parenting a child with adhd and spd

Imagine this scene: You are shopping at a grocery store, and you see someone nearby (pre-COVID, of course). That person watches your daughter touch various items in the aisle. You try to stop your child, and remind her that she can look, but cannot touch. As you push your cart, your daughter starts running ahead even though you tell her to hold your hand. The person who is watching then shakes their head and mutters something about a wild child. This is a mere glimpse into my life of parenting a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing  Disorder (SPD).

“Parents who have children with special needs, also have special needs. They need to know more than the average parent. Need to do more than the average parent. They need more patience than the average parent, and so much more.” (Parents Supporting Parents).

parenting my child with adhd and spd

The scenario I described at the top is not at all shocking for a parent of a child with ADHD and SPD. The constant struggle to support our children is something that is an everyday part of our lives. Even worse, surveyors assume our children are spoiled and not properly parented.

This makes us feel shame, not only because we feel we are failing as parents, but because our children are being judged.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss strategies, although I’ve used many, which you can find here and here. On behalf of every parent who has a child with special needs, I am giving a glimpse into my experiences with my child who has ADHD and SPD. It is important to remember that “No two kids with ADHD are exactly alike. Their symptoms can vary in type and severity… ADHD isn’t an all-or-nothing thing.” (understood.org, 2014).

My hope is that sharing some of my obstacles will make other moms feel less alone and judged by others. Knowledge is the foundation for awareness and advocacy. My aspiration is that we spread awareness to those who do not understand these challenges.

lack of impulse control and emotional regulation skills

parenting a child with ADHD

One of the biggest challenges I face is my child’s lack of impulse control. Brielle needs constant monitoring. She has hurt herself several times because she runs down the stairs. Also, Brielle jumps off couches, is unable to take a shower by herself because she tries to jump and run in it, and throws herself backwards in chairs. She already fell backwards twice, but fortunately wasn’t hurt (although I aged ten years each time). Many times she went down the stairs at night and jump on the countertops. I continue to have a baby gate at the top of the stairs for my 8-year-old daughter. Whereas other children would learn from these painful mistakes, Brielle continues to put herself in danger.

Emotional regulation for Brielle is also a huge obstacle.

She perseverates on things that cause her to worry and feel sad. Using emotional regulation tools is very helpful, but she still fixates on things and needs extra support to process her feelings and move past them. “Kids with ADHD don’t have the same capacity to manage their emotions. If they don’t have it, how do you expect them to do it? How do you expect them to respond to what you’re asking them to do? It’s like they can’t win.” (Dr. Dawn K. Brown, MD, ADHD Wellness Center, 2016).

As I illustrated in my earlier scenario, taking Brielle with me on errands is a recipe for disaster. She is overly stimulated by all the things in the store and wants to touch everything. Due to her short attention span, she gets very frustrated when having to stay next to me and walk calmly. I only bring her for quick errands while providing redirection and encouragement. If my errand requires me to talk to a cashier or salesperson, Brielle will get restless and try to run around.

parenting a child with adhd who has endless energy and craves sensory stimulation is very difficult

sensory stimulation

Brielle plays outside every day as an outlet for all her energy. However, when playing in the yard, she runs up the driveway towards the street despite my consistent reminders. She tries to take her scooter and sit on it instead of standing. She’s fallen down the driveway on multiple occasions.

Brielle craves sensory stimulation.

She is always seeking out “more.” I am fearful at parks because she climbs up objects without looking where she is putting her feet. She jumps off of high places (I will never forget the time I had to catch her when she walked off a beam midair), and runs around without looking to see if any object can hit her. As a result, I can’t sit at a park and relax. It is imperative that I am hyper alert everywhere. Looking away for a few seconds is the difference between safety and disaster.

From morning until night, Brielle is always on the go. That means that from the moment she wakes up, she is immediately energized. She goes from 0 to 100. No matter my exhaustion or mood, I have to be alert. There is simply no laying low with her.

lack of focusing and difficulty playing independently 

independent play

Everyday Brielle loses her stuff because she is always on the go. She doesn’t remember where she puts her things, so keeping her stuff organized is a must. When she had dance class, there was always at least one item missing. As a result, I had to go on a scavenger hunt with her to find her shoes, her leotard, or her tights. Teachers needed to assist her in making sure that her folders and materials were packed in her bookbag. There were two occasions where she brought her folders back to school and proceeded to misplace them.

They were lost for two months.

Brielle rushes through activities and moves on to something else very quickly. She needs numerous reminders to stop before jumping to another activity. She will leave books on the floor, clothes on the bed, and toys all over unless she is redirected.

Playing independently is a huge challenge for her because using her imagination requires higher level thinking. She has difficulty coming up with safe ways of playing independently due to her sensory issues and impulsivity. I limit her choices to only a few items when she does “quiet time,” and I check in on her regularly.

If I don’t check on her, she does things such as jumping into the tub and turning on the water, spilling water all over the floor, and/or going into closets and taking things out.

Due to her lack of impulse control, she will interrupt and tap me when I am in the middle of something. I cannot look at my emails, talk on the phone, or have a conversation without Brielle trying to get my attention or get into something if I am preoccupied.

Boredom in a child with ADHD and SPD equals trouble. She has gone into my room and looked inside my drawers, in my closets, and through my jewelry. There have been many incidences where she accidentally shattered hung pictures on walls and items on floors because she is running around. I give verbal and visual prompts that she needs to wait for her turn, but this is something she struggles with daily. What may appear to others as being demanding or a troublemaker is actually a child who struggles with delayed gratification. Brielle always acts before she thinks.

inattention and executive functioning

Brielle has difficulty focusing and learning, as well as executive functioning issues. She has an IEP because she needs constant redirection, individualized instruction, and the use of multiple prompts to learn new information. There are times when she is unable to grasp new material because of her processing issues and poor memory.

She has a different learning style than others, but that does not mean she can’t learn.

Brielle has difficulty sleeping because of her sensory issues with her bladder. She will have accidents because it doesn’t register that she has to go to the bathroom. Most often, she uses the bathroom every few minutes because she is overly sensitive to the sensation.

Brielle’s body doesn’t register exhaustion like other kids, so she becomes hyperactive (more than usual) when she gets overtired. She also has difficulty falling asleep because her body and mind won’t quiet down. As Sarah Young explained, “Living with ADHD is like being locked in a room with 100 televisions and 100 radios all playing. None of them have power buttons so you can turn them off and the door is locked from the outside.”

 

 

childs advocate

There are many ways of supporting kids with special needs, and Brielle has made huge strides.

She is not defined by her ADHD and SPD; rather, she is a smart, funny, sweet, loving, sensitive girl who has ADHD and SPD.
“No mom who is actively trying to understand what their child is going through should ever feel like they are not doing enough or they are a bad mom. Your child is very lucky to be loved so unconditionally by you. Some day they will look back and say, ‘I got here because of you.’”

( ourADHDstory.com, 2014).

 
We are our children’s biggest supporters and greatest advocates. Wear that honor with pride and hold your head up high. Remember that your kids are lucky to have a parent who tries as hard as you do.
succeed in school and at home

There are many challenges of parenting a child with ADHD. This is Part 2 of Strategies and Tips to Help children with ADHD. If you missed Part 1,  read here. I hope you find these tips helpful in your parenting journey:

parenting tips for children with adhd

 

(1) Be open and honest with your child about their struggles so there is no shame associated with it. Children with ADHD needs compassion, empathy and support.

Having open lines of communication is crucial. Brielle is aware of her challenges, which include focusing and impulsivity, but she understands that who she is as a person is what defines her. While struggles are important to address, it is just as important to emphasize your child’s strengths! Remember to emphasize their skills as well.

(2) Limit screen time

I understand we all need a break, and there are times that we put our kids on the iPad or TV as a lifeline, so we don’t lose our minds. However, children with ADHD tends to be so enthralled with the stimulation from the screen that it becomes a huge battle to take it away from them. Children with ADHD become hyper-focused on what fascinates them, and the transition from screen time to no screen time is incredibly hard for them. My daughter acts possessed after I take away the iPad. On the weekends, I allow her to pick between the iPad or TV for thirty minutes each time. I set a timer on her iPad that goes off in thirty minutes. I then give her ten-minute and five-minute reminders.

Limit Screen Time

(3) Discuss strategies in advance to use when your child has difficulty regulating emotions

I created a “calming corner” for my daughter that is comprised of a bean bag chair, a weighted blanker, squeeze ball and some books. Make a chart of different options/tools your child can use, and place it in various locations throughout the house that are easily accessible. Encourage your child to use the tools when needed.

(4) Stay calm

I know how hard that is, believe me! However, if we want our children with ADHD to learn strategies to emotionally regulate themselves, we have to model how we emotionally regulate ourselves. It is okay to let your child know that you need to use one of your tools, and model the importance of self-care and emotional well-being.

(5) Advocate for your child with ADHD, and make sure your child has a 504 plan or an IEP (Individualized Education Program).

As I discussed in 6 strategies and tips for parenting a special needs child , it is important that you are on the same page as your child’s teacher and school.  Strategies need to be implemented in the school as well as the home to set your child up for success. It is important to communicate with your child’s teacher on a regular basis.

(6) Educate yourself about ADHD

Join support groups. Read literature about it. Speak to your child’s pediatrician, psychologist and any other related professional to discuss possible options. Knowledge is power. You want to know all pertinent information to make an informed decision about what is best for your child. Have an open mind, and be willing to explore different options. If medication is suggested, find out about all possible side effects and be in constant communication with the psychiatrist. There is no shame in your child needing medication, but make sure you are well-informed before choosing any option.

(7) ADHD can accompany other issues such as executive functioning delays, processing issues, anxiety, or autism.

Make sure your child has a comprehensive evaluation so you are in the best position to help your child. As I mentioned in the last tip, knowledge is power.

(8) There is no one size fits all solution

Be humble enough to seek help and gather information from others, but also trust your own intuition. Nobody knows your child better than you.

(9) Take time for yourself!

We love our children so much that we often take our own well-being for granted. You are in a better position to support your child when you aren’t pouring from an empty cup. In order to properly care for your child, you need to love and care for yourself.

(10) Mistakes are inevitable

Parenting is a challenge with any child, and children with ADHD require extra support. There will be times where you will say or do the wrong thing. Own up to your mistakes. Set a good example that flaws are part of life, but we can learn and grow from them.

love and accept your child for who they are

challenges of parenting a child with adhd As parents, we have a responsibility to support our children, advocate for them, and love them for who they are, not the labels they have. Teach your children to accept themselves and to love all parts of themselves.

Be your child’s biggest cheerleader and fan. Try to instill in them that although some things are challenging for them, they are capable and wonderful just as they are. Parenting a child with ADHD is challenging. As in all aspects of life, some days will be easier, and some days will be incredibly challenging. The journey of parenting is a bumpy road, but I feel blessed to be along for the ride with my daughter.

parenting tips and strategies and tips to help

parenting a child with adhd

This article is part 1 of a 2-part article devoted to parenting and providing tips to help children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

I have not been shy about how hard it is to be a parent. My daughter wasn’t officially diagnosed with ADHD until she was 6. However, we suspected she had ADHD long before she was diagnosed. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, and more importantly, as a mother, I came up with some strategies to help my daughter:

tips to help children with adhd

Strategies to Help Children with ADHD

(1) Structure and routines are crucial

Most kids like routine, but stability is extra important for children with ADHD. If you subscribed to my blog, you have the daily routine I use with my daughter for homeschooling/remote learning. Involve your child in the implementation of their routine (within reason) so your child has some input. For example, I give my daughter options of what she gets to do when she takes a break.

(2) Establish clear boundaries and expectations in advance

Make sure these boundaries are reasonable. It is crucial to understand your child’s capabilities and set expectations accordingly to promote success. That means expecting your child to calmly walk throughout the grocery store while you to do a full grocery shopping is unreasonable. A more reasonable expectation (that is more likely to be successful) is making a list of a few essential items and playing a game to see who will spot the items first.

(3) Transitions are especially challenging for children with ADHD

Make sure to discuss transitions in advance, so your child is prepared for it. Give reminders of upcoming transitions as well. I try to give a ten minute and then five minute warning before transitions (like leaving the park, stop playing with a friend, leaving the house).

Pick Your Battles

(4) Give your child opportunities to make choices

Kids like to feel some sense of control. Power struggles are common, but if you give your child some options, you give them a sense of power while still having control of the situation. Try to provide options rather than ask an open-ended question. I provide my daughter with choices throughout the day such as offering carrots or strawberries for a snack, whether she wants to wear sneakers or sandals when we leave the house, picking two books out of five that she wants me to read to her, what stuffed animal she wants to sleep with, etc.

(5) Pick your battles

Children with ADHD struggle with impulse control and emotional regulation, so understand your child and be mindful of their struggles. Praise them for their accomplishments, and unless they are putting themselves or someone else in danger, try to ignore the small stuff. This promotes a calmer environment for you and your child. It’s a win-win!

(6) Choose quality over quantity

It is better to give your child ten minutes of interaction without distraction (checking your phone, answering an email, thinking about something else) than twenty minutes with numerous interruptions. I spend ten minutes a day with Brielle everyday doing “fun time”. During these ten minutes, she gets to pick any activity she wants to play with me (within reason, of course), and there are no phones, computers, or any other distractions. Kids need attention and they want to feel like they have some control.

This is especially true for children with ADHD because there is so much that isn’t within their control. This daily activity honors both of those components. My daughter knows this is something we do together each day, and it can never be taken away as a punishment.

(7) Be mindful of what you are feeding your child

I don’t give Brielle anything with Red-40, and I try to limit her sugar intake as much as possible. That’s not to say your child should never get a special treat. However, don’t give something with a ton of sugar and then be surprised when your child is bouncing off the walls. FYI- Brielle literally tried to bounce off the wall one time when she had a huge piece of cake- lesson learned!

(8) If possible, provide visual and auditory prompts when asking your child to do something

For example, when I am homeschooling my daughter I start off by pointing to my eyes and asking her to put on her “focusing eyes”, pointing to my ears and ask her to put on her “listening ears”, and pointing to my head and asking her to put on her “thinking cap”. I also read aloud instructions to her and underline or highlight key words. I then ask her to explain the instructions in her own words. We also have a saying that accompanies gestures, which is “Stop, Think, then Act”. Reminders are crucial with a child that has ADHD.

(9) Sleep

It’s important for every child to get adequate sleep, but especially a child with ADHD. I can tell when she didn’t get enough sleep the day before, as she’s even more hyper on those days. Establish a routine that provides ample time for sleep and naps, and stick to it as much as possible.

(10) Children with ADHD need breaks

Included in my homeschool/ remote learning routine are intervals and suggestions for breaks throughout the day. My daughter gets numerous breaks so she has the opportunity to “get her wiggles out”. If your child is at school, discuss with the teacher opportunities for brain breaks.  For example, letting your child get up and stretch or a being a helper that gives out something. When your kid gets home from school let your child play outside. Your child can just run or play active games such as Simon Says, tag, hopscotch or Red Light, Green Light. Make sure your child knows that asking for breaks is okay when doing homework. Set a timer for a specific amount of time for your child to recharge.

Reminder about parenting

I hope that these strategies and tips to help children with ADHD are helpful! Remember that parenting is challenging, and it is no easy task to parent a child with special needs. It will take time and patience to implement these strategies.  Just as it is important to be your child’s biggest advocate and supporter, don’t forget to do the same for yourself!

6 strategies and tips for parenting a special needs child

parenting my special needs child

I am the parent of a special needs child. My daughter has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). My job as her mother is the greatest responsibility I will ever have. Although my job is to help my daughter to learn and grow, she helps me learn and grow as well.

The truth is, the image I had of parenting is not reality. The smiling faces on Facebook and Instagram capture mere moments of real-life. It is easy to look at others and think that you are the only one who struggles. That is simply not the truth.

Just as it was essential for my well-being to accept the hard truth about my childhood, awareness and acceptance are of paramount importance when raising a child. The road to acceptance was not an easy road for me. When I enrolled my daughter in a Montessori Pre-K, the teachers and director voiced a lot of concerns about my daughter’s inability to do things that other kids were doing. I believed that the large class size and lack of warmness were the cause of everything. When they suggested she had Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) I scoffed. I was her mother, and my daughter was FINE.

adhd and SPD

adhd and spd

When we put her into a smaller school, she adjusted well. Still, transitions were very hard for her; she would raise her hand and give answers that had nothing to do with the questions, and she often rolled around on the floor at school when asked to pick an activity at the learning stations. Brielle knew her numbers and letters, could write paragraphs, and was reading, but she couldn’t focus in large groups and was always losing her belongings.

She was well-behaved at school, but at home she constantly threw tantrums and had no ability to self-regulate her emotions. Despite being 4, I couldn’t take her to any stores because she literally touched everything, and she would not sit still and follow directions. She would squeeze the cats, fall up and down stairs, and sought out constant movement.

Nothing I tried seemed to calm her down.

Despite my background as a Speech-Language-Pathologist, I had blinders on when it came to my own child. I wanted desperately to believe that I could somehow make it better on my own. I thought if I tried harder or did more, I could somehow make the problems go away. There came a point when I had to admit that an assessment was needed. Her health and happiness were more important than my denial.

My daughter was diagnosed by an Occupational Therapist with SPD. Two years later she was diagnosed with ADHD, executive functioning issues, poor working memory, and auditory processing issues. I went from being in denial that there was anything wrong, to demanding an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) be made for my child. I learned some valuable lessons along the way, and my hope is that I can make the road of parenting a special needs child less bumpy for others:

strategies to help parent a special needs child

(1) As parents, we must look at hard truths

It is better to err on the side of caution and get your child assessed ASAP rather than hope it will all go away. If there is a problem, the earlier there is intervention, the better. If there is nothing wrong, then you have nothing to lose by getting your child tested.

(2)  Labels should be used to help your child, not to define your child

Brielle has learning issues, but the labels associated with those issues do not define her. Who she is as a person is what defines her. Brielle is loving, bright, sensitive, and funny.

advocate for your child during the iep process

(3)  You must be your child’s greatest advocate, ally and supporter

Involve yourself in every aspect of the assessment and intervention process. For example, I observed every Occupational Therapy session, and I implemented each tool at home.

At the beginning of last year I started homeschooling my daughter. She had a psycho-educational evaluation done over the summer that determined she had ADHD. Subsequently, I found out that I could request a meeting with the Student Support Team (SST) at the public school because we pay taxes to the county. I fought for Brielle to get a full evaluation so that if she were eligible, she could have an IEP. I brought a list of my present and future concerns and was adamant that she needed testing for executive functioning and auditory processing. When they determined she indeed had weaknesses in those areas, I researched IEP goals for those delays as well as accommodations that she needed.

I made sure they were all implemented into the IEP.

I planned to have Brielle virtually attend Georgia Connections Academy, but I insisted that she get less screen time and only go online when it would be small groups. She does not focus in large online groups. They were unwilling to cooperate, so I am continuing her education with Bridgeway . I want to put her in an environment that sets her up for success, so I will continue to be her teacher until we find a school that is a good fit for her.

Stand up for your child and make sure they get the proper support and intervention. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground. If you do not fight for your child, then who will? It is necessary that your child gets the proper support to thrive.

communicate with others

(4) Be open and honest with your child about their struggles and their needs

Having an open line of communication is necessary so there is no shame about it. Brielle understands that she difficulty starting and focusing on tasks because of her ADHD, and we have discussed strategies to help her. She knows that she can ask for a break if she needs to “let her wiggles out”. I have taught her various breathing exercises to help her “calm her mind”.

She will sometimes ask for a squeeze if she needs that pressure on her body (for sensory input), and she has a weighted blanket that she uses at night. When Brielle gets exasperated because she doesn’t understand something, I encourage her to try her best and I try explaining it to her in a different way. I also try to use as many visuals and manipulatives as possible to aid in her comprehension of tasks.

Brielle’s Kindergarten teachers thought she couldn’t grasp addition and subtraction number bonds; by the end of homeschool last year she was doing multiplication, division, and fractions. She may have different learning needs than others because of her ADHD and SPD, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of learning. I won’t allow her to believe otherwise.

(5) Make sure to emphasize your child’s strengths

Brielle has a poor working memory, but her long term memory is amazing. She can recall in vivid detail incidences that took place years ago. Her hyperactivity has an upside as well. She never tires. Make sure your child knows that for every challenge there is also a strength.

(6) Parenting must vary based on the child, NOT the other way around

We must give our children what they need, not what we want them to need. Brielle has difficulty playing by herself and she is very accident- prone. I need to keep an eye on her because she is incredibly impulsive. She has difficulty playing independently because of her ADHD and SPD. I give her options of what she can do when she has “quiet time” (time where she plays by herself). She chooses what she’d like to do.

I encourage her to be her own friend and give her lots of positive reinforcement when she keeps herself occupied and plays independently. I believe in her fully, but I also needed to adjust my idea of how she should be. Brielle is Brielle, and I wouldn’t have her any other way.

awareness and acceptance 

awareness and acceptance

Awareness and acceptance– the key ingredients to parenting a special needs child. They have helped me to be the mother and person I am today. I am far from perfect, and that’s okay. I am aware of who I am, and I am aware of how special my daughter is. The sky is the limit. I am honored to be along for the ride.