Finding a New Normal with ADHD

I didn’t know it was a problem until I sat next to him every day during virtual school. My then third-grader couldn’t sit still. He was reduced to tears of frustration multiple times a day. His near perfect grades started to dive, and he boldly lied about turning in assignments. We barely recognized him anymore.

At first we blamed the virtual environment and a global pandemic. Then, we thought it was behavioral, perhaps even intentional. But after talking with our teacher, pediatrician and a few trusted friends, we proceeded with testing for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. We also met with a cognitive behavioral therapist who addressed his anxiety (which often accompanies ADHD).

ADHD Diagnosis

The assessments all came back clear with an ADHD diagnosis , and my husband and I entered a very lonely phase of parenting. We were overwhelmed with information and options. I read with dismay about lifelong challenges, and the danger of medication taking away his personality.

I endured countless conversations with other parents where they bragged about their kid’s accomplishments, as I tried to fade into the background, feeling shameful how we’d seemed to have gone from model student to barely surviving.

At home, it was even more challenging. Simple tasks were impossible to complete, and we were lucky if he could follow a one-step direction.

We were constantly repeating, reminding, and yelling in frustration. But our impatience paled into comparison with his emotional distress. He was reactive, unable to let go small conflicts with siblings, and exhausted by our constant badgering. He didn’t have the coping skills. We didn’t have the parenting skills.

If it weren’t for our friends that had gone down a similar path years before, I don’t know how we would have survived. They normalized our feelings and assured us this season was only temporary before we reached a new normal.

ADHD Treatment

We were lucky to have a pediatrician who guided us practically and compassionately through our options. In the end, we decided on a medication — both a slow-release option that would carry him through his school day, and then eventually adding a quick-release pill that would help us during the evening activities.

I was nervous. I read the horror stories. I was even more nervous when I had to sign waivers for a controlled substance at the pharmacy. I wanted to help him, but I didn’t want to lose him.

None of those fears came true.

I can confidently say that
ADHD meds gave us our son back.

The difference was immediate, and still is remarkable. He can focus and enjoy the things he loves again. He is a consistent member of the A honor roll. He can effectively use the tools his therapist has taught him to handle overwhelming situations when his brain feels flooded. He can use his ADHD superpowers to work on detailed projects, or read for hours and hours at a time.

Ongoing Support for ADHD

Medication helped us, but we still have a therapist on call who helps us when we need a new tool for coping with social challenges or new stressors.

We’ve learned as a family to better model our feelings, and what we need. We have adopted mindfulness practices and are able to identify when to quickly intervene before a situation gets out of control.

We’ve instituted systems in our house to help us all, like a family wall calendar to help everyone anticipate what’s ahead. There are reminder lists on the fridge, and we use his smart watch to schedule messages like, “don’t forget your violin at school!”

I’ve had to adjust my expectations, which maybe has been the hardest part. I do deliver forgotten items to school on the regular, when for my other two I let natural consequences reign.

I evaluate social invitations with a lens of exhaustion and emotional overload. I am in tune with school situations that are harder for him (like standardized tests on iPads), fiercely advocating for accommodations that set him up for a fair chance, and then coaching myself through different measures of success than I’m used to.

It’s going to be an ongoing battle, but one I finally feel like we have a fair shot at winning.

I have a son with ADHD.

I also have a son who loves science, wants to end climate change, checks out 40 books each week at the library, has a love for baseball stats and has the best giggle, despite his emerging preteen angst.

Sarah McGinnity
Sarah grew up in Manhattan, Kansas (Go Cats!), she moved to Minnesota where she met her husband, Shea. Realizing how much she hated snow in May, she convinced him to move to Kansas City in 2010. Together they have lived in Midtown, Waldo, the Plaza, and now Overland Park. Sarah is mom to 10-year-old, Henry, 7-year-old Clark and 5-year-old Lucy. She has her master’s in urban administration and is passionate about making Kansas City a more equitable and supportive community. In between the crazy, she likes to drink coffee, run, hike, travel as much as possible, and experience all things Kansas City!