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Our oldest child, Landry, is smart, funny, imaginative, curious, theatrical, witty, frustrating, competitive, sensitive, marches to his own drummer… the list goes on and on. He also has ADHD, and the years since his diagnosis have been a journey of learning & adapting, and have been full of equal parts joy, laughter, pain & tears.
I’ll never forget, when Landry was finishing up Pre-School and getting ready to go into Kindergarten, his teacher pulled me aside and suggested we hold him back. She couldn’t pinpoint why, but something was a little off and thought he might benefit from one more year to grow in maturity. He was young for his class and has a summer birthday.
His school did not offer a Pre-K program at the time, and so that meant we would have to find a new school, in May (well after registrations had filled up) for him to attend Pre-K, then change schools on him again when he started Kinder. The impossible task aside, I do not believe “redshirting” a kid should be the go-to solution, as it seems to always be here in the South.
I did feel I needed to do my due diligence and go meet with the elementary school’s principal to see what she thought. Academically, Landry had all the tools he needed and then some. He was well prepared for the materials they would be learning in Kindergarten, so the Principal encouraged us to go ahead and enroll; the maturity issues would probably work themselves out.
The combination of too many kids in the class, too much on the walls, too much going on, and a teacher who was spread too thin proved to be more than Landry’s mind could handle during the day. We received notes about emotional outbursts, and inattention but nothing indicating he was that different from the other children or that he wasn’t on-level with everyone else.
The lights finally clicked on for us at Open House that Spring, and it was a RUDE AWAKENING! For the first time we saw how far behind he was in his reading and writing. We couldn’t understand what happened because somewhere trapped in his mind, we knew the skills were there and that he should be able to complete the work we saw displayed.
I went home that night and began to reflect on the past year. I remembered the conversation with the pre-school teacher but thought to myself “maturity would indicate a behavior problem, not an inability to complete assignments.” I watched as his baby brother sat happily on the floor working on a puzzle and realized that I had never seen Landry even work on a puzzle, let alone complete one!
We set an appointment with Landry’s teacher and the Principal to discuss our concerns. The teacher very much felt like Landry’s problem was 100% in his maturity, using his emotional outbursts as examples. She kept saying he did not have any motivation in class to learn and suggested he repeat Kindergarten the next year. I left the meeting in tears, feeling like she had given up on my son.
The boy I knew LOVED to learn new things, so what was happening during the day to stifle that? I started to research everything from learning styles to cognitive disabilities and found myself time and again on articles about ADHD symptoms. It had never occurred to me because he wasn’t physically hyper unless he was really excited, and any impulse control issues he had seemed to be the exact same issues every other 5-year-old boy I knew struggled with. The more I read, the more I realized that ADHD didn’t necessarily present with physical hyperactiveness as I had always thought.
I was not prepared for how hard it was to even figure out how to test for and diagnose ADHD. You’d think this would be simple: mom suspects her son may have a learning disability, mom calls professional, tests are administered, diagnosis complete. In reality, it’s not that simple.
There is a lot of finger pointing that happens in the initial stages of an ADHD diagnosis, especially for younger children. It’s as if no one person wants to bear the responsibility of starting that conversation with a parent. I asked the school and the school said “ask the doctor.” I asked the doctor and the doctor said “get a form from the school.” Finally, I got the doctor to send me over the forms that Landry’s teachers needed to fill out, hand-delivered them to the school, then picked them back up two days later to hand deliver them to the doctor.
Once we met with the doctor, with correct forms in hand, the diagnosis part was pretty simple. It was very clear that Landry had ADHD. It was very clear that he needed help to focus in the form of medication and a few classroom modifications.
What no one prepares you for is how the diagnosis affects you as a parent. Leading up, I was in problem-solving mode, and almost on auto-pilot. Once I received the diagnosis, once reality hit, then I began to feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and like I failed my child somehow. Did he have ADHD because of something I fed him? Did I eat too much red dye when I was pregnant or something? Does he watch too much tv? Should we be eating only organic and start shopping at Whole Foods? Am I a bad parent somehow?
Will I be judged now because he has ADHD and because I’m choosing to medicate him at such a young age? The answer to that last one is yes… yes I was judged. Let me tell you, there were A LOT of opinions coming from all directions.
Inevitably, we decided to push him through to 1st grade. Landry is extremely socially motivated and we felt it would do more harm than good for him to stay back when all his friends advanced. We did not want him to see his diagnosis as a failure in any way, but this also meant that he was going to have to do tutoring through the summer to fill in the holes me missed while he was off in “Landry Land.”
Proud Mama Moment at the Kindergarten Success Ceremony today! When the kids were asked to share one thing they learned this year that they were most proud of, Landry said “Don’t give up no matter what. You have to keep trying, even when it gets hard.”
That was the moment I knew we made the right decision to push through to 1st grade!
From a Facebook Post:
Landry has Field Day today, we have reviewed where everything is in his backpack 100 times so on the way to school today…
Me “Ok! One more time… Your pizza money is in a baggy in your folder marked pizza, your beach towel is in your backpack, and you have dry clothes in this bag for after the pool. Your overdue library book is in this pocket so it doesn’t get wet. Please turn it in… Now tell me, where is your pizza money?”
Landry “Huh? I wasn’t listening…sorry… I was dreaming of a world where pizza grows on trees!”
Me “Alright…from the top…”
Three hours later my phone rings and it’s his teacher:
“Hey Mrs. DuBois, Landry is saying he doesn’t have pizza money and that maybe you forgot to send it but I’m not seeing a lunch box. Does he have money for pizza today? If not he wants to know if you can run it up here”
Me “Yep… it’s in his folder…”
Teacher “Hey Landry, your mom said it’s in your folder.”
Landry in the background “DANGIT!”
Teacher “I think we have it under control now!”
If it’s not pizza growing from trees, there is something else going on in his imagination that is taking priority over everything else. We call it Landry Land. What we have had to learn to dance in front of the Pizza Trees so he pays attention to what he needs to pay attention to. The way we dance changes from year to year. Sometimes it’s a tango, sometimes its hip-hop, and sometimes we need glitter or fireworks! What do I mean by that?
When he was first diagnosed, I was scared to death to put any modifications into place at school. I didn’t want him labeled. Thank God for his 1st-grade teacher! She worked side by side with me that year to ensure that he was living up to his full potential in class, that she was quietly reminding him to check to make sure he didn’t forget the backs of worksheets or asking him to repeat directions to be sure he had listened and understood. She encouraged me as well, allowing me the time I needed to become ok with officially asking the school for help with modifications by means of a 504 Plan.
Each school year Landry’s modifications and medication has changed. One year, leaving the room for testing is the right path, and the next it’s not because he’s distracted by the embarrassment of being singled out. One year he needs to work in small chunks with frequent brain breaks and the next he will power through assignments like a champ but needs directions repeated. Sometimes he needs assignments orally dictated to him, other times not. Whatever the situation, we have been so blessed to have him in a school that is willing to work with him to develop the right plan from year to year.
At one point we switched doctors completely. The doctor he had been seeing since birth was a really nice guy and was great when it came to ear infections and strep throat, but when it came to ADHD we didn’t feel like he really was listening to us. The first medication we had Landry on worked great through the day, but then caused massive mood swings when he started to come down off it. His answer was to up the dose.
From day one, my main goal with medication was to get him through school and homework and that’s it. I didn’t want to lose the parts of Landry that made him Landry in some medicated fog. When we finally found the doctor that was the right fit for Landry as a patient and us as concerned parents, we were able to fine-tune the medication as we went. If we got into a new school year and something needed to be tweaked, she’s always been quick to call back and really talk through it.
There is nothing wrong with changing your child’s doctor as your child’s needs change. Looking back now, I can’t believe the amount of guilt I felt when we made the choice to change, but where would we be if we hadn’t? Learning to be a strong advocate for my child has been a learning curve, especially with medical professionals.
We learned the emotional “outbursts” weren’t a sign of maturity. They were a sign that he’s been overstimulated causing too much “head noise” (as I call it), and the outburst is from frustration, and feeling overwhelmed. To combat this at home, we know around 4:00 and his meds start to wear off (and the head noises get louder) we have to slow down and baby step everything!
We can’t say “clean your room” or it will become an overwhelming task that causes a meltdown. We say “pick up your laundry… now pick up the legos…” All chores are delivered in small, manigable tasks.
I’m always telling my kids to never stop learning, and that’s how I approach ADHD. I never stop learning about it! I’m constantly reading articles and blogs that have suggestions for ways to help. Sometimes I try something new out, other times I file the info away for a time down the line when I may need it. Just know, that if you’re in the beginning stages of diagnosing your child with ADHD, or any other learning disability, and you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, you are not alone. What you are feeling is totally normal, and nothing you have done as a parent has caused it!
Give yourself a moment to take a breath and regroup. And here’s the thing, if you try out a modification, new medication, diet change, or something else and it backfires on you, it’s ok. Scratch that thing off the list and try something else. Not that we ever want our kids to be used as guinea pigs, but the thing with ADHD is that it’s different with every child. You are going to be in a constant state of trial and error until they’re out on their own, so the sooner you accept that it is ok to not have all the answers, the better off YOU will be.
Want to see some of the items we have used that work well for Landry? Check out My ADHD Tool Kit.