Friday, April 02, 2010

New road up ahead: ADHD

As we all know, I have two sons who were adopted from Ethiopia at 16 months of age. As we also know (or should by now), adoption is filled with unknowns. This is because we can't know how a child's trauma-filled past will affect them at two, or five, or thirteen years of age. Lack of proper nutrition, potentially poor prenatal health, the experience of being relinquished and moving from orphanage to orphanage...all those things leave an imprint on a child's brain and heart.

When we brought Yosef and Biniam home, they were ready to love, and to trust. Sweet, smiley little boys. They grieved, yes, and that was healthy. We worked through it. Biniam seemed to have the hardest time. He struggled with emotional issues related to food, yet in time those faded away. Upon homecoming he couldn't walk and had low muscle tone (in addition to parasites and a double-ear-infection), but he quickly caught up. We eventually learned his vision was extremely poor, so we dealt with that. He overcame those obstacles just like he overcame the food struggles. My son is a survivor. And a fighter.

We realized a year and a half ago, though, that as time went on, things just weren't going well with Biniam anymore. Nothing major, just little things...that made parenting him extremely stressful. And none of it added up. He had an amazingly kind, sweet heart...yet would regularly take a toy away from a sibling. Almost without thinking. He was so tactile and literally could not help himself when it came to jumping in puddles, stepping in snow...even if I'd JUST specifically told him not to. He doesn't have a defiant bone in his body, yet had a terrible time following through on certain tasks I'd ask him to do. Loves his sister Kaitlyn to pieces, but would get disproportionately upset if she did something to him (even though she's much younger than he is.) The boy can never find his shoes, or something that is lost. I tell him to go look, but he just wanders aimlessly around.

And then there's the constant MOVEment. Biniam has a great attention span, but he's usually moving. I just figured he must be an active kid. So we dug our heels in, hoped he'd outgrow the issues, maintained consistent discipline, encouraged him to jump on the trampoline to get his energy out...and had a really hard time seeking out positive interaction with him. It was just so tiring. I felt angry toward him, and I hated that. As many parents know, it's exhausting putting on that happy face each day, determined to make it better than the day before, only to want to give up an hour later.

Recently it reached a point where I felt like we'd reached the end of the line. We had tried everything with him...time-outs, early bedtimes, taking away privileges...he was just always in trouble. And again, not for anything super BAD. But he's IMPULSIVE. And disorganized. Therefore, he's in trouble a lot. (I know, it sounds weird. It is weird.) And then there are his many QUESTIONS.

He asks a lot of questions.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I came upon an article that, well, may as well have been written about my son and our family. It was an article about ADHD.

I'd always assumed that four-letter-acronym couldn't be it, because he DOES have a decent attention span, doesn't flit from activity to activity, he enjoys being read to...basically he didn't fit my stereotype of an ADHD-affected child. (I also read up on Sensory Processing Disorder and of course attachment issues, but those definitely didn't fit.) Yet I'd become suspicious because of his moving around so much. So I started doing some research. And this article listed some myths about ADHD. Guess what? was something I'd believed was a reason he couldn't have it. Those myths now corrected, he's a classic, textbook case.

The article also went on to talk about strengths of kids who have ADHD. Yep, those described him too. Other kids think Biniam's a ton of fun. They love to play with him. He's outgoing and funny and exuberant and enthusiastic. He's generally pretty well-liked.


We haven't had him officially evaluated yet, but I know what the outcome will be. Really. I'd stake my life on it. He's (over)due for his well-check anyway, so I'll talk to our pediatrician then.

Children who come from "hard places" tend to be at higher risk for various things, including ADHD. Still I did NOT see this coming. Part of me feels relieved to have discovered the reason for all the stress involved in parenting him...and part of me feels sad and frustrated. I would not have chosen for my child to deal with this...and I know, saying that sounds so stupid!!! Because really people, it's NOT the end of the world. For having ADHD, he compensates really well. If you dropped in unexpectedly on any given day, you'd even see that our home is pretty quiet. Not chaotic. He's mostly just a regular little boy. It's just those little things that, over time, amount to what feel like big things.

For me right now it's all about coming to a place where you make peace with the situation you thought you had, and move forward with the situation you actually have.

Thus I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking. I'm discovering that I'm afraid of LABELS. I'm scared my son will cease to be known as Biniam, a fun and nice kid, and will become "that kid with ADHD." I'm also realizing that I fear JUDGEMENT...people thinking that I'm using a label to cover over poor parenting or a disobedient child. "ADHD is over-diagnosed", they'll say. Everyone is an expert when it comes to kids and behavior. (Quick tip: don't judge other peoples' kids. You haven't walked in that family's shoes. Can I just say too that I'm so incredibly grateful for a couple of close girlfriends who I can be painfully honest with and who accept me and my kids no matter what? If you are raising children from difficult backgrounds, or if you are raising a biological child struggling with something, support is so important.)

And so I went back and forth about blogging this. Because of everything in the above paragraph. But I've decided to share it because it's part of our family's story now and a new part of our journey. We went into adoption all those years ago knowing there are unknowns. In fact, for years I kept waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. I was more than fine with that. (If you're not, you probably shouldn't adopt, or have children in general, because you can't control for everything. Nor should you. God works through brokenness and situations that on the surface are less than perfect.) Because so much time passed without that happening though, I guess at some point I moved on and believed that there were no further issues to address at this time.

But there WERE issues. And yet I feel hopeful. Hopeful that we can give Biniam the tools to succeed, and especially hopeful that my relationship with him will improve, now that I can take a deep breath and see that he's not TRYING to be difficult. That there are REASONS he struggles with looking for stuff, or becomes distracted when I've asked him to do certain things. I also feel validated, that it wasn't just me, that the past couple of years HAVE been incredibly challenging. Parenting a kid with ADHD when you didn't know they had ADHD. Yeah, I can tell you from experience that it's not real fun. And it may or may not cause you to want to rip your hair out.

I've already instituted some small changes in our home that have made a big difference. When it's time to pick up toys for example, I have Biniam go work downstairs...away from the other kids...and have everyone else work upstairs. And he is extremely productive and does a great job, and generally does it in a timely fashion...Whereas before, I'd have them all working on the same area until it was clean, then move on to the next, and he'd wind up in trouble for becoming distracted and not getting anything done.

I'm sure I'll share more about all of this as time goes on, but for now, this is where we're at. I have a pile of books on children and ADHD on hold at the library that I'm waiting on and I have big plans to dig into rebuilding a healthy, positive relationship with my little boy. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Biniam is a survivor and a fighter. He will succeed. I have a feeling I have a lot to learn from him.

And at the end of the day, God is faithful. He also has a grand sense of humor. I am such a low-energy person, He knew I needed me some ADHD in my life. So, hello Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder. It's nice to meet you. You can hang out here, but you won't be defining my son, or getting in the way of his life. If you thought so, you obviously don't know his story or his past. Biniam beats the odds. And we're a family. Come what may.


Jeannett said...

oh friend. i do believe you just inspired my next post. "labels" and how freaking scary they can be.

MoonDog said...

my son from Russia has ADHD. one thing I wanted to share with you is that many of the drugs that help with ADHD are stimulants. I read many ohter people's experiences and said pshaw. that wont happen to me. yet when we put him on stimulants he became antisocial, angry, (I mean murderously angry, well beyond 6 year old normal!) he didnt want to play with anyone any more he just wanted to be left alone. he was mouthy and mean and really quite a little jerk! not to mention the tearful episodes when he just melted into a puddle of tears over nothing. It was awful. I said happy and hyper is so much better than this! and I took him off the meds. then we tried another one, strattera works more like prozac would work rather than ritalin. The side effects werent as profound but every single afternoon he would come off the bus angry and mean to everyone. EXCEPT the days he wasnt medicated. he is now off meds completely and doing great in school. Conferences were last night and he is top of his class, reading better than any of them. and a whole lot easier to get along with at home. if you decide to medicate your child there will be no judgements from me, but I just wanted you to be aware that some of the side effects are worse than dealing with the adhd.

Brianna Heldt said...

moondog, thank you so much for sharing your experience. at this point yeah, i don't see us medicating. it seems that with some small modifications, we can improve his situation. he generally gets along great with other kids and is happy, so that is good. he also is obedient and respects authority--he's never told me "no", he's great in sunday school etc. just hyper and impulsive. :)

SO thrilled that your son is doing so well!!! sometimes i think just getting a diagnosis and gaining some understanding goes such a long way.

Claudia said...

ADHD only becomes a label if you let it. I worked with a woman once who would talk about her son all day long. She would always start a sentence with "Josh, my son with ADHD..." She let ADHD define her son instead giving him a chance to just be Josh.

I have been reading a beautiful blog lately written by biracial man who grew up in an adoptive caucasian home. He says taht he let adoption be his label for so long that he couldn't defin himslef until he was about 40 yrs old. He discoverd, when talking on Facebook, to people that he had known in elementary school that none of them remembered that he was adopted. He was just Kevin. Not "Adopted KEvin" not "bi-racial Kevin" not "raised in a white family Kevin" just Kevin.

I am glad that you are able to put a piece of Biniam's puzzle together. Everything that he is defines him not just ADHD, not just adoption buibt everything else you described...his affections for his family, his happy energy, his kind heart. I think the diagnosis will only help you to help him bring out his wonderful qualities.

Oh Kevin's blog you'll love it.


Kristen Borland said...

brianna, that was beautiful. i'm so glad you've received an answer (with more answers to come as you research all those books!). i had no idea you were struggling this way. as we are constantly trying to understand nehemiah and what on earth makes this kid tick, i can totally appreciate how it feels to finally get some answers. God's going to do beautiful things in biniam's life.

Mommy Laity said...

I LOVE this post. I had no idea things were so hard with him, but I could have written totally the same thing about my daughter. Only I've been feeling like I'm the broken one. That I can't handle her, that I don't know how to parent her well. Which is all true. You are handling Biniam so much better than I am handling my girl. BUT it would be SO nice to know there is something behind the behaviors. That she is difficult for a reason.
Love you!

Ginger said...

Thank you for sharing this! I'd love to read more in future posts about what is working for you in the "small modifications dept" instead of medication. As the mother of a VERY active, high energy, sometimes impulsive & strong willed, yet amazingly sweet, loving, & intelligent boy, I can relate to your frustrations. While I recognize that there are instances where medication is helpful & necessary, it bother's me that its often society's tendency to push drugs at problems (thanks in part to powerful drug companies & their influence over dr.'s) before trying other ways of dealing with/treating things first. And as the mother of said son, I am also really bothered by the alarming trend of trying to feminize boys, for example, to make them easier to deal with in an educational setting (where teachers tend to lean towards one style of instruction since they don't have the time/resources to cater to different learning styles...another huge motivator pushing us the homeschooling route).

Brianna Heldt said...

Kristen and Lara, I know, I never really did delve much into my difficulties parenting him. Partly because I don't want to label him a difficult kid (b/c he's not, he's actually easy going and pretty compliant), but mostly because when I'd say that stuff out loud, it sounded silly--nothing he did was that wrong! But taken all together, day in and day out, it was exhausting. With God's grace we've managed it, and he really is a great kid...but THANK GOODNESS we're finally finding answers. So true Kristen, it really is like a puzzle.

Brianna Heldt said...

Ginger hi! Yes I'll definitely share things as we discover them. If you have any tips, let me know too! I have also been reading some articles about ADHD and homeschool vs. public/private school, and basically it looks like homeschool can be extremely beneficial for children with ADHD.

Joanie said...

You beautiful person, you. I can feel your heart poured out into this piece. There is a grief process when we let go of what we thought was and embrace the new - even if it's positive (And those with ADHD have got a whole lot of gifts, that's for sure!) So those mixed feelings of "Yay, now I know" and "Oh, why does it have to be?" are so part of it. Thank you for your honesty.

I've been reading "The Mission of Motherhood" and want to read the connected child - both of which make me think of you and the way you embrace motherhood with all that you are.


Renee said...


Have you heard of the "Out of Sync" Child?

It's a book that speaks about Sensory Processing Disorder. I believe our son (home from ET at 3 years) has this. He is definitely in the underresponsive to stimuli catergory which is why he craves movement and tactile experiences. We have done a couple of things with him that has been HUGE in improving his learning.

Like your son he is a sweet, loving , and obedient boy but something was not clicking and it wasn't for his lack of effort.

I will be praying for you. These children who require a little extra are a huge blessing.

Domestic Goddess said...

Long-time reader here, not sure if I've ever commented. I want to first tell you that ADHD isn't a big scary monster. It's a relief to get a diagnosis and it's nice to know you aren't crazy or a horrible parent! You really are working hard to do your best!

That said, don't count out meds. After YEARS of behavioral therapy (because we didn't think we could EVER medicate, beings I'm a former vegetarian and we're crunchy organic people) and vitamins and natural this and healthy that, we had no change. NONE. They got worse.

Now, they have other issues in addition to ADHD. But once my older one was in 3rd grade, we finally broke down and tried the meds (because we had tried EVERYTHING ELSE. And I do mean EVERYTHING). Guess what? NIGHT AND DAY DIFFERENCE. Apparently, there are some kids whose brains are just different and nothing anyone does can change it. It's a chemical imbalance. We now kinda wish we had tried it sooner but everyone goes througha process (which you will,too).

Sounds like he has the perfect family to get through this. He will struggle, but giving him time to do it in his own way is the best thing you could do for him. Also, check out the Feingold diet. While it didn't work for my guys (they have tons of food allergies that made it nearly impossible)it has done tremendous thing for my friends' kids. You never know!

Good luck!

Tracy Regusci said...

I feel as if our stars are aliening! As I enter Homeschooling you enter, ADHD. Sam was diagnosed just about a year ago and I hated the label! In fact I am pretty sure i never blogged about it. But it is one of the reasons I am so happy to be homeschooling him because of what I have fought at our current school! I know everything will work out great, it has for us. Just knowing makes life easier!

Brianna Heldt said...

joanie--you're so sweet and such an encouragement to me. i loved both of those books you mentioned.

renee--yes i read that book a couple of months ago! it was great. i felt like some of it really did describe biniam, but overall i think ADHD is a better fit. there is SO much overlap with so many of these issues. thank you so much for the encouraging words.

domestic goddess--thanks so much for sharing. i'm so glad that medication has made such a difference! we'll definitely have to see what happens as time goes on. i'm also going to look into that diet!!!

Brianna Heldt said...

tracy NO WAY, how crazy is that?! i've been reading a bit about how homeschooling can actually benefit a child with ADHD. i'd considered sticking biniam in the neighborhood school thinking maybe THAT would help...but it sounds like if anything, it has the potential to exacerbate the issues. i wish i still lived nearby! :)

Tesseraemum said...

I just stumbled on your site and I had to comment!! We have an almost 10 year old daughter who is adhd. She is going to be the president of her own company or possibly the president of the USA! She has an extremely high IQ and sensory processing issues as well. She is on ritalin and when it wears off she is just like moondogs son is on the meds. She is sweet and nice and focused and will tell you she can tell a difference when the meds wear off. Don't be afraid to try them if your son starts to struggle academically or socially. As frustrating and exhausting as our kids are they are fearfully and wonderfully made. God made them and it was no accident. He has a plan and a purpose for them and it includes their adhd! It doesn't have to be a hinderance. It's a gift! Sheri

jenny said...

I've read your blog for a long time as a "lurker" :) but this post definitely struck a cord with me and so I am finally leaving a comment! We have 3 kids (2 bio) and 1 son from Guat. and we are in the process for our 4th from ET. We have faced MANY developmental delays with our bio kids (our first was born at 27 weeks weighing 1.5 lbs.) They are doing great now, but it was a long road to get to this point. And just when I thought we were through all of that, our littlest has faced many things as well. Your description of your son is VERY similar to our son and what we are dealing with. I won't go into all the details here....maybe I'll send you an e-mail....but I can completely relate to so much of what you voiced. Our son is 3.5 and has major speech challenges...most likely linked to ADHD. He hasn't been officially diagnosed ADHD but they are pretty sure that this is the root of his challenges and contributes to his issues with language. It has been SO difficult at times, and yet he is such a sweet boy and is so happy. But the constant movement and impulsiveness makes it very hard to parent him at times. We brought him home at 4 months from Guat. so who knows if his adoption played into his development or if this was just something he was going to struggle with. Regardless, he is a joy to our family, even on the hard days, and the challenges we have faced with him have humbled me so much as a parent and made me realize I do not have it all figured out and now have empathy for other parents whose kids freak out and behave less than perfectly rather than judging them. Hang in there and Biniam will be a success because of your commitment to parent him in a loving, Christ-centered home!
Jenny C.

The Fearnsides said...

Brianna, your posts are always such a tremendous blessing. I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability.

Biniam sounds so much like my Lukey. He is the sweetest kid, but find myself being the most short tempered with him. He is so active and tactile and overall just can't seem to control himself. I'm definitely going to research further (I've believed many of the myths about ADHD).

Thank you again friend. I love reading about you and your babies. They are all so beautiful!


Brianna Heldt said...

tesseraeamum--thank you for the encouragement! your daughter sounds amazing, i'm so glad she's doing well!

Jenny--thanks so much for sharing about your situation. feel free to email any time!

Monica--yes, your little guy sounds a lot like mine. i really did just believe it was biniam's personality combined with him just being an active boy, but as more time has passed by, it's become clear that it's more than that. i'll have to find the link to the article i read, it was so helpful!

Mommy Laity said...

I feel the same way! When I say my daughter's behaviors out loud sometimes they just sound normal. Other kids are that way too, right? But in the end it's draining me. It's hard. Really hard. So something isn't working.

Lizzard said...

Thanks for this post. As others have said, it really resonated with what we are going through with our son - he is such a sweetheart, gentle soul, caring, etc., but soooo busy and impulsive! I would be really interested in reading the article(s) that really defined in your mind that your son has adhd (if you find it could you email the link to Although all 3 of our children have major risk factors due to their birth histories, we have been incredibly resistant to labeling them. However, I am starting to think that naming some of these challenges can also be empowering as it gives us and them a starting point to move forward and a bit of a focus when trying to work with their strengths and challenges. Thanks again and all the best as you work with Biniam. Liz


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