I Have Two Kids With ADHD — And They're Completely Different

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
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ADHD is tough. It’s like a chameleon. It changes and adapts in new places and with new circumstances. We’ve been dealing with ADHD at my house in one form or another for the better part of seven years. Not one, but two of my sons are treated for ADHD — and they are completely different.

My first son displayed ADHD tendencies early, in second grade. He had trouble sitting still, often standing at his desk. His handwriting was a mess, barely legible to teachers and even himself. He struggled with staying on task, often taking the class along on his tangents. Focusing was tough. Everything happened at hyper speed. His brain was moving so quickly, his mouth couldn’t keep up and trying to follow along was sometimes impossible. Teachers showed concerns and we started down a rabbit hole looking for the right things to do.

After testing and consultations, late night talks and prayers, we decided medication was the right route. The first medication was a disaster, causing him to have terribly aggressive outbursts. That med only lasted a few days. We moved to something new and things got better. His attitude and self esteem improved. He was able to follow along and stay with his class. He was happy. We were happy. We stayed the course.

Then, the ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) reared its ugly head. This one will really challenge your patience and your general wherewithal as a parent. It makes you want to scream and just say, “Fuck it! I’m out!” But you can’t. It’s your child, you have to work through it and figure it out. With time, we did. We have tips and techniques. Strategies and game plans for when situations arise. And it’s improved. We are living in a good place.

It’s a relief.


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ADHD child number two, completely different story. His came more quietly. He’d tell stories about how many ceiling tiles were in the room or how many steps it was from his classroom to the bathroom. I thought it was just a strange kid thing. I didn’t realize he was living in his own world. At home, he didn’t listen. At all. At one point, we were referred to an ENT with concerns about hearing loss. Testing was normal. I was shocked! I was sure he couldn’t hear me yelling his name, because he never responded. The more we got to know each other and chatted, the audiologist reassured me that his hearing was fine, but he might have ADHD. It didn’t present the same way as his brother, so it didn’t cross my mind. It wasn’t an inability to hear, it was a difficulty to focus on one thing at a time. He was experiencing sensory overload and couldn’t decipher his name from any of the other noises in the house.

His course of treatment was different. We went back to our pediatrician who said a low dose stimulant was probably a good place to start. He’s been on the same med since day one. It worked right out of the chute. His ADHD is pretty cut and dry. Diagnosis, medication, relative cure. He’s never struggled. No other disorders or complication. He just needs a little help to focus and he’s got it. End of story.

The situations are different, but the strain on the parent is the same. You feel deflated. You wonder what you may have done to cause it. Was it something I ate during pregnancy? Did I give him too much time watching Daniel Tiger and Paw Patrol when he was little? Holy shit, what have I been feeding this kid? It’s hard. But the truth is, it’s just the way they’re wired. Their brains are different; neither they, nor you, can help it.

If you struggle with these types of things, know that you are a great parent. You haven’t done anything wrong. Your child is wired differently and you just have to investigate how that wiring works. Once you find the right path, you’ll feel relief. That may be medication, behavioral therapy or dietary changes. No matter what you choose, only you know what is right for your family. Find peace with your decision, and screw anyone else who tells you differently.

Here’s the thing. I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for being a shitty mom. For not catching it sooner. For not knowing what to do. For having two kids with ADHD?! Surely I’m screwing this up big time. I’m a good mom. I love them and I take care of them and at the end of the day, despite all of the struggles, they love me. No questions asked. No one wants to be different. But, we all are.

Everyone carries a bit of baggage. But if your suitcase is filled with love, and support and truth, you’re on the right path.