Raising my SONS with ADHD
As shared by Mrs. Marge Nillasca
One afternoon in 2009, Lynn, our youngest son’s nanny, came home with a message from the school principal.
“Ate, suggest po ni Teacher Apple na ipa-therapy nyo daw kaya si Rohan.”
“Therapy?” I’ve heard about a boy in my son’s class attending therapy sessions for some misbehavior.
So I asked, “Bakit daw nya kailangan ang therapy?”
“Kasi po pag nagagalit siya, tinatapon po ang mga food niya, and nanghahampas din po sya ng towel.”
”Ganoon ba? Pero baka di naman kailangan…?”
Then, three days after I was informed of such behavior, I gave the go signal for the said therapy sessions. No harm in trying! Besides, I was quite sure that spending on therapy sessions might be worth something else, than regularly spending on fast-food stuff such as French fries, pizzas, and burgers. At this moment, my life attached to therapists and therapies began. And the therapy sessions went well for my son.
But HOW DO TANTRUMS RELATE TO THERAPY SESSIONS? Why such urgency?
“My son has an A…..what?”
“ADHD po mommy. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder po“, the therapist was explaining to me.
My background in psychiatry and psychology suddenly kicked in. And so, accepting anything related to human mind has not been so hard. You know my dear readers: ADHD is not just being “HYPER” like running and spinning around and inability to focus. Ang issue po ng batang may ADHD ay hindi po ganyang kababaw. It is far deeper and complicated than that. Human brain function is much complex for us to fully understand it. It is beyond our comprehension, and for some, beyond their acceptance.
It’s been 8 (eight) years now, since that afternoon of 2009. Well, the therapists, (Mr. and Mrs. Corpuz) would not recommend medications. I DO NOT want that for my son either! I thought of making some research.
So…hyperactivity eh? Hmmm. Low sugar, low carbohydrates. My son got used to controlling his sugary food intake, including rice, because he says sugar and carbohydrates made him feel uncomfortable (high energy). I never bought ajinomoto. No need. Anyway, we get MSG’s from eating and take-out food. Lots of them in fact! Later on, I also read about food coloring having an effect on people with ADHD so I started to be more conscious about it. Candies, for example, have not only high sugar content, but food coloring as well, like in Nips, Skittles and m&m. Anyway, for breakfast, we alternately have oatmeal, cereals, rice, and bread (his staple food!), instant pancit canton(very seldom though).
Canned goods are one of the worst food to intake because of preservatives, just like the instant noodles, but it is so hard to avoid including them in the shopping list once in a while. I wish I had better breakfast ideas. Lack of patience in preparing home-cooked food, should I say. For sausages, I prefer the brown ones. I seldom buy red ones. But if I do, I boil them in water until the water turns red. Throw that water before pan frying with a drop of oil or none at all. Canola oil, they say is good, especially olive oil. They since have been in my shopping list for 10 years now. Deep frying is not really my way, even for fish, so my cooking oil lasts long. Besides, they say that we should avoid it.
Even our toothpastes are just the white ones. He would be afraid to use the red, blue, green gel toothpastes. Besides, they are too minty for him. Mouthwash? We use the lightest-coloured mouthwash on the planet. Calming teas, such as the Chamomile tea help them relax. Take care not to pick breakfast teas, like the Earl Grey and the Lipton yellow labels. They contain caffeine. No sodas (high in sugar). He regularly took Lagundi tea with lemon and honey as his baon to school, for 3 straight years. And Salmon oil, which is rich in Omega Fatty-acids (EPA/DHA: These two should come in tandem to be really beneficial, I read in books) are said to help in calming the mind.
Soothing music like the good old Brahms’ lullaby, and classical music for babies (Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart) and other lullabies, and even love songs in retro music are also very helpful to calm people with ADHD. I also recommend Baby Einstein’s to very young children, who play a lot. The music relaxes their mind. This is probably the reason why my son would never perform hard rock music on drums. He got used to listening to soothing types of music.
Although his inclinations are more with music and arts, he also likes sports. In fact, he likes to go bicycling, skateboarding, pogo stick hopping, could swim quite well, and a bit of basketball. Their school swim coach even wanted to recruit him on his team. But my son just said, “I like to swim but I don’t want to train”. “Oh! Ok.” The best solution to control hyperactivity is suddenly erased from my list. WA-NA-KO-SAY. I cannot force him, no matter the benefit. I can encourage, but not push. Forcing is another thing we don’t do to them.
People with ADHD are irritable. They get cranky easily. They have difficulty showing sportsmanship. In other words, PIKON. When something gets their attention, especially one that is not to their liking, they will tell it to your face. They do not stop to think of a better way to say it. Boom! Words just drop out of their mouth. In my son’s case “I’m sorry! I’m very sorry!” he would apologize. “Too late! You’ve said it already!” I scold him. “You cannot expect all the people to forgive you!” A valuable lesson learned the hard way.
My son also loves to draw. I saw his potential so we let him take art lessons. In the future, this can be beneficial, too. He was especially attracted to musical instruments. My eldest inspired him into playing the drums. And drumming has been part of his life since 2013. He has performed in several recitals, some school concerts and invites. He would play anywhere there are drum kits: E-drums or acoustic. He would totally focus into it, as if nobody was around him. When we go to a mall, we look for music stores. And I would ask them if my son could play. At first, they give odd looks. I can’t blame them. He’s just a kid. But things change when he starts playing. And on our next visit, he gets to play again. I even travel him all the way to San Pablo, Laguna so he could receive mentorship from a famed drummer.
Don’t get me wrong! I am not bragging about it in a selfish way. You see, after reading a book about adults with ADHD, I am in panic. I am desperate to prepare him for the future. I have to help him build the foundation. I also want to build his self-confidence. I want to teach him to share the knowledge that kids with ADHD like him DO have talents. Notjust some annoying, malikot, makulit, maingay kids. Wherever I go, I explain that he has this condition. This is the way I can raise awareness.
Kids with ADHD really excel where their interests lie. So, encourage them, but don’t force. Inspire them and let them see their future with it. Support them as much as you can, enjoy with them, and be proud of them! Definitely, they are joy to watch! Although, it is hard not to notice their shortcomings and what they can’t do, we have to genuinely praise them whenever they accomplish something because that is how we can build their self-esteem.
MY THREE SONS.
My eldest son. Years before, I knew nothing about ADHD. Even the word Hyper, I guess, hasn’t been used in those days. We just said, “sobrang likot, sobrang kulit”. I wondered why my eldest, when we were at the mall, would go round and round, running everywhere, and would not stop. But he had a keen sense of direction, so he never got lost. He was like a mechanical top (trumpo) that never ran out of battery. It was quite exhausting to watch him. I just get tired calling him, and telling him to stop. And whenever we were at other houses, he would never stop walking around, never got to sit still. He would not listen even if I tell him to sit. He was always all sweat, even if he was not doing anything. It was like his blood was racing in his veins all the time. When he started to go to school, he did very well.
He was always good at Language, always perfect. He finished his activities ahead of time, and then would start minding other kids’ businesses. But later on, he started to not finishing his work. He easily got bored, and got out of the classroom often. He was impatient, and easily got irritated at his classmates’ remarks. I did not understand him. This continued through his elementary years. I cannot remember if he was also like this during High School, but I remembered him to be extremely sensitive and easily got cranky, and I guess even bullied because he was so “pikon”.
Though bright and talented, his grades suffered. He struggled in academics. It might have been his inability to focus. And from grade 1 through 4th year HS, I would be a regular guest at either the principal’s office or the guidance office. As embarrassing as it was, but I always came, to help my son. He went on to college, just like the others. He took up Digital Arts & Design which was introduced to him by his friend. He was so excited about it. I have never seen such excitement in him before. He went to school with enthusiasm, and graduated at age 24. He used to tell me proudly how his professor admired his work. I do not know what happened if that course did not exist.
He is now a Digital Artist by profession. He is also a videographer. He does photo shoots at weddings, debuts and other occasions. As he was also musically inclined, he learned to play the guitar, even the keyboards and drums. Today, he would occasionally play with his band as the bassist. And, he can also make music videos!
My middle son. My middle son, on the other hand, used to be very hyperactive, too, but in a different way. He liked to play a lot. Boy, was he so full of energy! If his older brother was like a trumpo, this boy was like a tornado! Wherever he went, something would break. But amazingly, he could also sit and listen well, when he needed to. Nakakapagtaka! As he was an outdoor type as against his indoor type brother, I am thinking now, that he was able to release all his energies running around, climbing trees, and joining in every street games the kids were playing. That is why, when he came indoors, he could be prompted easily to sit and do what he had to do. Moreover, unlike his brother who could not be disturbed once he is focused at doing something, this boy’s ears were always pointed to another direction where he is also interested in. I guess this was his way of multi-tasking. However engrossed he was on one thing, he was also attentive to something else.
Later on, I introduced him to swimming in order to control his asthma. After a year, he joined in a swim team. He competed in different meets, to represent his school, or his team. He won several medals. He also performed well at school. I did not have problems with him from nursery to grade 4. Even his behavior was good. Very, very friendly, and knew all the teachers in school. He also had this temper, but he was not the grumpy type. He was also pikon, but he would not allow him to be the poor loser. Instead of getting affected by being teased at, he would always make the other one look like a fool. He always wanted the others to cry, not him. But he always had friends.
When he turned grade 5, he began getting lower grades. When he was just about grade 4, I got pregnant with my youngest son, and could not accompany him to his swimming that much anymore. I guess this is when his interest in swimming dwindled. I gave birth when he was turning grade 5. After that, his academic performance was never the same. He quit swimming. I started visiting his class advisers, guidance counsellor, and principal. Again, I became regular school guest. As embarrassed as I was, again, I religiously came to listen to what I needed to hear about my son. The history repeated. Again?! Why?! Now that I have knowledge about ADHD, looking back, I already know that it was not his jealousy of our youngest son that made him not care about his grades getting low. It was his inability to focus. How I wish I’d known earlier. He was in and out of college for couple of years. But recently, he went back to school again and is now nearing his goal!
My youngest son. As I have mentioned at the start, he was the reason why I came to know about this dreadful condition. From the start, he was not like his older brothers. In my womb, he was not really active. But he did these small kicks that were constant and with equal timing in between kicks. When he came out, he did not want to suck, or drink from the bottle. He did not eat much. His speech developed much later than his two older brothers. Up to this day, he would repeat the first word or phrase three or four times before he could complete the sentence. When he was about two years old, on two or three occasions that we went out on the streets, I noticed that he never gave a glance to other kids of his age, as if he hasn’t seen anybody. I was alarmed when this happened several times. And so, I let him go to summer nursery class, just to give him an idea, that he is not the only 3 year old boy on earth.
I did not understand myself why I always felt something was different. My mind was always telling me to take note of these “different” behaviors. He was also very active. But not like a trumpo or a tornado. Just simply hyperactive. And he does fidget. He taps. When he was in grade one, he used to always leave the classroom. But someone would always fetch him. One teacher became their adviser from grade 1 until grade 3. He was a very, very patient teacher, who embraced everything that the therapist imparted to him through me in order that my son can perform well in class. He started to be in control of his hyperactivity when he turned grade 4. Although he still fidgeted and tapped, he did not walk away from the classroom and could sit still. His academic grades were not as impressive as the ones he got in earlier years, but the fact that he is already aware of what ADHD is, what hyperactivity does to him, how he can control it, how he manages his temper, I think that is like getting an A in the class. He is now in grade 8. And he is 13. Although signs of typical ADHD are there, he is aware and tries to manage them. His forgetfulness still affects him. But he still manages, through support from his teachers and buddies. He is careless of his words when he is annoyed or upset, but he is continuously reminded to be careful. I am hopeful that someday, he can manage almost every sign of ADHD that could get in his way.
LOVE & PATIENCE ARE THE KEYWORDS.
You see, my three sons all have ADHD! But as you have read in previous paragraphs, they do not exactly have the same signs. They are all unique in their own ways, but with similarities in those behaviours that are typically noticeable like being hyperactive, impulsive, persistent, and disorganized. They have these hypersensitivities to noise, temperatures and other things that can even cause allergies. My eldest, he says, need to have ear phones tucked in his ears just to block the noise around him. That is why they are also prone to ear infections. My youngest wears ear protectors when he drums. He is also sensitive to ice cold drinks so he removes all the ice, and for warm beverages he leaves them until they get as cold as a cadaver. All three of them need to listen to music in order to keep them focused on what they are doing. They all easily get irritated at certain situations especially the eldest. They all multi-task. I guess they even have eyes at the back of their head and extra hands. All of them are not really good at organizing things. Their minds are thinking this and that so they end up choosing several. And their things are always scattered around. They easily forget where they placed their things. As young kids, the eldest and youngest are alike in the sense that their bags are like trash bags, and their notebooks, like sketchpads. In school, they excelled at first, but then, somewhere along the way, their grades started to fall. I can never forget the days when I had to make several visits to the school of my two older sons. Minsan nahihiya na ako, because I was there ALMOST EVERYWEEK. Pakapalan nalang ng mukha. Mga anak ko yan! I have to deal with the problem because I was thinking that my husband and I might be the cause. Just swallow the pride and forget the embarrassment.
Think positively. It was hard. And hurt my pride at times. But through patience, it paid off. My sons now appreciate what I did back in those days. They know I love them. I know I will walk with them in all their journeys. Happy or sad. Good or bad. Best or worst. Even the most painful ones.
There is something that I have to tell you. I am a bit hesitant, but I would like to share it. One of my teens was a victim of the undiagnosed ADHD. I wouldn’t elaborate though, on what happened. But these consequences opened my eyes. I have been so busy with my youngest son in helping him cope with ADHD, I did not notice that the other one was so affected by the same condition. There was one time I was reading about the consequences of untreated ADHD. While I was reading it, my heart was pounding so hard because what I was reading was a clear picture of what my teen was! This was what led him to all the nightmares we all had to face. It was painful. But my husband and I had to deal with it completely. This was not a dream, nor a joke, nor a telenovela or what. This was real. And nobody was to be blamed. Not even my teen himself. The doctor confirmed my fear. Adult with ADHD. And this indeed, was the culprit all these years during his school days. It seems to be so impossible that a mere hyperactivity can do damage at a magnitude that can destroy a person, family, and even his future.
Please open your eyes. ADHD is not merely a makulit, or malikot thing, nor hindi nakakafocus or whatever ideas or shallow impressions you have about it. Hindi ganyang kababaw. It is something you have to face seriously and tackle head on. If the condition was just a matter of lack of focus, being makulit or what, I would not be spending my time writing this up, nor would I have to have spent all these years dedicating my time to helping my child.
YOU DO NOT WANT YOUR CHILD TO BE UNDIAGNOSED with ADHD/ADD AS TEENS OR ADULTS!
Believe me. Huwag nyong isipin na ang ADHD ay isang condition na puwedeng sabihing “ADHD lang”. Man, you do not know what you are saying. Nor say things like, “hindi lang sya maka focus, di ba?” or, “matalino naman ang anak ko, nasa top 10 pa, magaling namang magbasa, nakakapagsulat naman” and all those academic stuff! Intelligence is not measured by a child’s performance in academic subjects. And ADHD affects a child’s performance in many ways. Even if the child cannot perform well, it does not mean that the child is dull, or unskilled, not talented or anything like that.
It is the state of the brain that is getting in the way. What is that state? Of being overly stimulated, not relaxed, refusing to slow down. When we have to tackle several concerns all at the same time, how does your brain feel? Overwhelmed. That is the mind of someone with ADHD. OVERWHELMED. Stressed. Always in chaos. That is why, it is not wise to let our kids take brain stimulating substances like the Taurine. Even supplements have to be prescribed by the child’s doctor. You cannot just pick from the shelf of a drug store. Maybe caffeine is not good for an adult with ADHD. Do you think gadgets are ok for them? No. But, it also would not be a good thing to deprive them of the things regular kids enjoy. Just control.
A person with ADHD does not like the way their brains spin like a top. They hate being disorganized, being forgetful, being unable to control their emotions, being unable to pay attention or stay focused on things. They do not like these at all. That is why, we have to step-in many times to help them out, to assist them. Stress is their greatest enemy. That is why, even the academically excelling children succumb to stress as their school work mount and subject matters get more difficult each time. Stress is all around them, all the time. But they have to learn to cope with all of these, to adapt, to learn to handlein order to be independent. They need to be empowered. And therapy sessions help them acquire these tools.
So parents, as long as you see that therapy sessions are doing them good, continue to provide them with that support, until such time that they no longer need the sessions. Be patient, be resourceful, and be available for them.
BUT WHERE IN THE WORLD DID MY SONS GET THEIR ADHD?
Well, let me see. I remember myself all sweaty hopping on the trampoline when I was in kindergarten, that I could run the fastest in my batch in the first grade, used to race on roller skates with my older brother, bicycling around, flying kite at the middle-school ground, doing acrobatic stunts on the parallel bars in the playground, catching cicadas on trees and all sorts of beautiful insects, or looking for crayfish from the rice paddies near our school. I also remember quite vividly how our mother used to scold me whenever she was teaching me Math and in some subjects. “There! You are out of focus again. You are not listening! Why can’t you just focus and listen?” All the time.
There you have it. I guess that is the answer.