Do you ever feel that your reaction to getting an ADHD diagnosis for your child or adolescent was “wrong?” You will be incredibly pleased to know that there is no right or wrong way to react to getting an ADHD diagnosis. Emotions are incredibly complex things. They can jump up, take over and surprise us without warning and, despite what we were taught as children, there are no “right” and “wrong” emotions.
My youngest child, my beautiful, kind, funny and loving daughter (7 years old), was diagnosed with ADHD – Inattentive Presentation this week. We are now three for three in our family. Three children and all three have ADHD.
This really shouldn’t have taken me by surprise. My husband and I both fitted the criteria for ADHD in our childhood. So, we joke, it’s now the Party of Five – ADHD style (showing my age here!)
What completely surprised me about getting my daughter’s ADHD diagnosis this week is how I reacted to it. It was expected as she has all the classic symptoms of ADHD – Inattentive presentation at home. She will appear daydreamy and easily distracted by things around her; she loses focus quickly and requires constant direction to get ready or find items for activities. She is exceptionally forgetful in daily activities and has poor time perception.
But when it was “official”, my heart broke into a million pieces. I can’t even explain the sadness I felt. And it wasn’t for me at all. It was for her. My very distracted and side-tracked mind took me down a long and winding road, thinking about how hard life will be for her. Particularly as she has some complex co-occurring disorders that make things challenging for her.
Interestingly this was not the way at all I reacted when my son and other daughter were diagnosed.
When my son was officially diagnosed, I knew only the tip of the iceberg about all things ADHD. I felt powerless and was still trying to parent him as a neurotypical child. But we finally had a reason for why he wasn’t like all the other children around him, why we lived in constant noise and chaos and why he had lots of meltdowns and holes in the wall. The overwhelming reaction to my son’s diagnosis for me was that of relief. Relief that there was something that was causing all these symptoms and that I finally could do something about it.
In between my son and older daughter’s diagnoses, I decided to learn absolutely everything I could about ADHD. I also had an incredibly gifted and knowledgeable psychologist, who not only allowed us to talk about our son’s difficulties and how we felt about them; but gave us advice and real-life strategies that honestly changed our lives. I will be forever grateful to him.
When my daughter was officially diagnosed, it was done exceptionally begrudgingly on my part. Although she had the same presentation of ADHD as my son, the way she presented was different. The most concerning aspect for her was her emotional dysregulation. (If you want to read more about emotional dysregulation in children with ADHD, check out this blog).
Her diagnosis came as more of a surprise for us. Again, I didn’t know about ADHD like I do now, and I was comparing her to my son, and they seemed like two completely different diagnoses. I didn’t realise that ADHD had so many complexities, and no two children will present the same way. I also didn’t know that ADHD in girls often presents very differently than to boys, even if it is the same subtype.
So, there you go, three children, three completely different reactions to their diagnoses, and all of them completely “normal” and valid. But where from here?
Here are 3 things to do when your child is diagnosed with ADHD:
- Allow yourself to feel the feelings.
It is absolutely ok to feel all the emotions under the sun when your child is diagnosed! From anger to surprise, happiness, relief, sadness and everything in between, give yourself some time to feel and process those emotions.
If you need to, eat lots of junk food for a night (this is always my default processing strategy), go for a walk, a run, talk to a friend or your partner or have a big cry. Allow yourself to feel it or grieve it.
But then we have to pick ourselves up, dust off the junk food crumbs, and begin the lifelong role as a parent or carer of a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder. We should be our children’s strongest advocate, and we can’t do that if we are not working through our emotions.
In his most recent book, 12 Principles for raising a child with ADHD (which, by the way, I highly recommend!), Dr Russell Barkley talks about a story called “Welcome to Holland”. It was written by the mother of a child with a disability in the 1980s. It resonates with me because I have struggled in the past, to let go of preconceived ideas of what my parenting journey would look like. When you have a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder, it often doesn’t align with that vision. However, it can be just or even more beautiful if we just give it a chance. I hope it helps you.
2. Learn everything you can about ADHD
Go back to school (figuratively) and learn everything you can about ADHD. With the proper treatment, supports and scaffolds in place, your child can thrive! Never stop learning, researching, reading books, listening to podcasts. Become an ADHD expert, so your child and your family can have their best life!
Check out our recommended resources page and get learning.
3. Practice Self-Care
This journey is harrowing! I’m not going to sugar coat it. There are days where I feel like I can’t possibly keep parenting my kids. It feels overwhelming and too much for me to carry—days where I feel like exploding and taking everyone down in flames. But I always find, when I can step away and take pause, do some deep breathing, look up at the sky and watch some birds, or talk (actually probably more whine) to God, I can reset. I’m ready to take it on again.
Don’t ever feel you are doing this journey “wrong”. There is no such thing!
Let’s get ADHD Done Differently.