ADHD, A Real Medical Diagnosis

I’m angry.

Well, maybe that’s too strong a word.

I’m frustrated.

No, that just won’t cut it.

I’m angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, surprised…

Over the past week this amalgamation of negative emotions has reached its boiling point.
Suddenly I’m on fire, and it’s not just the crazy heat and humidity of summer that’s igniting it. In this past week alone I have read no fewer than seven articles relating to childhood ADHD and most of them have left me white knuckled and aggravated. All of them, in one way or another, have touched on feelings of shame-both parental and child- associated with this diagnosis. They reeked of an essence of bravery; a feeling that these authors were courageous in publicly admitting that their child had ADHD or used medication to control it, or that they simply had run out of energy and ideas on how to deal with said child. Don’t get me wrong, these women are absolutely brave for sending these thoughts into the vastness of the internet; but they shouldn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be this hard to discuss a valid medical diagnosis with very real effects.

There is such an intense stigma attached to this acronym it’s astounding. Four little letters, that in any other combination could carry a benign meaning, have parents embarrassed into silence. As if something that their child was born with, that neither they, nor that child, had absolutely any control over, was their family’s dirty little secret.

Man is almost five. He has a medical diagnosis called ADHD.

This disorder results in severe impulsivity, great difficulty waiting for turns, interrupting children’s play activities, interrupting conversations, blurting out answers to questions not directed him, acting recklessly without thinking of the consequences, such as darting into the street without thinking to look for cars, or jumping off a high incline without considering the danger. This is only a fraction of the list, by the way.

Can we say,

Can we say, “Acting recklessly without thinking of the consequences.”

I often try not to air his dirty laundry to the masses, only my own. But guess what- this isn’t his dirty laundry; it’s a simple fact. He has brown hair, he loves pasta, he has ADHD, and he has a little sister- all just facts. Would you have felt differently after reading the sentence if it had said, “he loves pasta, he has asthma, and he has a little sister?”

I’m not embarrassed by the neurobiological medical condition that causes his challenging behaviors. I am not embarrassed by the person he was born to be, and if I have anything to say about it, he won’t be either.

A shift seems to have occurred in the 1990’s; ADHD became a wildly popular diagnosis for “active” children, the large majority being boys. With the introduction of Aderol and Ritalin it became a designer diagnosis with a designer drug wrapped up into one neat little package. If your kid was a “behavior problem” in school, it was possible that he/she had ADHD and needed medication to fall in line.

As the decade stretched on the effects of an overused diagnosis and prescription pad were being felt. In an attempt move away from false diagnoses and overmedicated children who truly did not need pills, people began to believe that this disorder didn’t even exist. “Ritalin turned my kid into a zombie, he wouldn’t eat or sleep, it was terrible,” was not an uncommon complaint. It appeared to become just another outlet for doctors and drug companies to work harmoniously at scaring the public in order to put more money in their pockets. Worse yet, as time went on it became a popular study tool among older teenagers and college students. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a medication that a child with an actual medical diagnosis might need; it was a highly abused and addictive street drug. Why would any parent ever want to give that to their child?

Flash forward and the damage is clear, it seems like few people have taken the time to consider that behind all the media hype and over-diagnosis is a very real disorder, with very real difficult characteristics. What happens to all of the children who actually have ADHD? They are left with parents who are unaware and uneducated about the signs and characteristics to look for in early childhood. Parents telling themselves that their child will absolutely grow out of this. They are left with family members and friends saying things such as, “All kids have a lot of energy,” or, “You just need to discipline a little better,” and my absolute personal fave, “Boys will be boys.” They are left questioning their own instincts that something else, something bigger, might be brewing inside of their child’s brain.

I have found that unless you are actually living through it, it is extremely difficult to grasp just how significant this diagnosis can be. How much it can invade the daily life of an entire family. It really is so much easier to see just that child as defiant; to watch him at the playground dumping sand over everyone no matter how many times he is reprimanded. To see him running wildly away from his mother into a parking lot while she runs after him calling like a maniac. Then to witness that kid doing the same thing again the next day, and the day after that; same kid, same behavior, different day.

How many of you have seen that child and that parent? How many of you have secretly thought, “What a terrible parent—she can’t keep her kid under control,” or “Won’t that kid ever learn,” and even, “Note to self: steer clear of sand dumping kid.”

Stop and consider this for a second. Do you really truly think she wants him to continue to do these things day in and day out? That it’s so much easier to let him just behave that way? That she hasn’t tried everything, EVERYTHING in her power to help him control himself? That every time she goes out in public with him she considers where the potential pitfalls lie?

It’s time to get out from behind this stigma, to understand that this mom is dealing with a medical diagnosis, just like the mom of a child who has diabetes. It’s not fair of me to say something like that? Diabetes can cause lifelong health issues and potentially death, whereas ADHD is only a behavioral issue? Guess what, the lifelong effect of social anxiety, depression, and poor self-esteem are pretty significant too. Being unable to maintain a job as an adult or to function successfully in society is a colossal problem. Having potential difficulty making friends and maintaining friendships, while feeling isolated, lonely and misunderstood is not insignificant; it’s an important factor in development and the person they grow up to be. Unable to have the vigilance to participate in a hobby or learn a subject matter that truly interests you.

Maybe Man will escape all of these potential negatives. Maybe he will make it through life unscathed by the effects of what ADHD does to his body and his mind. As his parent, I will do everything in my power to make this a reality for him. However, without recognizing this diagnosis and being open to all possible appropriate avenues of treatment, that would be impossible.

I will not begin to tell you that there are an infinite number of parents who deal with medical diagnoses far greater than this. I am in awe of these families and I give them the full respect they deserve. However, I will also say that raising a child with ADHD comes with its own set of significant challenges. It is an extremely isolating diagnosis for both child and family. I’ve seen lots of posts where moms ask medically related questions, “Who does the best ear tube surgery,” “Does my baby have reflux,” “What does Coxsackie look like?” I have never once seen, “Has anyone had success with xxxx medication and their ADHD child,” “What behavior mod techniques do you use for extreme impulsivity?”

Let’s stop hiding and start helping one another.

ADHD does not define me, it's only part of what makes me, me.

ADHD does not define me, it’s only part of what makes me, me.

31 thoughts on “ADHD, A Real Medical Diagnosis

  1. I was trained in neuropsych assessment to diagnose ADHD and it is very real. Over diagnosis comes when people don’t take the time to be assessed because it is time consuming and expensive! Also, as a psychologist I have worked with adults who had untreated ADHD because their parents didn’t believe it was a real diagnosis and it left a lasting impact. They thought they were stupid or lazy instead of seeing that their academic careers could have looked very different if they’d had proper treatment and accommodations.

    • My son is 30 and he was diagnosed with adhd i never put him on meds i was afraid of what it would do to him as he got older we yes we suffered througb it. What makes me mad like the illness bi-polar everyone wants to diagnose everyone else like if your child is hyper and doesnt listen well its oh he must have add or adhd no hes hyper and hes a brat or a female is going through the change of life shes moody she cant sleep or shes sleeping go much its oh she must be bi-polar stop ddiagnosiing your not a doctor so untill u have lived SHUT UP

    • I knew you would go on to do great things. Has the Chinese come in handy? Thank you, it helps to know that there are people who truly understand the struggle.

  2. I am so impressed reading this article. I have 4 older and 2 younger with the two younger being ADHD. I have said to so many people the pain it causes all involved. Teachers with little experience, that damn green, yellow, and red chart!! I inquired about it when I met my sons teacher, she said they use the board when a child is having difficulties following everyday tasks, and suggested I do it at home. My reply was, these children suffer enough negative attention, they beat themselves up for doing things they can’t even explain without melting down. My son says sorry all day long to everybody our neighbors pointed out to him that he needn’t be sorry for doing absolutely nothing wrong. He just yearns for positive feedback. I told his 3rd grade teacher, would you like the first thing your child talks about as you greet him is I stayed on green today, I was good!!! Or sorry mommy I was on yellow all day I’m sorry mommy. How sad is that he worries about how upset I’m going to be instead of bouncing in and telling me fun things that happened all day!He didn’t ask to be different, nor should he be treated as such. I also had a 30 year old counselor tell me she doesn’t think my daughters actions are uncontrollable! It’s out of spite and premeditated! It’s a hard enough world out there with the skyrocket of public social media, which in turn your losing time with them. And often people are being rude or mean, because she’s different. Every step you take with your child with adhd involves you praying he was a treat to have over, or he’s such a sweet boy. He’s 9… I want all my children to thrive. But I’m beginning to see no matter what they will carry the pain, shame and intolerance caused by people who never knew the branching off to so many more disabilities but started with.ADHD!

  3. Have 10 yo daughter with ADHD. Medication has been LIFE CHANGING!!!! Family life, school, friendships, anxiety and headaches all significantly improved. Now she (and family) is better able to focus on the skills needed to continue to become successful in life. A great therapist is helpful too! She is able to articulate that it’s helpful too and chooses to take on weekends. We are very fortunate (lucky) the medication/dose was right the first time and no major side effects( appetite loss). I know how challenging it can be. Hang in there, there is no shame in having your child be the best that they can be!

  4. Thank you for writing this, it made me cry. My son is newly diagnosed ADHD and I feel like I am begging the world for advice and support. Is it out there somewhere? I can’t find it. All I see is people saying it’s a fake diagnosis, the result of bad parenting, poor diet, food dyes, etc…. I am desperately searching for the next steps but have trouble finding them.

    • I hear you, the support groups and resources are so limited! Especially for younger aged children. I have found a lot of helpful articles on ADDitude Facebook page. I know it sounds so silly, but they really have aot of information on topics that have been hard for us.

  5. Hi,
    My son is 8yrs and he not intrested in learning(can’t concentrate aft 15 min) at schoolbut we still have’nt arranged for the
    Medical control bez of the side affects.Pls advice us what should we do.I am sure, he has ADHD.He can be learnt but aft he was forgotten again.Pls help us.thks
    Than Naing

    • Hello, I’m sorry you are goin through this. I think first and foremost you should ask his pediatrician. A formal diagnosis should come from a psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, or pediatric neurologist. Once you get a formal diagnosis you can then discuss proper treatments. Inattention is only one characteristic of ADHD so it might be stemming from something else. Make an appointment with his pediatrician and ask his teachers what they think, then go from there. Hope this helps 🙂

  6. Thanks for your article! I’m a special ed teacher and parent to a 12 year old son with ADHD. I think a lot of his traits come from me although it’s only in the last few years that I have considered I may have mild ADHD too!
    Your article made me think about a strategy we have stumbled upon recently and Is like to pass on.
    5 months ago, after 6 years of morning tantrums and drama I started giving my son his medication straight away on waking. I wake my son, hand him the tablet and water and then leave him be. After about 15 minutes he gets himself up and ready for school without ONE reminder or raised voice. Not only are mornings now drama free, our afternoons are now peaceful too! No meltdowns or excessive tiredness. My son’s appetite is better as he will now eat dinner at a reasonable time (he doesn’t eat breakfast these days although I know he does eat a piece of fruit at 9.15am at school as part of their ‘crunch & sip’ program, so I don’t worry about it). He will now happily go to bed and actually GO to sleep before 10pm! Previously he wouldn’t want to eat till after 8pm and even when he was in bed at 8.30pm, would still be calling out to me that he couldn’t sleep well after midnight. It was exhausting. His work ethic, attitude and interest in academics have improved, peer relationships have improved, his relationships with school staff has improved and he is much more receptive to my chore requests! I don’t know why we were never asked about our medication routine or why it was never suggested for my son to take the meds before getting out of bed (opposed to after breakfast about an hour before the start of school as was our previous routine), or why I’d never read about this strategy before but I’m so glad I read that issue of ADDitude online mag! It’s made the world of difference and I’m confident my son will transition to high school next year much easier than if we hadn’t made the change.

  7. I have ADHD myself. It’s hard. Some things I can doggedly push through and other things I can’t do simply because I am not wired to do them. If Man wants someone to talk to about ADHD, I’m here.

  8. I just saw your article via The Mighty and followed the link here. As a teacher I have worked with several kids with ADHD and I wish that your well written and heartfelt piece of writing had been there when I was discussing each child’s diagnosis with their families. I could see they were feeling many of the things you describe. The struggle for ADHD to be fully recognised, understood, and supported is so important, especially in the face of those who still believe it to be ‘made up’ or exaggerated. The ADHD community needs strong, honest, positive and realistic voices such as your own to be heard.
    On a side note, when I saw your article on The Mighty, I saw the picture before I read a word and the thought ‘Oh, he has ADHD’ ran straight across my mind. It really made me smile to see all that energy, which can so often be a challenge, combined with a sense of purpose and adventure! (Although as a mum I can only imagine how shocked you must have been the first time he did that!)
    Thank you for your writing, I will continue to read your blog, and from now on will have a new resource to share with families whose children also have ADHD.

  9. As Mom to an awesome, charismatic, funny and absolutely BRILLIANT young man who yes, dare I say has ADHD, it infuriates me to NO end to hear people say “oh alllll boys are hyperactive, they’re BOYS Michele” or “ADHD? Is that even REAL?” Ummm, FIRST of all, no NOT all boys are hyperactive, I can assure you of that! We’re not talking a little energy here. We’re talking crazy hyperactive literally bouncing off walls and plummeting his body off of the couch onto blankets all the while bezel cracking his skull open on end and coffee tables. Absolutely zero safety awareness or “gee…should I really be doing this??” None. And YES jerface, ADHD IS REAL!!! Come to my house during ANY transition from one activity to another; I don’t care which – just pick one. But if you want a REAL glimpse into whether or ADHD is “real” or not, come to my house at bedtime and watch my almost 9 yr old throw THE biggest babyish, so immature it looks and sounds like a 2 yr old is throwing it tantrum. Night in and night out, it’s the SAAAAAAAME thing: “Matt 5′ til bedtime.” “Matt it’s bedtime.” Whaaaaaaaaaahhhhh….kicking screaming knock down thrown down meltdown tantrum to rival ANY 2 yr old. No warnings or threats or removal of privileges will curb his infantil babyish tantrums. Nothing. It (the tantrum) is a force to be reckoned with let me tell ya. That doesn’t even touch on the day in and day out total IGNORING of his parents when we ask him something. He just does what he wants when he wants to do it. Period. It’s awful. He has absolutely no respect for us or anyone in authority period. He needs to be told 10,000 times to DO things: come to the table for meals, get his coat/shoes on, take a shower, start his homework, feed the dogs…ANYTHING!!! He has very few real friends – he loses them easily because he’s always so impulsive and will do ANYTHING to win at a video game or Nerf war, which has cost him dearly. His reputation at the ripe old age of (almost) 9 precedes him and NOT in a good way. He just started medication last Saturday so we’ve only been doing this a week but we are open to anything at this point. We are also trying to find a therapist who will take our insurance so our son can attend weekly counseling. He has a 504 Plan at school (which as a Pediatric OTR for 21 years, I pretty much wrote) which was started in September and basically outlines specific strategies and modifications to help our son participate more fully in his school routines and classes: being designated classroom “messenger” so he can get up an MOVE periodically, chewing gum during less preferred subjects like literature and social studies to help with attention (oral input is very “organizing” to the sensory system), typing instead of writing on longer class work assignments (he is athletic but has terrible fine motor skills and control due to low tone and poor writing and upright sitting posture endurance), theraband tied around the front of his desk to give him some deep pressure proprioceptive feedback etc etc. It’s Real. ADHD IS VERY REAL. The next time someone tells you “all boys are hyperactive” or “they’re BOYS…they’re SUPPOSED to have a lot of energy” tell them to go take a long walk off a short pier – OR they can spend one day – JUST ONE DAY in my life!! It will make them long to have their own quiet simple “every boy acts like that” pathetic life back…they can HAVE it. I love my boy and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to help him or find him the help he needs. The last thing I need is to have someone minimize or worse yet totally blow off OUR lives and OUR struggles as if they don’t exist.

    • I know EXACTLY what you are saying!! poor fine motor and weak core, check. will do anything to win and be right, check. beyond terrible with transitions, with any transition, could be from toilet bowl back to activity, check. impulsive, more impulsive, beyond impulsive, check. zero control over emotions and outbursts over nothing (this is not the poptart i wanted), check. oral sensory seeking, double check (along with oral sensory he has issues with flavor of foods, he is extremely hypersensitive to flavor and will only eat bland, non-nutritious foods). I absolutely feel your frustration as if it were my own, oh wait, it is my own as well!! I have your e mail from when you wrote the comment, I am going to send you an e mail if you would like to chat more, sometimes it just helps to vent to someone going through the same thing.

  10. To the Speech Therapist emailed me (I’m an Occupational Therapist and can’t even help my own child!!) saying you’d love to chat sometime about our boys, yes I would LOVE to chat and share ideas and even commiserate with you!! My email is: DoylestownOTR(at)gmail(dot) com
    Thank you!!

  11. Thank you so much for this! I have a six-year-old son and over the last year he has tried our last patience with his attitude and behavior: he is constantly interrupting my spouse and I when we are trying to have a conversation, leaving us to not actually talk about important issues until he’s gone to bed; I can ask him to do the simplest task over and over and over again and it seems to never connect with him and he ends up getting into trouble for it; cleaning his room is a hassle, he gets “tired” after five minutes, despite my having taken out many of his toys so he has less to deal with at the end of the day; he is up and down all over the house every single day. Most of the time my spouse and I get so frustrated that we have to be upset with him every single day and even last night I broke into tears from frustration at my son’s inability to do the simple task of just staying quiet for a few minutes as I had a raging headache.

    We had talked to the pediatrician previously about our worries that our boy may have ADD/ADHD, but we cancelled it considering it was way too close to the beginning of his first year of school and we were worried that our unstable schedule (my spouse and I are college students–I will be finishing my BA in May, my spouse is working on her Masters), along with the new experience of starting kindergarten would be inconvenient should he have to start medication, but I really think if his behavior does not improve by the end of the school year that we will need to reschedule the neurology appointment to have him tested.

    I am constantly feeling emotional and overwhelmed with his behaviors, and I know it’s not something he is doing to irritate us and that its something in him that he cannot control, but I cannot help feeling that I am the only parent going through this with my child. Social media has a way of letting people show the best in their lives, so all I ever see of my friends and family with children around the same age is smiling faces and happy family moments and well-behaved situations, and I feel that I am the only person that wants to run away from mommy-life because I can’t deal anymore.

    Thank you so much for your post, it’s allowed me to see that I am not alone and I am not the only one who gets frustrated with my child’s behavior. Thank you!

    • Hi, I’m so sorry I have not replied to your comment sooner. I hope you get to see this. You are absolutely not alone! It is extremely frustrating, sometimes nervous breakdown worthy frustrating to parent a child with ADHD. It doesn’t mean we love them any less, it’s just the nature of the beast. I would like to encourage you to get the neurology evaluation done as soon as possible. The earlier a child is diagnosed the better. It does not mean that he will automatically be prescribed medication. However, it does mean that you have the ability to ask the school for accommodations and therapies that can help. He is a candidate for an IEP, possible Occuoational therapy and counseling. This helps with attention, social/emotional issues, organization, impulsivity, etc. You can begin all of these things before trying medication. Personally, I believe medication should be used in conjunction with other therapies not in isolation. Medication alone is not a quick fix. Often, with extra support in the classroom and behavioral therapies medication is not needed. And if it is, you can make a decision comfortably knowing you have tried other things as well. The medication might slow them down, but it does not teach them social and executive functioning skills. Also, and I hope I’m not saying too much, I read your most recent post and it stood out to me. It stood out mostly because I often feel the same way, like I have a million things to do and I accomplish none of them. That would lead to anxiety about getting behind on important things and depression about not understanding why I just couldn’t do these tasks even though I knew I needed to. When Man was diagnosed it was a gift for me. I started reading about a lot of the characteristics; disorganization, poor motivation and follow through, mind racing with a million thoughts at once, poor social skills, and it was like reading about myself. It occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t able to EVER get through my list because I had an undiagnosed ADHD. I got tested and turns out, I do have it! In women, it goes undiagnosed often because we don’t have the hyperactive and behavioral components that boys do. I began to use different strategies, change my way of thinking, taking a non stimulant medication and it has changed my life! In no way is it completely changed, but I know now that I’m not lazy, I just have to plan and execute a little differently. Maybe, this could be what’s happening with you? Again, I hope I didn’t overstep, but I hear so much of myself in you and I know that feeling. If there is s possibility that you don’t have to feel that way, I want to make sure you have the info to consider it.
      Good luck!!

  12. The social issues, poor self-esteem, the lack of focus toward a career – they’re life-long problems and may require constant personal attention. You highlight those issues very well. With your help, Man will learn to deal with these things. I am happy for you, and especially for Man, who has a mommy who understands.

    Back in the 1960s, people like Man and I were considered hopeless cases, sometimes even relegated to “special class” (as I was). My parents were shunned too, blamed for my “bad behavior.” Things are better today, but as you note, still not very good. Society has not caught up to the medical community in understanding ADHD – and the medical community is not always there yet either.

    Career success is reachable; there are in-demand fields where ADHD can actually be helpful. The social issues are much harder to deal with. The only piece of advice I can offer is not to do what I did for a long time: avoid people so you don’t have to deal with them. Fortunately, you understand that, and I’m sure you will help Man reach his full potential.

    Thank you for sharing Man’s and your story; it is inspirational.

  13. Thanks for this great article. I was referred here after responding to a recent NY Times article re: younger kindergarteners more likely to be diagnosed w/ADHD than older kindergarteners. Predictably there was a flood of reader feedback that propagated all the myths and stereotypes about ADHD that I am sure you and your audience are more than familiar with. When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I really wasn’t totally prepared for all the well-intentioned but crappy advice gleaned from Ted Talks and Internet threads. I can’t imagine what my son will have to deal with. He is taking his ADHD in stride, has benefitted tremendously from medication and has made tremendous academic and personal strides this year. For all that, I am so grateful, b/c I know not all ADHD kids fare so well. I will always do my part to speak up on behalf of ADHD kids and their families – to continue to educate when I can – and to be that good friend that these awesome kids need. Thank YOU for doing the same.

    • I put it up there for you under my real name. Somehow I knew you needed to read it. Your comments on that article echoed my exactly! Our boys are lucky to have such great mamas!!

  14. Pingback: Not Your Kid’s ADHD | Man vs Mommy

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