Scrambled Brains: Inside the mind of your ADHD child

Obviously, you are thinking that your child has ADHD or they have already been diagnosed with ADHD, because you are reading this post. You might be at your wits end with your child or you might just want to know what is really going on inside that head of theirs. Perhaps you have ADHD yourself and have never truly learned how to live with it, or worse, you could be a parent who does not have it and you just do not understand how this happened! To all of you I say this: I am not a doctor, nor an expert, I am just a woman who has the disorder and is blessed with a daughter who has it also. I am writing this post to offer insight and encouragement, help others understand that with God’s help they can overcome the difficulties of this disability, and to realize that there are many positive and creative traits that only ADHD people have!

There are two different types of ADHD, the hyper kind and the focus kind. Now, there are clinical names for these two types and for all of the various symptoms and behaviors that ADHD produces. However, like I said before, I am not a specialist, so I am giving you the straight forward version that everyone can understand. Sometimes, a child can have both types of issues, while others will have just one or the other. My daughter and I have both…..yeah for us! Here is my version of the two, using my daughter’s issues and my own:

Hyper ADHD: There have been many sayings over the years to explain hyper ADHD, at a time when people were not aware of what ADHD was. Such as, “he is all boy”, “boys will be boys’, “she has ants in her pants”, “she’s a little wiggle worm”, etc. While they are funny, and people say those things when they don’t know what else to say, they rarely offer comfort to the poor parent who is dealing with the child. Even for the parent who has ADHD themselves, living with a child who has the Hyper Version is hard work. If truth be told, it can also be embarrassing at times. Learning each behavior and then the solution to that behavior, will help tremendously.

1. Will not sit still. Squirming in the seat during instruction time. Rocking back and forth or rocking their chair back. Fidgeting with their pencil, pen, eraser, or whatever is within their reach. Gets up every few minutes to sharpen their pencils, go to the bathroom, or throw something in the trash.

A. Public School Solution: In a public or private school setting, this is usually the most difficult, especially until sixth grade. If you have not yet started to home school your child, a 504 plan is the best way to deal with this. If you do not know what this is read my post on the subject at : There are two things that you can put into the 504 plan that will help. The first thing is ‘silent reminders’ that only the teacher and your child will know, which will help to get your child back on track. A hand signal might mean to sit still or a light tap on the back might mean to stop fidgeting with papers or put away something that is distracting. The second thing is a periodic break to stretch their legs by walking around the classroom. Just know that even though the teachers will be required under the 504 plan to give your child ‘silent reminders’ about staying still, and allowing them a few minutes each hour to get up and move around, it will most definitely not fix the problem (most of the time it will not even help the problem). Unfortunately, that is really all that you can do, as your child is at the mercy of the teacher.

Note: if you have read my post about taking back your ADHD child and home schooling them, you will remember that I said that some years the teachers are awesome and sometimes not so great. Although we have dealt with a lot of teachers who do not understand, do not seem to care, or can not deal with ADHD children, there are many teachers out there who are great at it. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here http://www.takingbackmykids.com/?p=89

B. Homeschool Solution: Consistency. All parents first think that their child is just being defiant, and sometimes that is exactly what they are being, ADHD or not. The way to rule out defiance is consistency. 1. Give your child two to three pencils, so if one breaks, they can just the other one. That way it limit’s the pencil sharpening routine. 2. Make a rule that getting up is not allowed, except at designated times. Only insist on sitting still at the school table for tests, worksheets and for things that are hard to walk around and do. Getting up is a crucial thing for kids who have trouble sitting still, so things such as independent reading can be done while walking around the living room. Their school schedule can be laid out so that the first activity can be sitting work, the second activity can be something involving movement, then another sitting activity, etc. This problem does get better with consistency and age. Usually by age 12 they have mastered sitting still for reasonable amounts of time. 3. The old bathroom trick. Yeah, unless your child has a certain condition that makes them go to the bathroom every five minutes, you will need to be firm about this. Limit bathroom breaks to once an hour for small kids and once every few hours for older kids. My daughter has never had an accident when I have denied her another bathroom break, and she eventually stopped the habit of getting up just to be getting up.

2. Impulsiveness. Hitting others during conflict and sometimes as a means of playing. Playing too rough. Getting themselves into dangerous situations without thinking it through (because most of the time they don’t). Anything a seemingly normal person would not think of attempting, an ADHD child will have no fear attempting. While frustrating and scary for the parent, do not assume that good old common sense will prevent your child from doing something dangerous or with long term consequences. Stealing something that does not belong to them because they have a strong desire for it (they often do not think of it as stealing and guilt about taking things can sometimes be overwhelming). Lying about obvious things because they cannot explain why they did something they knew to be wrong (they often do not know why they could not stop themselves and feel much regret later). Lashing out verbally at others. Many times children (and adults) who explode when faced with a wrong deed or fault are so ashamed because they honestly do not know why they cannot do what is expected of them. Frustration and anger are common and usually result with overreacting to a simple reprimand or accusation.

Note: This is a big one. I will be honest, this is the hardest one to deal with as a parent and overcome as a child (sometimes even as an adult). It is the root of all hyperness in ADHD people. It can be done, but with much patience, guidance, and consistency from parents, and hard work, diligence, and discipline from children.

A. Public or Private School Solution: I did not have much luck with any solution while my child was in public school. Teachers and administrators often feel that lack of discipline was the root of impulsiveness and a tendency to display bad behavior. You can ask that teachers be on the watch for impulsiveness and redirection of certain behaviors, and even have it stated in their 504 plans. However, if destructive and dangerous behaviors are a problem, it is usually addressed in an IEP (a more in-depth plan) and the child will most often need to be placed in a special education class that has teachers who have the time and expertise to deal with those problems. Other problems may be at play beyond ADHD if these problems are severe.

B. Homeschool Solution: Discipline has its place in all ADHD behaviors. However, parents have a tendency to be overly harsh with this particular problem. Not only is it not necessary (trust me, I have made this mistake), it can sometimes make the problem worse, and it will definitely cause self esteem issues. You are home schooling for a reason, truly examine those reasoning’s, and ask yourself this question, “Can I commit to training my child to overcome impulsiveness, not matter how long it takes?”. If the answer is yes, then your child can and will overcome this problem. A firm belief that God will help you in all things is also crucial and necessary, because it will be the hardest thing you will probably ever do.

1. All outside activities require your involvement, participation, or attendance. No one will care enough to constantly redirect your child but you. Sure, there are a lot of understanding parents out there who are more than willing to help, but your child will find their weak spots in a second! In order for your child to learn the self-correcting habits that will assure a successful future, you must be able to be there 24-7 for many years of their training. To those of you who believe that this might be a little over the top, consider this: Your child has been doing well for several months, or even a year, with self-correction and self-discipline. They want to go to a church youth group outing at the local amusement park. Every part of you is screaming “no way can I trust them to go!”, but you feel guilted into letting them go because they have worked so hard on their behaviors. They go and all seems well. Only later do you find out from other parents or children that your child ran around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, said many inappropriate things to get a laugh from the other kids, or attempted some dangerous stunt. They did these things, not because they are bad, but because they had a taste of freedom. Impulsiveness with ADHD is all about freedom. The more they have, the more their impulses take over. Now, not only will they face consequences for their actions, their self-esteem will suffer because they honestly wanted to be able to handle the privilege of going. Sure, they need to go and enjoy the things that they like doing, and of course they want to go somewhere if they are invited. However, the next time, volunteer to be a chaperone (making sure that your child is within the group that you are watching over) and you will be able to offer your child the freedom of participating in an activity, but within the safe limits of your watchful eye.

2. Make your ADHD child your ‘buddy’. Michelle Duggar describes how she is able to handle parenting 19 children, by using a family ‘Buddy System’, in her book ‘The Duggars: 19 and Counting!”. In her plan, she has each young child with an older child, so that the younger kids always have someone to be accountable to (and to make sure their chores are done, their teeth brushed, their school work done, etc.). This is a great method for all children, as it helps promote love and friendship from siblings, and frees up the mom to do other tasks that are necessary to run a proficient household. However, most of us with two to six children do not have a much older child to be buddies to our young ADHD child, which would be necessary in this case. So, that leaves the Mama. If your child is doing school work, and you have bills to pay or laundry to fold, make sure that you take that child with you. (My daughter is working on her English lesson upstairs in my office with me right now while I am writing this!). If your child has chores to do, make sure that she reports to you after each and every one, and try to schedule chores that you and her/him can do together. That way, you can make absolutely sure that they understand how to do them correctly, and that they do not get into trouble by being distracted. By being their buddy, you will naturally model the behavior that you expect from your child. Instead of constantly telling, you are showing, and that is the best method for teaching.

3. Encourage instead of punishment. No, I am not one of those new-age parents who believes that the child should be in control, and we should only offer love, peace, and hair grease! It is just that parenting an ADHD child is harder on the parent than the child, and the strict punishments that you devise out of desperation is really only hurting you. Your child will respond better to praise than harsh words, and he or she will give you what you expect if you are consistent and make your requirements clear. If they deliberately disobey you, I am not suggesting that there should not be consequences, there should most definitely be consequences. Just make sure that they fit the crime and are not longer than a day or two (for the older ones). You also need to be extremely realistic. Perfection will not be obtained. Constant focus will not be achieved. Morphing into a normal child will never happen. End of story. Instead, embrace your child for who they are, and remember that God gave this child to you for a reason…..because He knew that you could handle it.

4. Love and Hugs. Remember the outbursts that I mentioned? If you are at home, stop whatever you are doing, and give your undivided attention to your child. Calmly walk them through whatever has made them flip out. Once the child is starting to calm down, hold, hug, and soothe until they start to laugh about whatever made them overreact. If you react with frustration and anger, or if you overreact with them, it will just escalate the situation. If you are not at home, and you need the child to calm down, excuse yourself to the restroom (or other vacant room) taking the child with you, and do as you would if you were home. I know that if you have other kids with you, this can be difficult. That’s ok, take them with you too, and let them see you handling the situation the right way. This will help them to deal correctly with their ADHD sibling. Sometimes, siblings can be your best ally, as other children have a natural tendency to listen to other children. It can also be difficult if you are out in public. You must do it anyway, because just as if your child was throwing a fit over a toy, you must take the time to discipline.

Note: ADHD outbursts does NOT mean fits. If your child is throwing a fit because he or she cannot have something or is not getting their way, then discipline is necessary. ADHD kids throw fits just like regular kids, but you will grow to know the difference. ADHD outbursts are usually over their behavior (meaning they are embarrassed over something that they did that they knew was wrong) or over certain expectations (they are frustrated because they feel sure to fail).
3. Habits and Tics. These are not really exclusive of the Hyper Version, but now is a good time to talk about them. Almost every ADHD child I have ever met, has peculiar habits or ‘tics’. Some are relatively harmless but others can be health hazards. The ones that I am familiar with are chewing (on everything from plastic to wood), hair twirling and pulling, rocking, picking at clothing (and then sometimes chewing on clothing), singing under breath, and humming. ADHD medicines also cause facial tics and body tics.

A. Public or Private School Solution: Chewing on pen caps or pieces of plastic helps to keep my daughter from releasing her energy in more physical ways. However, she was embarrassed by her habit because she was joked on about it. So, one day in class, the teacher told her to spit out her gum and to report to the principle for chewing it in class. Instead of confessing to the teacher that it was not gum, she went to the principle and was almost suspended. The only thing that saved her was that she did not even chew gum, because she disliked the texture and flavor! Once I told the principle this, she was excused. Unfortunately, when I discussed her habit with the teacher and then the principle about her reasons for such a habit, neither one would allow it. I had to get a note from her pediatrician which explained why some children with ADHD have ‘tics and habits’ that they cannot control….no matter how many times you call them out for it. If you run into this problem, as my daughter struggled with this from almost every teacher, just make sure to talk to your pediatrician and add it to the 504 plan.

B. Homeschool Solution: If you indeed have a child who has these habits and tic, then you have probably gotten used to them, so no solution is really necessary. The exception would be sanitary and health issues. Chewing on everything they find is certainly a little gross, especially if they pick things up off the floor, or things that have been touched by a gazillion people. Encourage sugar free gum chewing. Chewing on hair can result in hairballs (I am NOT kidding! There is a giant hairball in the Smithsonian from a young girl’s stomach…ewww!). Pulling hair can result in bald spots (if this is a serious problem, and your child is losing a lot of hair, this might actually be a condition called Trichotillomania, which needs to be check out by your pediatrician).

4. Food. There will be some parents who have absolutely no idea what I am talking about. For the other mom’s like me, here is what our children do: Steal, sneak, hide, and hoard food. Why? Not a clue. Did I do this as a child, and does my daughter do it now? Yes. For some reason, some ADHD children are obsessed with good tasting food, snacks, and candy. That is usually not a problem, until they find the urge to eat them irresistible. You will know if this is a problem for your child if you find wrappers hidden in their rooms, under the couch, or in every nook and cranny. Or if food starts disappearing! Even worse, they might lie or deny who took the food.

A. Public or Private School Solution: This one is tricky, because in a school setting there are certain times that they are allowed to eat. It is not really about hunger, and there is no medical necessity for them to eat the food that they crave. It is more of an impulse or an obsession. My daughter received in school suspension in the third grade because she stole an open bag of Cheeze-Its from a desk. The desk was in the hall, and the owner of the snack had left to go to the rest room. My daughter saw the bag, looked to see if anyone owned it, and ate it. Did she steal it? Yes, because it did not belong to her. Would she go into a convenience store and steal one off of the shelf? No. She saw that it was open, no one seemed to be claiming it, and she loves Cheeze-Its. The only thing you can do, is constantly tell your child that taking something that doesn’t belong to them is wrong….no matter what.

B. Homeschool Solution: Now, I have some parents tell me that they feel violated when their child steals food from them (even if it is a banana). I do not share this view, but I can indeed understand it. I guess if they will steal from their parents, they will steal from anyone. When it comes to food, I feel that it is the family’s food, so therefore I do not view it as stealing. This is especially true of fruit and vegetables. If a child is ‘stealing’ a banana, then that child is hungry. However, I still cannot judge someone who doesn’t believe that, because they could be on a very strict budget, and they can only ration out one banana per day, per child. My child is not hungry when she does this, she is craving sweets and salty snacks. She wouldn’t dream of stealing a banana, she’s hiding deep in her closet eating the left over chocolate icing. Then when she is through, so we will not find out what she has done, she will hide the container and the spoon under her bed…..gross! It is an addiction. A lot of young children are compulsive about sweets and snacks, but they eventually grow out of it, and can discipline themselves to eating these things when their mother allows. ADHD kids have a problem with addictions, impulses, and habits, so is it any wonder that they have trouble monitoring their sweet intake? The best advice I can give on this one, is to keep the sweets and snacks under your watchful eye, and to have consequences for them when you catch them sneaking. I just wanted you to know that it is normal for these type of kids, and it takes a while to ‘outgrow’ it.
Focus AHDH: It is possible to have this type of ADHD and not be hyper, have tics, or any of the other problems listed below. As a matter of fact, they can be model children, never giving parents or teachers a moments trouble. However, this silent form can be just as destructive as having the Hyper Version. Here are the most frequent and tell-tale signs, plus ways to help overcome the problems that goes with the Focus Version:

1. Staring off into Space. This is what most people think of when they think of having ADHD. It is pretty common, and the solution can seem pretty common too. However, until you get to the root of why they are staring off into space, they will continue to do it no matter how many times you redirect them.

A. Public or Private School Solution: In your 504 plan, it is usually necessary to have the child’s desk very close to the front of the class room, if not all the way up front. I had the teacher place my daughter’s desk right in front of the blackboard and right beside the teacher’s desk. Then, if my daughter zoned out, the teacher could redirect her with ‘silent signals’ or light taps.

B. Homeschool Solutions: You do not usually have these problems too often, because most of the time your child is sitting right in front of you. If it does happen pretty frequently, then you need to determine what is causing it. I know that if my daughter is working on a subject that she does not particularly like, she can let her mind wander. I just tell her to get back to her task. However, if my son starts to fade away, then I know he is not grasping what I am teaching about. You see, my son has the Focus Version of ADHD. He is an amazingly calm child and very responsible, he just can’t focus when he needs to. So, in that case, I start asking him questions about the topic that we are studying until I can pinpoint where he got lost. I then explain, explain, and explain again until he understands it. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for teachers in a school setting to do this, and most of the time the child would never admit to not understanding the lesson to begin with!

2. Reading. If your child can not seem to comprehend what he is reading, there is a great chance that he has the Focus Version of ADHD (of course he could need glasses or have a learning disability so make sure that you have that checked). Reading is sort of important, so make sure you fix this problem!

A. Public or Private School Solution: This is actually a pretty common problem for boys, of course girls have issues with it too, and the school system does a pretty good job of assisting with it. They have several programs in place that assist in reading comprehension so I do not have any gripes about this one. If you think your child is struggling with it (and your teacher will probably alert you to it anyway) they have tests they can perform to help them determine what program would be best for your child.

B. Homeschool Solution: When it comes to learning disabilities, the school systems do have a lot to offer, and for the most part it is free. When you choose to home school, however, you are pretty much on your own. It varies from state to state what the public school system will allow your child to participate in and still be home schooled, so you will have to check into that if you want their help with certain problems. If you choose to deal with reading comprehension problems on your own (I do not know about disabilities such as dyslexia, autism, etc. so I can offer no advice) there are sure-fire ways to help your struggling reader.

1. Read aloud as often as you can. My son is fifteen and he is just now able to comprehend a book that he finds boring by reading it to himself. Otherwise, we read the book aloud to keep him accountable and interested. If he wants to read a book, for the most part he has never had a problem, so there you go. Young struggling readers can really benefit from reading aloud with their parents and siblings. The great thing about home schooling, is that they can read aloud until the cows come home, or until they are ready to read on their own.

2. Do the voices. For children who have imaginations, they naturally ‘think’ in voices anyway. The child who struggles with comprehension, they are not ‘thinking’ the voices, so do it for them and teach them to do the voices also. It really does help to get the story.

3. Change your history program. If you are having your child learn history with a traditional history text (like the ones they use in public school) and he or she is struggling, consider changing it. Sonlight home schooling Core programs are great for a child who struggles with comprehension due to boredom. When all you are doing is feeding facts to a Focus Version child, it goes into one ear and out the other. Sonlight History is made up of a zillion readers (not really that much!) and they are books written on your child’s level about the particular subject they are reading. While some are about fictitious character’s, they have actual historical facts in them. Sometimes they are called “living books’. It is a great and interesting way to learn. (The front page of my blog has a Sonlight ‘button’ that will take you to their website. Be prepared to spend some time there because they have a lot of great stuff!)

3. Math. Some kids struggle with math, whether or not they have ADHD or any other problems. For some, math is just a tough subject because it requires you to ’see’ things in your head. Well, some people just cannot see things in their heads.

A. Public or Private School Solution: Again, the school systems can help with this, as they have programs. Private tutor’s are also an option.

B. Homeschool Solution: Even if you are a wiz at math, you think that you are an awesome teacher, yet your child is till struggling…..we often times must swallow our pride and let someone else step in. For me, that person was Steve Demme. He teaches a home school math program called Math-U-See. Can you guess how the program works? Yep, it is math…….that you can see! It uses manipulatives that help a child ’see’ the math problem, so they can apply it inside their brains. Some parent’s watch the DVDs and then teach their children. I actually let Mr. Demme do the teaching, by letting my children watch the DVDs, then they complete the lessons. Of course, I am standing by if they need assistance (ok, I am fibbing a little, my husband stands by in case they need assistance. Remember? I had ADHD myself, and I did not have the good fortune to have Math-U-See as a child!) I am sure there are a lot of home school math programs that will help a Focus Version ADHD child as well, but I have found that this one works best for my children. You can see all of the Math-U-See programs on the front page of my blog.

4. Chores and tasks: I cannot tell you how frustrated I got with my daughter about her chores and her room. It was like a nuclear melt-down at my house. My husband and son would quietly retreat to the other room once I discovered all of her undone responsibilities. Turns out, it was just as much my fault as it was hers.

A. Public or Private School Solution: Of course, staying on task with ‘silent signs’ helps and a 504 plan will have redirection listed, but it really boils down to the teacher. You cannot be there to remind your child, and no amount of discussion and talks at home will make much difference once your child has returned to school. The trouble with the Focus Version, is their attention spans and memories are short…..do you really think they will remember how important it is to stay focused so they can attend a birthday party three weeks from now, which is the carrot that you are dangling in front of them, hoping against hope that it will motivate them? However, at home when they are doing chores, you can refer to the home school solutions, as it will apply to your children as well.

2. Homeschool Solution: There is this awesome book that I have mentioned throughout my blog called Managers of Their Chores by Teri Maxwell. The Duggar’s use them, and you can see them on their show. It is a very cool system, that keeps the children accountable for their own chores. It also prevents you from having to tell them every single thing to do. No more forgetting, or not knowing what their responsibilities are. I do still have to remind my daughter to actually use her chore pack, and I do check behind her to make sure that she does a good job. All in all, it is an ADHD child’s best friend. The website is http://www.titus2.com and they have another website that will help you put your chore pack together (which is a life saver) which is http://www.choreware.com

I will also say this about chores, cleaning up, and general tasks. It is hard to stay focused to do things when you have ADHD and it will not completely go away as an adult. As your children mature, it will get a little easier, but it will always be a struggle. If you child has a hard time cleaning his or her room, do it with them. I am still cleaning my daughter’s room with her and she is thirteen. Notice I said with, I did not say that I do it for her. If she needs to be shown a zillion times how to do a task right, then I will do it a zillion times until she gets it. If you give up due to frustration, you are basically giving up on your child. Eventually they will be able to function on their own. Remembering to support instead of criticize will make a huge difference in your child’s self esteem.

Well, that’s all folks! There are many more problems that can occur when you have ADHD, but these are the most common in my family (with my daughter and myself). The are a few very important keys to remember about a person with ADHD.

1. They cannot help it.
2. They would never choose to have this, if they did have a choice.
3. Medicine in not the answer. There are serious risks involved with ADHD medicines. Take it from me, they affect personalities and can make you feel like poop (I know, really technical term).
4. Harsh punishments will not work, as your child will forget what was so terrible about what they did about a day after they did it.
5. Self esteem can be crushed with harsh words and can take years to repair.
6. They do not act they way they do just to make you miserable.
7. You were given this child by God and He expects you to be patient while training that child.
8. Forgive yourself. You are going to loose it when raising an ADHD child. There will be times you will yell, there will be times when you are harsh, and there will be times when you are at your wits end. It is absolutely normal, because ADHD children are very extreme. Just take a few moments to yourself, pray to God for the strength, and begin again……and again, and again, and again, and again!

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