Parenting a child that has been diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety is no walk in the park. One of our sons was diagnosed a little over a year ago and we are so glad for the diagnosis. All of a sudden we had an explanation for behaviors we didn't see in the other children. We have learned a lot about ADHD and anxiety in children over the past year and we learn a little more everyday.
Noticing something "different"
I met my step-son when he was four, actually on his fourth birthday. I remember he was a little shy but excited to get to Chuck E Cheese to celebrate with his dad and sister. I only saw him for about 5 minutes that day. As the weeks went by, I saw a little more of him and then a couple months later, when JC and I moved in together, I would see him every other weekend. I started noticing little quirks but I chalked it up to him "being a spitfire". When we would go out, he would always drift off and get lost. He wouldn't listen to his teachers at school or to his parents. He would get grounded and not care. I started noticing he was "different" from the other two kids. He was in his own world most of the time. He would get very emotional for no reason and would pull out chunks of his hair if he was nervous. I started mentioning it to his parents but they weren't listening. Second grade came around and his teachers started complaining heavily about the same behaviors I had noticed. Then one day, while at a checkup with his pediatrician, the pediatrician noticed the behaviors and recommended he be taken to a psychologist. After testing and some therapy, he was diagnosed with both ADHD and anxiety. The average age for a diagnosis is age 7.
Medicating your child is a very personal choice. Doctors will hand out a prescription quicker than it takes to diagnose. While JC was hesitant to put him on medication, ultimately he started taking it when his behavior started interfering with his grades. He started with the lowest dosage of both Concerta and Zoloft. After a few days, we started noticing a huge difference. The biggest one being he was able to focus and bring his grades up. Then came the weight loss. He had gained a lot of weight since he was so anxious and would eat all day. If he drifts off, he is able to stop and focus on finding someone to help him. He can sit in class for longer periods of time. He still pulls on his hair but doesn't pull it out. He sees his psychologist once a month. His dosage of Concerta has been increased but that is pretty normal after a year. Even though he does notice the effect of the medication, he says it brings him down, he is very good at taking it and will ask for it if one of us forgets.
Once you receive the diagnosis, everything you know about parenting gets thrown out the window. In our case, I have become very patient with him. I sit and talk to him instead of yelling at him. His parents are having a harder time with it. They were also raised in a very old school "Cuban" style of tough parenting that is hard to overcome. He trusts me and comes to me with any issue he is having. He also lashes out at me most. He has his good days and his bad days just like any other child yet his bad days are exhausting. He becomes very closed-minded, angry, emotional and will rage. The psychologist has said it is a side effect to the medication but thankfully, this behavior doesn't come up often. I have done a lot of research on parenting a child with ADHD and anxiety and most of it states that children need a "safe space" and I work very hard to create this "safe space" in our home. He has all his own things and gets lots of free time to be creative and play. If I become frustrated with him, I tell him. He knows that we are in this together and honesty is crucial. We also enrolled him in drum lessons. He is in heaven during this time. Playing an instrument has helped him immensely as it does with most children with ADHD.
Signs of ADHD in children
Like I mentioned before, I do a lot of research on ADHD just so I can learn how to be a better parent. My step-son showed many of these signs and after much testing, he was diagnosed. Let's face it, kids can be kids and are outrageous, but you know when something is off.
1. An inability to recognize other people's needs and desires. Very self-absorbed behavior
2. A child with ADHD will have trouble keeping their emotions under control.
3. Fidgety. Children with ADHD cannot sit still. It just doesn't happen for them.
4. A child with ADHD will show interest in many things but will not complete them.
5. A child with ADHD will have lack of focus no matter how hard they try to.
6. A child with ADHD will make mistakes and have trouble following directions, even with constant guidance.
7. A child with ADHD will not usually be rambunctious. They are heavy daydreamers. They will "stare into space" and completely ignore what is going on around them.
Obviously, I am not a doctor nor am I am expert. I am sharing our journey in hopes that it will help other families struggling with their child. I love our boy deeply and will continue to work hard and help him excel! A note to other stepparents out there, your opinion counts. If you notice something different in your stepchild, speak up. Make your voice heard but do it out of love, you never know what can come of it.