Thriving with ADHD – A mother’s mission

Thriving with ADHD – A mother's mission
Posted on Wed 12 Feb 2020

Written by Tina Wild, Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA), in collaboration with Lou Brown, ADHD Coach, Consultant & Advocate

Originally published in Natural Parent magazine 11 February 2020

 

Being a parent has to be the most rewarding yet toughest job. So, imagine the challenges a parent with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) faces when their child also has ADHD. At Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) we support and advocate on behalf of babies, children and adults with cerebral palsy and a range of neurological conditions, including ADHD. I spoke to Mum, Lou Brown, to find out how she helps her son thrive with the disorder.

Lou felt like an avalanche had hit when she and her son, Jack (11) were both diagnosed with ADHD four years ago. 

“I was 47 and had to come to terms with my own diagnosis, while simultaneously dealing with the devastating guilt and distress I felt from having passed the disorder to my son,” Lou tells me. Over time, however, Lou began to view their diagnoses as a blessing. “It gave me the chance to finally understand myself and get a clinical explanation for Jack’s challenges,” says Lou.

Having lived experience and a clinical background puts Lou in a unique position.  

“As a parent, when Jack’s struggling I know how he feels and that it’s not his fault. Criticising or punishing him would only crush his self-esteem and make him oppositional. Patience and empathy are key to supporting a child with ADHD,” says Lou. “As is finding the balance between setting expectations and providing supportive scaffolding.”

As an ADHD advocate, Lou strives to achieve her dream “of a world in which every person with ADHD is understood and supported. Where information and quality treatment are accessible, and those with ADHD thrive, achieve their dreams, and live happy lives.”

 

The truth about ADHD

ADHD is a complex, neurobiological disorder which is mostly hereditary and results in genetic brain differences. The area most affected is the prefrontal cortex area of the brain, responsible for self-regulation.

Hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention are classic ADHD symptoms, with many also experiencing emotional regulation challenges.

The mental processes responsible for self-regulation are called executive functions. Children with ADHD lag in developing executive functions by approximately 30%, or 3-6 years, and therefore lack the capacity to control themselves. Additionally, as they mature, the majority of children with ADHD only develop approximately 75-80% of the executive functioning capacity of ‘neurotypical’ adults and, therefore, continue to lag indefinitely.

Lou first noticed signs of ADHD in Jack when he was around 4. By 6, he was being rejected by his classmates and was often in trouble with his teacher. He was also highly emotional. 

“I started to not like my son. I couldn’t reach him as he couldn’t focus long enough to hear me. It was exhausting. Yet, somehow I knew that his behaviour wasn’t purposeful, he’s a funny, talented, creative kid with a heart of gold.”

Lou describes having ADHD “like living without a pause button; you have no ability to stop, think and make conscious decisions. Your mind wanders constantly, hyper-focuses on unimportant tasks, and refuses to engage in important ones.”

“You’re prone to making impulsive decisions, then having to deal with the consequences,” says Lou.

"The repercussions associated with impulsivity are evident throughout society, especially in the prison population where 25–40% of inmates are estimated to have ADHD (though most are undiagnosed and untreated)."

This is an alarming overrepresentation considering only 4-4.2% of the general population are estimated to have ADHD.

 

Why understanding ADHD is so important

Many people still falsely blame ADHD on poor parenting or believe it’s an excuse for deliberately naughty behaviour, rudeness or lack of intelligence.

Without appropriate support, children with ADHD often struggle to achieve their goals or meet expectations. As adults they may report feeling like a failure and either give up or develop anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol addiction or eating disorders. The risk of suicide is 1.8 times higher in people with ADHD.

 

Changing outcomes

Early ADHD assessment, diagnosis and intervention is vital for improving outcomes. Delaying diagnosis can expose children to failure, rejection and punishment that may otherwise be avoided.

Acceptance and parenting from an ADHD perspective is essential, as attempts to ‘cure’ children or make them neurotypical sets them up for failure and exacerbates parental frustration or disappointment.

“Thankfully, Jack is heading in the right direction. He’s developing self-awareness and self-acceptance and is able to advocate for himself. Last year he said to his teacher, “I’m struggling because I’m bored. Could I draw for 5 minutes, as I think it would raise the dopamine levels in my brain and then I would be able to do my work?” The teacher agreed and later informed me that his strategy was successful.”

Effective parenting strategies

Lou has developed the Thriving with ADHD’s 5C’s Parenting Framework to help parents raise well-adjusted individuals with ADHD. The 5C’s are:

  1. Connection: Focus on your relationship with your child – make them feel safe, heard and valued.
  2. Composure: Be patient with your child and manage your own emotions.
  3. Compassion: Accept that your child has ADHD and love them regardless.
  4. Collaboration: Help your child identify both their challenges (lagging skills) and strengths.
  5. Consistency: Set rules and expectations, and then praise and reward positive behaviour.

“The focus needs to be on supporting children’s challenges, fostering their strengths and interests, and helping them develop the knowledge and skills they need to grow into well-adjusted individuals who feel good about themselves, live life independently and thrive.”

 

Visit https://thrivingwithadhd.com.au/ for more information about ADHD, coaching or consultancy services offered by Lou Brown.

At CPA we support and advocate on behalf of babies, children and adults with cerebral palsy and a range of neurological conditions. Visit www.cerebralpalsy.org.au/eci  to find out about early childhood intervention programs and how we can support you and your child.

COVID-19, otherwise known as Coronavirus, is impacting everyone around the world at the moment, but is having an even greater impact on our community of people living with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

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