What led to your child’s ADHD diagnosis?
Paula Schuck: From the time Ainsley was born, she was super hyper. She was a toddler tornado who would almost always act before she thought. I used to worry that she would get hit by a car because she wouldn’t hold my hand. Once she got into first grade, the problems were amplified. She just couldn’t attend for the whole day, and she wanted to run around the halls. She wasn’t a good sleeper, so it was a nightmare. We took her to a pediatric psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with hyperactive ADHD. My older daughter, Payton, was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD shortly after.
Tammy Den-Bok: I worked as a childcare supervisor, with children from 18 months to 12 years old. Having that experience, I should have known something was wrong. Tyler had all the symptoms; I had to acknowledge that and get him tested.
Kimberly Lee: Josiah did very well in school until seventh grade, when we realized he was behind in homework, plus an honors class project. We took him to a psychologist, and after he was diagnosed, we tried to avoid medication by enrolling him in therapy sessions. But he was struggling, so we put him on medication. He’s now back in the
honors courses he was having trouble
with and doing well.
How does your family manage?
Den-Bok: We call this a journey, and everything we’ve gone through has opened us up to look at things through Tyler’s eyes. When he was 9, my husband and I started an Instagram group called ADHD for Beginners. We now have 2,084 Instagram followers, a small following on Facebook, plus an online support group. Finding help, even if it’s a couple of parents meeting regularly over coffee, can be a life support system for the entire family.
Tracy Otsuka: Parenting is the most fun I’ve ever had, so I don’t understand when people say “cope.” For me, it’s a reframing from “cope” to “challenge.” I’m ADHD, too, so I’m always looking for a challenge. It’s what makes life fun. I have a creative, smart, original kid who lives to challenge the status quo. Sure, sometimes he drives me crazy, but even when I’m ready to kill him, I can’t help but be proud of his intensity and novel way of seeing the world.
What challenges have you faced with ADHD?
Den-Bok: Our biggest challenge has been to be on top of Tyler. You can’t let things slip. You have to be alert and aware and two steps ahead of him. We need to be aware of every scenario that could go wrong and have a backup plan.
Otsuka: It’s taken us years to trust that Markus actually knows better than we do what’s best for him. When he struggles, it’s because people are telling him to do things he knows won’t work for his brain. There’s been a lot of trial and error. Initially, we were convinced that schools with less structure and rules would be best for him. We were wrong. Markus opted to return to a structured Catholic school with more rules and discipline. This past semester, he fell in love with economics, made excellent grades, and was accepted at New York University Tisch School of the Arts in Manhattan. Five months earlier, Markus was convinced college wasn’t for him.
How do you get through the morning rush with your child?
Schuck: The mornings are very hard, but it goes much better when we’re well rested and we can get Ainsley to bed the night before at a good time. She’s slow to get going. We were getting late notices from school, which weighed on her, so we talked to the school and worked it out. Now, her teachers don’t make lateness a big barrier at the start of the day. When they did, she was in a negative mind-set all day.
When she was younger, we had storyboards created by an occupational therapist, showing her what to do and the steps to take. It’s best to just get through the steps without engaging much in the morning. Too much talking is a trigger.
Do you have any tips for how to handle homework?
Schuck: Ainsley can procrastinate and then, on the last day, study obsessively for hours and pull off a B, which she’s happy with. There’s nothing to be gained by reminding her to do her homework. Instead, we ask specific questions. What homework do you have tonight? When are assignments due? If we hover and ask whether she has finished her work, she gets angry and oppositional.
Lee: We check in and ask Josiah what homework he has. Otherwise, he gets distracted. It really helps him to have a buddy to do homework with.
What are the joys of raising a child with ADHD?
Den-Bok: Tyler is an amazing child. He’s loving. He cares about others. Having a child with ADHD helps me look at things with a different point of view.
Schuck: Payton and Ainsley are super-bright, creative kids. Ainsley rides horses and is more sporty; Payton is more creative. Both girls swim, ski, and have a black belt in karate. The past couple of years have been pretty solid, and I’m happy with the way things are.
Lee: I’ve seen Josiah gain more confidence with his friends since starting high school, and I love that he doesn’t just follow what other people do and is independent. He’s able to problem-solve in unique ways. He has always been compassionate and kind to those outside the group.
Otsuka: I’ve never met an ADHD child who wasn’t brilliant at something. Our charge is to help our kids figure out where their strengths and interests lie. My biggest advice to parents and teachers is to stop talking, stop lecturing, and listen. When these kids feel heard, there are no limits to what they can achieve.