School has begun here in New Mexico. For some the start of another school year is a time marked with a tinge of sadness that summer has ended. For some, there is excitement for the promise of new learning to come. Then there are those whose lives are affected by ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). For them, school usually brings with it dread. That includes students and parents regardless whether the student is in grade school, middle school, high school, and yes, sometimes college.
There exists a wide range of opinions about ADD/ADHD from the notion it is a purely biological condition to the belief that the entire concept is bogus. The latter implies that if a parent parents well there would not be a problem. The former suggests that medication is a first line of defense against symptoms.
ADD/ADHD often goes hand in hand with depression. For children and teens part of the reason for an increased risk is the expectation that they would be able to overcome their difficulties if they just tried harder. The problem with that is —for those with ADD/ADHD trying harder often means giving up a normal and healthy social life, dealing with an excessive amount of frustration, exhaustion, and the subsequent self-talk that they are abnormal, inadequate, and worst of all, bad.
For parents, the risk for depression comes partly from the lack of success when using traditional discipline methods coupled with others’ judgments about that lack of success.
As a mental health professional I am not a fan of using medication as a first line of defense for ADD/ADHD or depression. However, I recognize that for some medication can be a lifesaver. Therefore, it should not be totally eliminated from the list of options when addressing these problems.
As a Catholic parent who has raised two children with ADHD, one now a senior in high school and the other succeeding in college, I have something to say.
I have a concern that there is a pervasive and sometimes blatant insistence that Catholic parents should be better than “those” parents who “use ADD/ADHD as an excuse” for parental laziness and/or incompetence. “Give me that child for six months and I’d straighten him/her right out” the saying goes. I was actually told that on numerous occasions, by the way. I was also stared at or deliberately glared at during mass when my boys acted up. The message was clearly, “What’s the matter with you. You should be able to control your own children.” Repeated experiences of that literally drove me from mass for a while. How many parents have been driven from church because of our lack of charity?
For those of you with children diagnosed or who seemingly fit the description of ADD/ADHD (see link below) don’t be afraid to seek help. Getting help whether through self-help books (plural, for balance) or a formal evaluation does not mean you have to consent to medication. Also, don’t be afraid to smile unapologetically at those who would dare look at you with disgust, especially at mass. You belong there too. So go every Sunday. Receive our Lord who gives you the strength to persevere and don’t worry what others think. They don’t know. God knows.
For those of you who see a parent having difficulty say something nice, give a kind understanding look, or if appropriate offer help. We are to become the Body of Christ we receive. Be welcoming. Be accepting. Be supportive. Most of all pray for the one with parenting difficulties that they be blessed with strength and wisdom for the task at hand. Pray also that they have hope. Children with ADD/ADHD grow up and most are quite successful and faithful despite what the statistics say. Sometimes parents of children and teens don’t know that.
The Gift of ADHD: How to Transform Your Child’s Problems into Strengths by Lara Honos-Webb.