Approximately three years ago, my then 10-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD. It has been a journey. As a mother of a little brown boy who spends so much time protecting him, this label was a little hard for me to accept.
He had always done well in school with little effort until 4th grade. In 4th, at his school, students switch classes for each subject. The following year, in 5th grade, he went from struggling to failing. We went through all the rituals parents go through. I took away his video games. I would not let him participate in sports. Even with these consequences, he still continued to struggle.
After meeting with a few of his teachers, we decided to try some different interventions such as testing him verbally and testing him outside of the classroom. He showed some improvement. It was at this time that the Educational Support Services director suggested I get him tested as he may have ADHD or some other type of learning issue, and in order for them to best serve him, we would need to have it documented.
I’m going to be real; I was that parent. I said, “He doesn’t have ADHD! He just doesn’t want to do it. He is being lazy.” Even after having him tested and learning he didn’t just have ADHD, he had a severe case, I was wary of treatment with medication and the “label” my son would now have.
We started with changes at home with how he studied and completed his homework. At his school, a Written Intervention Plan (equal to public school IEP) was created to help him to be more successful at his private school.
I scheduled a visit with my pediatrician, who I trust not only as a doctor but as an African American male who has practiced for over 40 years. I went into the visit hoping he would say, “He doesn’t need medication” or “They are over medicating children.” What he said changed my entire outlook on my son’s diagnosis. “Do you know where little black boys with untreated ADHD end up? Prison.” He said it was children like my son who are not behavior problems and who everyone knows is capable of doing the work but doesn’t accomplish it that could be on this path.
I had to take a step back and realize that protecting him from a label wasn’t really that important. Getting him the help he needed required a “label.” It was at this time that we started him on ADHD medication.
It has not been an easy journey to learn how to be a parent a child with ADHD. I have always been a strong advocate for my children’s education, but I have found this different and more difficult than I could have ever imagined. There are teachers who don’t believe ADHD exists and are slow to follow his Written Intervention Plan, if at all.
Three years later, with a lot of hard work with my son’s school, educating myself on ADHD, some help of medications and vitamin supplements, and a diet change, I have seen a big improvement in my son. His grades, along with his academic confidence, have improved. He still struggles with math problems that have more than a few steps, as I’ve learned many children with ADHD do. We still have a long way to go. We are working on the best plan to help him remember the items he needs to bring home to study and then how he can remember to complete all of them once home.
I have learned that my son is not lazy, inconsistent, unprepared, lacking motivation, nor simply easily distracted. Those are signs and symptoms of his ADHD. My first job as a parent to help him manage these symptoms and to eventually become an adult who is able to manage it on his own. My second job is not to let the world use his ADHD symptoms to define him.
I have started and stopped writing this piece so many times because every day is a journey. Some days are complete failures and others I feel like he has made great strides. I know there are many parents, like myself, who are struggling to help their children conquer ADHD. I want you to know you are not alone; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
An earlier version of this post originally ran on the IndyK12 Education Blog here: