The Hour and a Half Life Change

15 Oct

To listen along, click here:
This has been one crazy week. As I posted on my personal Facebook page, it has been a week of perspective. A young woman I know lost a child, and a young couple I know have a child who is struggling to recover after her second open heart surgery. I’ve had a few challenges of my own in the parenting realm, but knowing the situations of these parents certainly keeps things in perspective. The other thing that gave me a jolt of perspective was attending a lecture about transitioning your ADHD teenager to adulthood. A friend invited me and since my ADHD teen is 15, I thought it was a great opportunity to learn something new and I did. The best way to describe the evening was eye opening. In the first place, the lecture was conducted by a doctor which had me concerned about how well I could pay attention; the apple did not fall too far from the tree mind you, but the doctor was so entertaining, I only looked at my cell phone once to see what time it was and that was when the moderator said that time was up. He talked for an hour and a half about ADHD, and I didn’t get bored once, even during the neurobiological explanation of how the brain works. That, in my humble opinion, is one heck of a speaker, and I learned more than I ever thought I wanted to know about ADHD. Bear with me because some of the highlights of this talk were incredibly eye opening to me, and I think they explain so much.

Do you know the first time the symptoms of ADHD show up in medical journals? I didn’t. I thought it might be the 1970s when my mother took sugary cereals out of my brother’s diet because he was fidgety at school. Nope. The first mention of childhood inattention in a Medical Textbook is in 1775 when Melchior Adam Weikard wrote about distractibility, poor persistence and impulsive actions in children. In 1778, Alexander Chrichton provided more detail and even mentioned the inability to focus, so the next time someone talks about ADHD as being a fad, you can share that with them. The observation of these types of behavior became more apparent and relevant when mandatory school began in the early 20th century and children were now forced to sit in one place all day and concentrate for the first time. Although my son is not medicated, I did find it very interesting to find out that stimulant medication for children has the second most studies of any drug on the market other than aspirin.

One of the other things I found very interesting is how those with attention issues handle time and punishment. We all know that small children struggle with long term thinking and detest being yelled at. Because of an under developed prefrontal cortex in the brain, those with attention issues have difficulty seeing life in the long term and they continue to struggle with being yelled at, although there is some research that suggests that children with ADHD can actually become addicted to being yelled at because it stimulates their adrenaline which then makes it easier for them to focus. For parents of those children, that idea explains so much, but then the question becomes what to do about it. The normal prefrontal cortex of the brain is fully developed by age 25. Guess how old you have to be to rent a car? In case you don’t know, it’s 25. Interesting, huh? For most people, their sense of understanding the correlation between behavior and the consequences develop as follows:
Children under 5 need immediate feedback to understand the connection between behavior and consequences. Reading a book, watching a video or playing a game must come immediately after a desired behavior is accomplished. If the reward is delayed, the lesson is lost. Children in 1st through 3rd grades have about a 1-2 hour time frame. Children in 4th – 7th grades have about a day, and as children grow through their teens, they develop to having a 5-7 day time frame. In children with attention issues, those associations are delayed, so your 15 year old, who “should” be able to understand a reward a week in the future may only be able to think about this day and just a few hours from now. I wish I had known that when my son was in 3rd grade because that was when it became so frustrating for me to try to incentivize him. It never seemed to work and now I know why. My “treats” were too far into the future. The other thing is that all children and adults need rewards, but I think kids and adults with ADHD need even more rewards. A few years ago, I stopped watching The Biggest Loser on TV because I knew that show wouldn’t help me. I didn’t need a trainer that yelled at me and pushed me to my breaking point. I had been doing that all my life, and I was still fat. No one had to remind me of why I wanted to lose weight, and I didn’t need a trainer to push me. What I needed was a kinder way of being. For me, losing weight isn’t about working out and starving myself. I have to focus on taking excellent care of myself rather than pushing myself with threats and negative self-talk. I had been punishing myself for decades. It has become time to pamper and take care of myself. The term the doctor used was forward thinking. Take this example:
If you don’t do your homework, you won’t get to play video games or as soon as you finish your homework, you can play video games.
To most people, that is basically the same statement; completing the homework means that you get to play video games. To a child with ADHD, the only statement they hear in the first sentence is that they won’t get to play video games. I heard someone say something similar to this years ago while talking about trying to get children to slow down while taking a walk. What do most people say to a child who keeps running ahead? They say, “Don’t run.” A child then has to think about the undesired behavior before they can think of the desired behavior and the adult never really stated the desired behavior at all. Instead of telling the child not to run, tell them what you want. Tell them to slow down. Tell them to walk, and if you really want to be extraordinary, figure out why you want them to do that behavior in the first place. Are you afraid they might run out into the street? Tell them that. If you want a child the thinks for themselves and doesn’t just follow the crowd, never tell them to do anything because you said so. Give them reasons, and it will make you think about your own motivations as well. This is a life skill that will serve you well and although it is simple, it is not always easy. This morning, I caught my 15 year old with electronics in his bed for the third time this week. I am so tired of this behavior, and I really wanted to lambaste the child. I wanted him to feel bad about what he did, but I found a better way. My son does not like to ride the bus and has been driven to school for the past few years. He truly loves being taken to school. I do it because I love my son and have done it for my other sons as well. The only thing I ask of them is to keep the morning moving well and be ready on time. When my son sneaks electronics into his room, he doesn’t sleep well and it makes for a very stressful morning. When I add the half hour it takes to drop my son off at school and the extra tank of gas each week, I get especially irritated when we have that added drama in the mornings. To make the point, this morning I called our transportation department and asked what I needed to do to have him ride the bus in the morning, and I called when my son was home and could hear the conversation. He hasn’t been punished and I explained to him that from now on, the choice was his. If he chose to have electronics in his bed, he chose to ride the bus. If he chose to go to bed on time and get himself up in the morning, I would take him. It wasn’t a perfect conversation, and I did get more aggravated than I would have liked to, but it has been a stressful and under slept week for me too and I have never even hinted that I am perfect in any way. I only say that each day I do my best to do better than the one before. The thing is that life will treat us this way as adults. If we make good decisions, life is generally better. If we make bad decisions, life is generally more of a challenge. Unfortunately, we’ve been more conditioned to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake than to lift ourselves up when we make good decisions. What if we decided to change that? What if we decided to turn life around?

One of the attendees asked the speaker what you say to parents who say that life isn’t forward thinking; that life has negative consequences if you don’t do what you’re supposed to, and his response was amazing. He disagreed. He said the reason he goes to work is to get paid. He loves his job, but if they decided not to pay him, he wouldn’t show up. There may be a small percentage who don’t, but the vast majority of people who work and are paid, so it for the money. I work then I get money then I buy stuff I want. You could see people understood this on a level they had never even thought about before, and I have to say I got it as well. I also began to see that I needed to do that more with myself. I needed to create more incentives and live with more joy. I decided to live forward and it has made a difference. For those who are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I have been asking for prayers for the people I mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast. In the past, what was happening to those people would have shut me down emotionally. It would have been my excuse for not doing anything, but I realize none of them would want to be responsible for that. Would you? Would you want your suffering to make others suffer? Instead, I decided to do as much as I could muster in the most kindly way I could. It’s why I kept my temper with my son when I would have lost it in the past. It’s why, when the doctor talked about raising children with ADHD being like working with butterflies, I nearly cried. He said when you work with butterflies you cannot grab them by the wings so that they cannot fly or you’ll kill them. You cannot pounce on them or run after them or you will scare them away. The best thing you can do with butterflies is to sit and observe and be very peaceful and when they feel comfortable, they will fly and land near you and eventually they will open its wings and show just how beautiful they are. I think that is one of the most beautiful descriptions of not only teens with ADHD but human beings in general. For that piece of wisdom alone, it was worth my time to attend. So my little butterflies, I set you free to fly. My two greatest joys are to see you fly and to see you land near me to spread your wings so I can see how beautiful each one of you really are. Thanks for being you and have a great day.


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