Parenting a Teen with ADHD ~ The Journey toward Graduation

Maybe you think ADHD is just a label and isn’t even a real diagnosis.  I fell into that category myself in the past, have struggled with it for years, and didn’t really chose to learn how to live with it.  My denial was great.

Being diagnosed with ADHD is a life-altering event and commonly leads to an identity crisis that can be devastating to adults.  (I’ve lived through that as well.)

What is on my heart about this today is to write a bit about the journey and the challenges we have faced in our home with a teen who has ADHD.  Maybe in doing so others will seek treatment for themselves or someone in their family.  And maybe it will garner more empathy for those who have ADHD.

school daydreaming

I haven’t written much about this because of my own personal struggles with it.  At times it feels like a curse. However, as I’ve come alongside my son, I’ve learned to give myself grace and accept him in his struggles as well. My son agreed to my writing this post, and helped me with it as well. Out of respect for his privacy, I won’t use his name (although he didn’t mind if I did).

Living with ADHD in High School

We’ve been in the home stretch in our house for the last few weeks.  You know the feeling—the end of the school year rush—late nights working on final projects—preparing for exams—writing papers—band concerts.  The pressure mounted.

It is this way at the end of every semester in our home, not just the school year.

This year is worse because my youngest child is graduating from high school.  Much of the time it feels like my husband and I are also in high school with him.  We remind him of his school commitments.  We regularly check in on his day at school and check-up on his assignments too.  It’s been a lot of work—the total opposite of his older brother.

My son graduates in a few days.  And I felt guilty because until now, it’s been hard for me to get excited.  Don’t get me wrong…I couldn’t be more proud of him and what he has accomplished.  As a parent of a child with a learning disability, it’s been tough to watch his struggle.

homework help

My son was diagnosed with ADHD at the start of high school and we’ve been challenged with how to help him ever since.  He has been through alternative health care regiments, altered his diet, taken supplements, done energy and body work, and completed brain training classes.  I’ve also sought counseling support for the emotional ups and downs in our family and for my own psycho-education.

We didn’t try medication until we ran out of other options and had lost all hope.  The medication has helped to a moderate degree, but it isn’t the panacea that it is made out to be.  As they say in ADHD circles, and I’ve come to learn in my own ADHD struggles, “pills don’t teach skills.”  So this summer, we are planning to work through Smart but Scattered, a book designed to help with executive functioning skills.

A Journey to Diagnosis

Although very intelligent, my son’s grades started to suffer in junior high school.  It was at that time that we started to seriously consider he had ADHD.  But there were unmistakable clues years before.

He doesn’t have the physical hyperactivity that lots of ADHD boys have early on in grade school. He is a quiet sort of young man, who is easily distracted and can’t seem to pay attention to his teachers.  It wasn’t really noticeable when he was young, but I bet if you asked his teachers, they probably would’ve said he had it. Unfortunately that was part of the problem.  Those teachers couldn’t or wouldn’t tell us because it is against the school district policy.

Report CardWhen we finally took him in for testing in the summer before his 10th grade year in school, I had to make copies of my son’s report cards all the way back to Kindergarten.  (It was a good thing that I scrapbook and had all of those documents organized!)  The doctor reviewed her findings with us and pointed out patterns that we hadn’t previously noticed in the life skills areas of his report cards.  There it was as plain as day, clues that he was not fitting in with the other kids, having problems working in groups, and being slow to engage in class.  We had no idea until she connected the dots for us.

But my son knew.  Before going into his first appointment, I sat in the car and talked with him about the possibility of a diagnosis of ADHD.  He calmly said, “Mom, I know I have it.”

“You do!” I said with surprise.  “How do you know that?”

“Because I know people who have it, and I noticed they have some of the same problems.”

We proceeded to have a heart to heart about it, followed by prayer before going in to see the doctor.  One thing I’m still grateful for is the continued ability to talk at a heart level about it.

Unfortunately the medication that was prescribed by that doctor created intense headaches and other symptoms that just made matters worse for him.  We tried other health care options again, until finally settling on a different type of medication for him (and me).

Another thing we learned is that it is a long process to find the right medication and dosage for each patient.

Becoming an Advocate

Getting the official diagnosis started us on a new journey of advocating for our son in school.  We had friends who had been down this road before.  I listened to their stories, took their advice, and sought their prayers.  All the while this was going on, we went down the road of seeking accommodations at his school.

Even with the support of friends, I wasn’t prepared for the battle that laid ahead for my son.  It started with trying to get a Guidance Team meeting with the school.  These meetings included the school psychologist, my son’s guidance counselor, the special education teacher, his teachers, and the principal.  Our first meeting with this team was six weeks into the school year. By this time, he was already treading water to stay afloat in some classes.

Quoting an email I received from the school psychologist back in 2012, the purpose of the Guidance Team meeting was “to determine to what extent, if any, the diagnosed condition may create a disability, and if there is a disability as a result of the diagnosed condition, does that disability create a substantial limitation for the student which would then have us consider if he is eligible for any type of support plan.”

parent advocateThe phrase “substantial limitation” was underlined by the school psychologist, not me.  That phrase came to be the basis for an uphill battle for the entire school year.  My heart ached for my son as the minimal accommodations he received didn’t help release the pressure he felt to try and keep up with his assignments.  It wasn’t until the middle of his junior year that significant accommodations finally made a difference for him, allowing him to get passing grades in his hardest subjects.

I personally attribute that to the change in the school psychologist.  The new psychologist understood my son’s disability and was sympathetic to his cause.  At one point in time, when I was losing hope again, I reached out to her.  Her openness to anonymously sharing the experiences of other students with ADHD led us back to medication for my son, and ultimately a plan that got him to this point in his high school career.

You know your kids better than anyone, so advocate, advocate, advocate for them.

Finishing Well

In a few days, my son will receive his hard earned high school diploma.  His diploma not only represents an academic milestone, it represents to a large degree the building up of his character.

We are looking forward to celebrating.  It is a celebration of his perseverance and his ability to integrate and learn more about himself—his strengths and his weaknesses.

My son will have ADHD for the rest of his life.  My hope and prayer is that this journey through high school has prepared him to advocate for his needs and to embrace his ADHD as a part of his unique giftedness.

I know I have learned a lot through these years as well.  I faced my own mothering deficiencies, was stretched outside of my comfort zone, and experienced valuable lessons in trusting God.  My son has helped me to be a better parent and to work through my own struggles with ADHD.

We did it together.  

I’m proud he finished well. 

Congratulations Son!

Want more information about ADHD, check out any of the resources below:

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  1. The Graduation Road Less Traveled | Making Me Bold

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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