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.
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.