.  I think she fell into that world from the moment she took her first music lesson at 7 years old.  At 15 he had a tall order for her though.  He needed a song written for a movie he was working on - one that she could write and she and her sister could perform.  A song that would play during a movie scene where one of the characters, a young gang kid, is considering suicide.  He pulled her into his hyperfocus, spinning her off into her own.

It was a hard thing to do, she had to use all of the skills mentioned above to complete it. She had to pace herself and find balance using hyperfocus on a consistent basis to complete a task.  She had to put herself into that hyperfocus state when she didn't necessarily want to finding a process to do that, a place to best work, set the mood for herself.  She had to communicate when she needed help following inspiration because it finally hit.  Often she had to find ways to hold onto the inspiration and set it aside until she could work on it at the appropriate time and place.  Sometimes she needed help pulling herself from that place back into the flow of life.    It wasn't a song she ever would have written on her own, it was dictated by the script and mood of the film at that moment.  But she did it.  How priceless is the knowledge that you can apply yourself to a task that isn't what you would choose to do, one that is hard and painstaking, and you can finish with high praise.




ADHD is a life long disorder, the way their brains are wired is not going to suddenly change. They will struggle with how to manage and use the qualities of ADHD to some degree all their life but every bit of ground they gain, every bit of understanding, every tool they acquire changes what their future looks like.  They are fortunate that the Distracted King is there to lead the way, that he embraces his strengths and weaknesses and strives to show them that they can work on them everyday because he works on them everyday.  In the end is there really any inheritance more valuable than that.

*The song, Smoke and Mirrors, is written by Mariah Aro with help from her sister Rachel and performed by Rachel Aro with harmonies by Mariah.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Winning the Battle with Struggling Readers

I was a reluctant reader when I was a kid. In fact, calling me a reluctant reader might have been an understatement.  My parents tried everything.  They took me on frequent excursions to the books store to buy me the book of my choosing. They sent me to after school reading programs with strange plexiglass sheets I was supposed to place over the page, a mechanical arm lowered down the page line by line at the speed I was supposed to be reading.  It always beat me by what seemed like hours.  They even taped money in the back of books as a reward for when I finished reading a book.  I am not sure I EVER got the money at the back of the books.  In fact, whoever goes through my parents books is likely to find a small fortune still waiting for me to finish.

Eventually, I figured out some things about myself.  First of all, I really can't read unless I am saying the words out loud in my head.  Can't do it.  Second, I'm really not a huge fantasy fan.  I love facts though, I am a great factual reader and if I venture into fiction you can pretty much bet it's factually or historically based.  Third, my spelling and reading struggles would certainly tend to prove that I had some sort of learning disability going on.

I didn't want those struggles to be passed onto my kids.  I didn't want them to have a string of unread books trailing behind them.  I wanted them to be avid readers.  Imagine my own distress as I struggled with two dyslexic daughters, trying to help them overcome their disabilities and find a passion for reading.  By the time that Fernando came to live with our family we had overcoming reading struggles and instilling a love for reading down to a science.

I recently read an article about helping the reluctant reader become an enthusiastic reader.  There were some great ideas in the post but unfortunately most of them would not have addressed the needs of my reluctant readers. We have found some great tools, however, that we have used over the years with all seven of our kids, those with dyslexia, those without it, and our late comer to the family who we are pretty sure is dyslexic also.

1.  If you have a child that is reluctant to read please consider starting with an evaluation for learning disabilities.  Most kids will not be seriously reluctant to read unless there is some sort of problem making it difficult or frustrating for them.  An evaluation can confirm learning disabilities and set you on the path to conquering them.  In the absence of disabilities it can also find weaknesses or gaps that may be making reading hard.  Regardless of the outcome, it's a great place to start.

2.  Weak visual tracking skills can make reading hard and exhausting.  The solution is fun.  Play games that help visual tracking like mazes, connect the dots, word finds.  Investigate with I Spy type books, Where's Waldo, and picture searches.  One of my daughters went to Occupational Therapy for 3 years, she loved tossing colored items on the ground then spinning (like on a swing) and trying to pick up all the red or yellow items and place them in containers.  There are many OT games that help with visual tracking.  Look online or check out The Out of Sync Child Has Fun (a wonderfully helpful book)

3.  What kind of reader is your child?  We have some that love fantasy and some that hate it. My 20 year old was just telling me that she still prefers fantasy to any other form of literature.  Her younger sister is a factual reader all the way.  Another sister will hardly entertain anything that isn't science fiction.  Especially for a child that struggles with reading it's important that their pleasure reading be from a genre they want to read.  Fortunately we live in an era where children's literature has a lot to offer in almost any direction your young reader wants to go.

4.  Phonics doesn't work for everyone - there are other ways to break the language code. My oldest, one of my dyslexics, to this day can't sound anything out.  She learned to read by memorizing whole words, their shapes, using key letters as cues.  Once she realized what worked for her she went nuts studying words and adding them to her internal dictionary.  She reads extraordinarily fast now, around 300 words per minute.  There was a time when I thought that would never happen but when we found what she loved to read and combined it with a way to break the code of language, she became unstoppable.

5.  Split the reading.  One thing we have done with all of our children is split the reading.  At first, with each of them, we would read large chunks and they would read a sentence or two.  As their skills and stamina took hold we would read less and they would read more.  Regardless of the amounts we would take turns, I would read then they would read.  This is a long process, it's not like by the end of one book they are going to be reading a page and me a sentence.  But as you continue to read with them, over time, their skills and stamina will improve.

6,  Reading aloud with your children opens up the world of literature to them.  We don't just read aloud to them though, we read aloud with them as a family.  From the time our children were too little to read we would take turns reading, helping the younger ones, or ones that were struggling with words they don't know. At first they would be simply repeating what we whispered in their ear.  Then they may only be able to contribute all the "and"s or "the"s in there part of the reading. Contributing gave them a sense of success. We would also stop to explain what certain words or phrases meant.  Reading together has become a  cherished family memory in our house.

7.  Use technology as a tool to help your struggling reader.  There are many types of assisstive technology that allow you to change the color, size, and spacing of text.  What a gift for those that are struggling with text that is too close together, a sea of text or other issues.   Take advantage of services out there like BookShare and Audible that can help with adjustable text and books on CD or mp3.  One of our daughters had her first successes by "reading" along with books on tape. That sense of accomplishment fueled her desire to read on her own, at her own pace.  We have always been careful that she didn't become so dependent on audible books that she gave up on reading for herself.

8.  Pick books that are a little challenging in context, language, and length but NOT defeating because they are so hard. As your reluctant young reader grows and learns it's important that they have success.  Triumph fuels empowerment, defeat re-enforces a sense of failure.  Sometimes that means you will have to tell your reader they're not ready for a book.  We always made the desired book a dangling carrot, then found stepping stone books to help them reach their goals.  These stepping stone authors became some of our children's favorites.

9.  Make time for reading when your child is at their best not overly tired or mentally exhausted.  This was really important in our ADHD house where mental exhaustion from trying to focus is a real and tangible issue. One of our dyslexics told me that trying to read at the end of the day as part of homework was like smearing mud on her face and rubbing it in.  It just made things worse and certainly made her struggles seem insurmountable. Make reading time special, create a bedroom fort, a closet nook, a cozy corner where reading is the only activity that gets to take place.

10.  Give rewards - treats, new books, whatever your reluctant young reader's currency is, use it. One of our very artistic daughters would argue with the pictures as she was first learning to read.  We started covering the pictures and then letting her draw her own illustrations when she finished.  It was a great motivator to her, is it any wonder that she's a concept artist now, reading peoples literary works and creating visual images of their characters.

The biggest advice I have to share - never give up. Where there's a will there's a way has gotten us through some mighty tight spots. As you are figuring it out remember to have fun, we all learn better and faster when we are having fun.  Today, I have to pry the books from my children's hands, chase them down out of the bathroom and other perfect hidden reading spots, sometimes I even cringe when they beg to go to the bookstore because they finished a book, the 400 or 500 page book, I bought them yesterday.  But these are great problems to have.

*The pictures are all covers to some of our family's favorite books - I excluded the obvious best sellers like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and put up picture of some gems that you might not have heard of
 
PS For some people the library is a great tool but not for us. Remember we are a house of ADHDers - we really can't afford the lost books and late fees that come with visiting the library - and no one really wants to see their face on a wanted poster.

Friday, November 2, 2012

My #ADHD Family

I think I may have inadvertently stepped on someones  toes on twitter the other night when I posted that my #ADHD son had done something.  I suppose that's not hard to do when you only have 140 characters to sum up some situation or make a statement.  Anyone that has read my blog knows that I am nothing if not wordy and twitter is nothing if not concise.

I don't have any proof that I offended her, there was no direct mention of me in her post but it seemed like she was talking to me. This person seemed to be annoyed that a child would be identified as an #ADHD son and not just a son.  I am pretty sure that they thought the child was being classified by their disability, separated or singled out.

It did get me thinking, I do that all the time on twitter put my #ADHD son or daughter or husband.  Mostly I do it to sneak that stupid hash tag in there and not just let it hang at the end of a post.  I have never thought of it as separating out one of my children as ADHD - maybe because all three of my sons have ADHD and three of my four daughters have it and so does my husband of going on 23 years.

I don't think of it as separating them out because really in our house, my daughter without ADHD and I would be the minority- we would be the ones separated out as non-ADHDers.  It would be much easier and faster to list us as the ones without it than to list those with it.  In our house we are the minority, the not "normal" ones, and I would even go so far as to say the ones with the disability.  After all, we're the ones that are struggling to keep the pace of thought, of action, of energy.

Heaven knows when I say my ADHD son or daughter or husband I don't do it disparagingly, I know that they know I don't say it with any kind of hint that they are less than because of their ADHD.  I am sure if you would ask them they would tell you I say it proudly.  In fact, I have been asked before if I would change it if I could - if I would take away their ADHD if I could.  I think most parents would like to see their children not suffer and struggle but let me tell you what I have told each of them individually - UNEQUIVOCALLY I would not take away their ADHD if I could.  Doing so would intrinsically change who they are as people and I LOVE who they are.

I see their ADHD in every decision they make, every trial they struggle with, every song or poem, or story they write, piece of art they create, every scene they act in, every original idea they come up with.  I see it in their unique perspective, in every interaction they have with the world, in every choice they make.  Sure, it is a struggle for them to deal with.  I know there are days that they wish they didn't have it.  I would be lying if I said it wasn't a struggle for them and for me.  But in very real ways aren't we built as people by how we face our struggles and trials.  Don't we ALL face them in one form or another.

I see their ADHD and I am proud of them for who they are, what they create, for their compassion, for their empathy to others, for their quick wit, their humor, their perseverance, their dedication, their desire to be good and try hard in the face of great obstacles.

Maybe the world sees it as a disability, I don't see it that way.  I see it as as who they are, as their state of mind, and I LOVE those beautiful minds.




Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ALL HAIL TO THE QUEEN

(a letter from the Distracted King and his court of jesters)

It is ADHD awareness week.  As some of you may already know, my lovely wife went along with my scheme to get her on a local TV show to talk about ADHD. Don't get me wrong, she is not afraid to talk, she is just embarrassed about how she looks and she feels frumpy, however she did it and did not complain.  Like so many things in our lives, she does them and DOES NOT COMPLAIN.  People ask her how she is doing and she usually says, "I'm fine" but little do they know, she is a master liar.  Well at least where HER health is concerned.  

She arrived a little early at the station on Monday because she had just finished attending a school intervention meeting with a friend that was in over her head trying to get accommodations and a diagnosis for her son.  For those of you that saw the video clip that we posted the other day, you probably saw a housewife and a mom, advocating for those that have a difficulty speaking for themselves.  She does it every day, all day for us and for anyone within her reach.


What you didn't see is the cane that is her constant companion and with her everywhere she goes... she happened to leave it in my office during the show (which I didn't realize until afterwards).  She did it because she doesn't like explaining to people why someone so young needs a cane and she doesn't want people to know that she is in pain all day every day.   

Lisa has an auto immune disease called "Ankylosing Spondylitis" (say that three times fast)... we just refer to it as A.S.  For many years the only thing that helped with the pain was a nasty little drug called Prednisone which does combat the chronic unbearable pain, but it has some very unpleasant side effects.  Major weight gain and Moon-Face are some of the more obvious side effects and sadly not as severe as some of the others that are associated with Prednisone.  Back when we were first married, the alternative was to lie still in a completely blackened room secretly wishing to die… sadly she started taking it years before she met me, I believe in her early teens. Thankfully, the Prednisone that has made the only difference in her pain for the last thirty years is now at a very low dose and is taken mostly when her NEW infusion medication is wearing off (usually at the end of the third week in her four week cycle). 



So in the interview, what you couldn’t see is how she struggles every day.  How the muscle relaxants and pain killers that they prescribe to help her manage the golf ball sized knots and muscle spasms do little to help. You can’t see how difficult it is for her to get in and out of our 15 passenger van because in addition to A.S. she (and several of our kids) have another lovely disorder called "ehlers-danlos syndrome (E.D.S)" so if the chronic pain, spasms and knots weren’t enough, she gets a whole new batch from the E.D.S.   E.D.S. is a connective tissue disorder that basically makes her elastic woman, but not in a good way.  Her joints are so loose that you can pull her kneecaps around the side of her leg. So stairs and steps, uneven ground... heck even flat surfaces are all accidents just waiting to happen.  So the disease is turning her immune system against her and literally attacking her muscles while the disorder produces far too much collagen in her skin and connective tissue so any support she might have with her joints is weak and minimal at best.  I guess she should be grateful that she is even upright at all.
  

She has determined that she will post something every day this week.  Today's post was going to be a picture with a funny blurb or something inspirational, but I am afraid that just won’t do!  The reason it was going to be a picture with just a blurb is due to the fact that today, she will spend several hours hooked up to an I.V. getting an infusion. To date, this medication has been the only thing that seems to really help slow down her disease... not cure it or stop it, but just slow it down.  After her infusion, she will be driven home by our daughter and hopefully, if the cards are aligned and no major school trauma comes home on the 4 o'clock bus, she will get several hours of restful mostly pain-free sleep.  If all goes well that blissful sleep might stay with her for a few nights, which will end up being the only decent sleep she has all month until her next treatment. 

Why am I sharing all of this? I am fairly certain that she will want to kill me when she discovers what I did. That's okay, I am ADHD, I don't really care about the consequences right now, sure I may later, but I am fairly certain I can outrun her. The truth is she doesn't want people to know, she doesn't want pity or anyone treating her differently because of it.  In some degree, I think her trials are partially why she understands US so well.  On some levels she has empathy in regards to not being able to function the way the average person does.  She may not get us entirely, but she understands enough to communicate with those of us that are lost in a world full of possibilities and distractions, absurdities and epiphanies all wrapped up snugly in a bundle of co-occurring conditions.

When we were engaged, many of her friends half-jokingly told me that I was marrying a medical bill.  Too true, our co-pays for her medications and all of the many medications that the rest of us take literally make-up at least 1/4 if not more of my monthly salary... and that's with health insurance. If I knew then, what I know now, I would still choose to marry my little 5' fireball.  She has saved me in every way that one person could save another (my Titanic quote for the day).  She has rescued me from myself and the down sides of my disorders, she has encouraged me to soar and given me the strength to do so, but has helped me stay tethered enough to not float off into the ether.  She is my light in dark places and she is the most incredible person in my life.  Without her and her influence in my life I would most assuredly be dead or at the very least a broken person.  Although our life has been far from easy, it has been a life of worth, one of value and one that I am not ashamed of.  There are not words to describe how I feel about my soul mate, my wife and my queen, but I will spend the rest of our time together trying to find those words and saying them often enough for her to never forget.  

This week is ADHD awareness week.  While we are doing our best to advocate for this disorder and to help those who need help, let us not forget to thank those heroes who sink into bed or the couch each night, exhausted from a day full of re-directing, encouraging, reminding and every other thing that our friends and loved ones do to keep us on task and on track.  Let's take a moment to thank them and let them know how much we appreciate them and what they do.  Let's not forget that while we are neck deep in our struggles and difficulties, that the hands that reach out to us, that lift us, dust us off when we trip or fall, dress our wounds and guide us through the rocky terrain of life with our disorders… let us not forget that they have burdens of their own and trials to carry in this life, unrelated to us. Some may be on the surface some may be buried deep, but while we struggle to communicate and function in a world that is not necessarily designed for us, let's be sure to remember, show appreciation and even praise those that give so much for us with so little in return. I believe that the greatest gift that we could give our heroes and  our caregivers, is to harness the UP-SIDE of our disorders and use our incredible minds and often untapped gifts to make this world a better place and in some small way (at least), to bless the lives of those that fight for us each and every day. 

I have asked each of my kids to take moment to share a thought about their mother and what she does for them.  So when the Queen is getting her medical care today, we will do our best to hold up the Castle until she returns.  Long live the Queen... (This is my greatest secret wish!)

Humbly,
The Distracted King





Rachel – Age 20 
(ADHD, Inattentive, Dyslexic -  allergic to painkillers and stimulants)
When asked to write a paragraph about what my Mom does for me, my first thought is "that's impossible....I'd have to write a book" and that's not an exaggeration. My mom is the coolest most bad-A mom on the planet. Not only does she take time to help me with my needs and wants in life, but she takes the necessary time to understand them. She has not just watched me fight my battles but been there alongside me, fighting them with me. I am so blessed to have a mother who cares about me and my disorders, so… so… so… blessed. A mother who, before I was diagnosed and even now would sit for hours with me trying to help me understand homework problems or just simple matters of life that I couldn't process or didn't quite get. I could go on and on and on, but thanks Mum, you really are the coolest mom on the planet, and anyone who disagrees is gonna have to deal with me... or Mia cause she's more threatening. I love you.


Mariah (Mia) – Age 18 
(ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, ODD)
My mum is a phenomenal person. She is selfless and empathetic and very, very stubborn. This is probably part of what makes her such an excellent mother and a strong competent voice for ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities. Her demand for respect is balanced by her kind eyes and gentle heart. She does not understand what it's like to be me, but she has made more effort than anyone else in the world to try and understand, more than that, to help me learn and grow as a person. She has taught me that I have absolutely no excuse to fail. I cannot blame it on my ADHD or my sensory processing issues. She's taught me that even though it’s hard and sometimes it really sucks, it's a part of who I am. I love my mum so much.

Mia’s follow up email #1
Daddy,
I am lying in my bed sobbing because I wrote my paragraph and my stupid iPod keeps malfunctioning and won't send the email. It keeps telling me I have the wrong password when I don't, and its making me sob I hate it! :( :(

I am so mad, my paragraph was perfect. I smashed my iPod against my bed and I'm still sobbing I'm so mad. I can't even think. F u Steve Jobs you f-ing bastard you suck and I hope you're miserable!!!!!! :'(

I guess I'm just gonna have to start over and idk why this is making me cry but I'm really upset. It’s been doing this since I installed the f-ing new iOS and iHate it. I need to write it later I'm so mad and sobbing I can't do it.

Mia’s follow up email #2
By the grace of heaven it looks like it sent! Let me know if it did. Sorry about flipping out, now my eyes hurt for no reason.

Love you,

Mia

P.S. I still hate you Steve Jobs

Fernando (Fernie) – Age 18
(he has lived with us for 3 years now, we have no insurance for him so he is currently un-medicated)
Lisa has done so much for me. I am the un-medicated ADHD child. She listens to me when I spout about comic book crap that she has no interest in, and she makes a great effort to understand what I am saying when I am talking about the shows and the stuff that I love. She asks how my day was at work and how my friends are doing. She bends over backwards like an Olympic gymnast and doesn't even think to ask for the bronze. Thank you and you deserve platinum.


Hannah – Age 17
(the only one without ADHD)
The things my Mum does for me are innumerable, but I think the main thing she does for me is keep me sane. When I'm bouncing off the walls going crazy because of something one of my siblings has done she understands me and talks to me. She gets me like no one else in the house does. I miss the days when we were able to drive to Denny's and sit and drink hot chocolate and eat fries for an hour just to help clear my head. I always enjoy the times when we can drive together in peace, without the buzz of a million thoughts surrounding us. Even though sometimes my needs are put in the back because my siblings need something I feel like she is always keeping me in mind. She is always supportive and there to talk to and sometimes ‘to talk’ is all you need. When my siblings don't understand me or what I am going through I know that she will, and that she will help me in any way she can. My Mum cares and loves me, she listens and understands and that is what she does for me.

Love you Mum,
Hannah aka The Voice of Reason


Mary (Maggie) – Age 15 
(ADHD, Dyslexic, Dyspraxic, Dysgraphic, etc.)
Ever since I was born, I have had lots of disorders and problems which made it hard for me to do pretty much anything… Talk, write, do math.  Most parents would find me an impossible challenge.  She took me every day at 3:00 to therapy, then the school finally gave up so she switched me to a personal therapist which was a 30 minute drive each way.  I would go on Monday and then every other Thursday my mom would take me to another place an hour away.  She took me and waited for me for all of this.  Out of the last four years she has spent 730 hours taking me to speech therapy and occupational therapy so I can learn to function in society today.  This what my mom did for me.  I love you mum.


Hunter – Age 14 
(ADHD, OCD)
Mum you do so much for me. You listen to my stories even when you are extremely tired. You support me in everything I want to do from writing and drawing to calligraphy. You make sure I can get where I need to go, and help me when I need help. Thank you so much mama.




Jaren – Age 11
(ADHD)
(The intro to his email is in Korean and Russian… I didn’t bother trying to translate it, but he sent an attachment in English for his mom… double spaced [which I removed] with no punctuation)

my mom is made of angel tears she is the most amazing person in the entire world she has always been nice to me even if she has been hurting extremely bad she also buys everything we like and she cooks the food we want and she makes the most amazing pies in the world she also bakes extremely good and lastly mum I love you so much I just want you to know that



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

BRAVE - Embracing Your Inner Mother Bear

©2012, All pictures are the property of Disney/Pixar

We had anticipated it's release for months, watched and re-watched the Brave trailers and teasers, planned what our excursion to see it in theaters would be like.  Then we found out that, my husband was going to have to be out of town for a memorial service when the movie was released.  We ourselves would be brave, we would wait for him to get home to see it.  Then his wonderful aunt stepped in with a solution. 

She sent tickets for us to go see the movie here, she and Mark would see it there and then we would Skype about how absolutely wonderful it was.  It was perfect.  Perfect, accept that by the time we sat down in the theater I had been single parenting it for nearly a week.  Yeah, I have 3 adult children but I will remind you that all of them have ADHD so they really aren't always 20 and 18 years old - they're on occasion more like 17 and 15 years old.

That day we had endured the accomplishment of chores (used the movie as a motivator), scorching Central Valley heat with no air conditioner, a trip with 7 kids into the store to get movie treats (that's right I took 7 indecisive kids into the store for treats), not to mention trying to get from the entrance of the theater past all the distracting movie posters, video games, shiny lights, and survey takers to make it to our screening.  I had mediated arguments, consoled candy woes, redirected and redirected and redirected again, reminded pretty much everyone what socially acceptable behavior was repeatedly.


Finally the screen darkened, the movie played, and I watched as the beautiful faces sitting down the row from me lit up with excitement and wonder.  I took a breath, a deep one, I made it, and it all looked promising.  Then I watched the movie... wait a minute,  this was my house on screen if you multiply the fiery red head a couple times and add another brother or two.  Even the kids kept nudging me and whispering, "It's US!"  And the mom, the one constantly trying to keep order, teach social etiquette, and help her daughter grow into the wonderful powerful leader she knows she is going to be...me.

Suddenly, I wasn't so sure I wanted to be in the movie anymore, it wasn't the magical escape from reality I was expecting...it was my life!  And then the mother got turned into a bear, really!?  I smiled and nodded through the Skype.  Later, I would confide to my husband that the jury was still out on this movie for me.  I would somewhat tearfully tell my husband that I was ready for him to come home.

Since then I have thought a lot about it.  I am that mom, I am a mother bear when I need to be, and I am okay with that. 


As parents of kids with ADHD or ASD or SPD or LDs or some combination thereof (and more) we don't have the luxury of not engaging in mother bear parenting.  Our kids are brilliant but it takes a mother bear to uncover that brilliance so the world can see what we see easily.

We mother bears research disorders setting aside pleasure reading for books like The Out of Sync Child has Fun, Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults, and Overcoming Dyslexia. 

We mother bears tell social stories, teach our children how to recognize when their getting over stimulated by using number and smiley/angry face scales, we teach self advocacy, right the world when it's unfair and unbalanced.  We console children who know they're different from their peers who recognize that they will never get an award for staying on task, keeping a clean desk, turning in all their homework on time. 

We mother bears fight back very real demons like self doubt and inadequacy sometimes those demons creep in on the heals of well meaning but misinformed adults who don't understand what their looks, words, and actions can do.  We stand between those who don't understand, no matter who they are, sometimes even family, to advocate and educate.


We mother bears are up all night with kids who fight insomnia, depression, anxiety.  We are at the school helping mediate in the classroom, we are in the principles office, at 504/IEP meetings often feeling like we are guilty and accused when really we are just trying to protect and help what's ours.


We mother bears laugh at the comedic brilliance, at silliness, and uniqueness.  We see greatness in our child's perseverance, diligence, and endurance.  We glory in every bit of progress we see, and trust me we see the most minute bits of progress as huge steps.  We see potential when the world sees problems.


You know, I decided I would rather be a mother bear than anything else in the world.  In some respects, I am here to say bring it on!  This mother bear is here to stay.  Because at the end of the day, like in the end of the movie, I know my kids recognize how important it is for me to be their mother bear.  How do I know?  My daughter has set a date for us to go see Won't Back Down. She says we have to see it together, "Because it's about a mom that takes on the school for her daughter, just like you."