The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Month: September 2015

24-hour free web event for parents on Understood.org

understood.org logoI try to make parenting only one facet of this blog, but as adults with ADHD, many of us also parent children with ADHD. If you’d like some more information, Understood.org is hosting a free, all-day, live web event tomorrow.

As part of Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and Dyslexia Awareness Month, Understood.org is raising awareness and empowering parents of the one in five children who struggle with reading, writing, math or attention issues.

I’m not intimately familiar with Understood.org’s content, but I’ve read and shared a few good articles from their site. I encourage you to wander over to see for yourself and, if you like what you read, check out some of tomorrow’s events. The #AskUnderstood hashtag gives you all-day access to the site’s team of experts. The event website has a full schedule of other events, including Facebook Q&A sessions and live video chats.

And, because parents have to stick together and help each other out, please share your experience in the comments here if you do participate. I’d love to hear what you learned!

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An indie pharmacy will make your life easier

I’ve had my share of hassles filling stimulant prescriptions. Maybe you have, too. It’s not always easy.

There was the 2012 shortage, when pharmacy after pharmacy dismissed me with a simple, “yeah, we don’t have that.”

Even under normal circumstances, I’ve felt limited to whatever generic the pharmacy happens to stock. I recently switched to name-brand Ritalin, and that’s when I promised myself: no more chain pharmacies ever. 

After meeting with my doctor and asking her to indicate ‘name brand only’ on my prescription, I drove around to several pharmacies. Most — in our area, at least — stock a generic methylphenidate from Mallinckrodt. Many people have reported issues with their generic Concerta, and from my experience their Ritalin substitute is no better.

independent pharmacy

I don’t mean to be cynical here, but your local chain pharmacy probably won’t entertain this conversation. Don’t expect to save a trip by calling to ask about special orders, either. They want to see you, your prescription, and often your driver’s license before having a chat about which stimulants they have in stock.

Not only that, Rite Aid, CVS, and a nearby hospital all promised around seven business days for a special order to arrive. Thanks to federal regulations around when doctors can write stimulant prescriptions, that lag time would mean going meds-free for a few days.

My advice: stop giving these pharmacies your business. ADHD adults don’t have time or energy to waste on crappy generic drugs and pharmacy techs who view us first and foremost as potential criminals.

Instead, visit your local independent pharmacy. During my fruitless search for Ritalin, I remembered a small pharmacy I’d visited months earlier. (My kid bit through his lip the morning after the April riots, and this place gave us antibiotics when every chain pharmacy was shuttered with National Guard troops out front.)

My indie pharmacy didn’t have name-brand Ritalin either, but the pharmacist promised it the very next day. When I picked it up, she told me she’d keep it in stock for me if I liked it. She acknowledged the differences in generic vs. name-brand drugs, especially psychiatric drugs, for which a tiny variance can have a huge impact.

In other words, she treated me like a customer, someone whose satisfaction and happiness were important to her. She even remembered me the next month and asked how my experience had been with the new medication.

Of course, not everyone feels they can afford a name-brand drug over the generic, especially if insurance doesn’t cover it. In that case, you may want to seek out a supportive pharmacist who’s willing to order in a few different generics for you to try. Some people even prefer a specific generic over the name brand, only to be thrown for a loop when their pharmacy changes the manufacturer without notice — as happened when Mallinckrodt replaced Sandoz as the generic of choice for Ritalin.

Whatever solution you choose, you ought to reduce your overall stress level, as well as the number of administrative tasks associated with filling your prescription. I’ve always thought it a cruel irony that maintaining stimulant prescriptions requires so much of our executive functioning capabilities.

After years of struggle, I couldn’t be more pleased to have a friendly, helpful pharmacy at my disposal. They offer free delivery, a one-day turnaround on special orders, and they’ll keep my name-brand meds in stock for me because I’m a regular customer. Finally, a customer experience that doesn’t feel like the universe is conspiring against me.

How about you? Have you struggled to keep your prescription filled consistently? What solutions have you found?

What’s it like to homeschool a child with ADHD?

home schooling

Some kids with ADHD are lucky enough to thrive in school. The concrete expectations and structure compensate for their executive functioning weaknesses.

Others struggle mightily just to sit at a desk.

I recently caught up with my lovely friend Meg to talk about homeschool. Meg runs her own business in addition to caring for three children, the oldest of whom is seven-year-old Corban. After a frustrating kindergarten year, Meg and her husband Adam decided to homeschool Corban, who has ADHD.

This interview is the first in a two-part series on homeschooling. Next week, we’ll catch up with Meg again to discuss some more practical details for parents considering homeschooling.

ADHD Homestead: Describe the school environment you left behind.

Meg: We live in a fantastic school district and our son’s teachers were attentive, caring, compassionate and flexible. They adhered to Common Core standards and added to that curriculum to make it more rigorous. However, my son spent most of his time at a desk learning reading and math. His favorite subjects — science and history — aren’t Common Core priorities. He daydreamed, got bored and frustrated, and often stood at his desk the entire day. His teacher was understanding, but unsure how to handle him.

A: Talk to me about your process for choosing homeschooling over traditional school

M: We intended to homeschool all along. We love teachers and admire all their hard work with kids. We don’t necessarily think we can do a better job educating our children. However, we strongly believe the school day is too long and the curriculum/education style in this country is too ‘one size fits all.’ When the teacher alerted us to Corban’s problems focusing in class, we felt it was time to offer him an alternative.

ADHD home school pull quote

A: ADHD can cause frustration, emotional outbursts, overwhelm, disorganization, and time blindness. If you have ADHD yourself, how do your own symptoms present themselves in homeschooling?

M: I’m often in my own little world. I daydream and get bored incredibly easily. There are several things in my life that interest me and hold my attention, but homeschooling isn’t one of them!

I have little to no patience for trying to engage my son when he ‘can’t be engaged,’ and while I understand first-hand his frustration with “boring” subjects, I lack the ability to make them fun for him. I’m horrible at organizing projects for him or trying to come up with teaching strategies. We often butt heads and I wish he could see the value in “just getting it done,” but I can’t teach him that.

A: Social skills can be a major issue for ADHD kids. How are you helping your child learn these skills outside the large-group school setting?

M: Corban has excellent social skills, but he struggles to find kids he really clicks with. He’s surprisingly cooperative and flexible with his friends — allowing them to dictate what games they play, etc. However, he gets stuck on a trend and expects the other kids to be as obsessive about it as he is.

For example, he’s obsessed with Pokemon right now. Unless a kid is also obsessed with Pokemon, he doesn’t want to play with them. He has to find a kid who will allow him to go on and on about his latest obsession to really click with that child. Otherwise, he plays politely, but doesn’t seem to find much pleasure in it. It makes me really sad because he’s a great kid. Only a few kids seem to know how to get the best out of him.

We try to arrange play dates with other kids as often as possible, but people are so busy it rarely happens. We’re actively seeking out affordable group activities to provide social interactions with peers. He’ll be joining Boy Scouts later this month and he attends Sunday School. Luckily, he also has siblings to play with. Corban tends to get along best with older kids and even adults, which also presents challenges.

A: What have the biggest upsides been for your family? The biggest downsides?

M: The biggest upside is being with him all day. The biggest downside is…being with him all day! He drives me absolutely crazy! But I adore him.

In theory, homeschooling should be this beautiful parent/child journey of discovery. In practice, I’m tearing my hair out and he’s fighting me on every step. However, every day we gain insight into our son. Every day we tweak our technique with him and find better strategies to engage him. We love that he has the freedom to dive deep into the subjects that interest him. We also love knowing he isn’t stuck in a chair all day, desperately trying to pay attention.

We can feel like we’re failing every day, but when we look at the facts, he’s learning, and he’s much less frustrated and emotional than he was in traditional school.

A: What does a normal homeschooling day look like? Week? Month? Year?

M: We’re just learning our groove. So far, this is what seems to work: Corban wakes up, has breakfast, plays for a bit, and then we do a verbal lesson. We go over multiplication facts and spelling words for about 30 minutes. Then he has a break. Later, we have him read a book of his choice for 30 minutes. He often does math problems on the computer for half an hour as well.

Once or twice a week, we do a history lesson with him for about an hour. He does a science lesson with an experiment for an hour each week. We read to him every day.

We don’t do formal writing because he hates writing and we’re trying not to overwhelm him. We encourage him to write letters or lists several times a week. He also goes outside for exercise at least once a day. It’s not perfect, but we’re learning.

A: How long do you plan to homeschool?

M: As long as it feels like the best choice for each of our kids. We have a daughter who’s currently in public school kindergarten. For now, that’s working well for her. 

But for Corban, homeschool is the best choice for right now. We need to work on getting his ADHD under control before we’d even consider sending him back. We also have much more flexibility to play with different teaching strategies at home. Right now we’re learning about our son and what works best for his education. We may choose to homeschool him through high school. He is a bright kid, and he may be able to advance through the grade levels more quickly at home.

Parents and teachers: how do you feel about homeschooling? Have you tried it? Considered it? Taught kids in a traditional school setting before or after their homeschool experience? Please share in the comments!

Why you need to stop putting yourself last

If you’re a parent with ADHD, it’s easy — maybe even automatic — to put yourself last.

I’m not always flush with well-focused energy. Sometimes I think I owe it all to my family. Because I’m always behind on something, I never feel like I’ve earned time for myself.

The problem is, time for ourselves isn’t an earned privilege, it’s a necessity. When you put yourself last, you’re making your ADHD symptoms worse. Taking time out for yourself will make you a better parent and open the door to a deeper, more satisfying relationship with your kids.

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Stress is the enemy of willpower

Perhaps the biggest reason to (literally) give yourself a break: it increases your self-control. Parents with ADHD aren’t born with a vast reserve of composure, and many of us have a low tolerance for frustration. Stress — sometimes viewed as an unavoidable byproduct of parenting — reduces self-control even more.

“Stress is the enemy of willpower,” writes Dr. Kelly McGonigal in The Willpower Instinct. “So often we believe that stress is the only way to get things done, and we even look for ways to increase stress — criticizing ourselves for being lazy or out of control — to motivate ourselves. Or we use stress to try to motivate others, turning up the heat at work or coming down hard at home. This may seem to work in the short term, but in the long term, nothing drains willpower faster than stress.”

Sound familiar? ADHD adults are especially guilty of the stress game thanks to our brains’ increased need for stimulation. As Gina Pera explains in her book, Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?, conflict and stress can become a subconscious form of self-medication.

Relax and step back

One of the best ways to recover from stress is simple relaxation. The human brain wasn’t built for marathons. We need short breaks — real breaks, not hiding in the bathroom while you check Facebook — to disengage our brains from whatever we’re doing. Shoot for something that lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, like meditation or yoga.

You might also want to try stepping back more often and doing a little less for your kids. It will help them learn important skills, not to mention excessive hovering can be detrimental to family relationships.

It’s easy to feel guilty about this, like you’re choosing yourself over your family. Don’t forget you’re part of that family, too. Despite abundant social pressures, attachment parenting, at least in its purest form, isn’t for everyone. Your kids need a stable, sane, well-rested parent. If you’re not giving that to them now, figure out how to get yourself recharged back to your best self.

Strive for a healthy relationship with your kids

Not only will a healthy break help you maintain your sanity, it’ll improve your relationship with your kids. After all, how would you feel if you were in a relationship with someone who:

  • Was always run-down and exhausted because of you?
  • Had no life of their own because of you?
  • Lived in constant fear of messing you up, as though you were too fragile for a real, honest relationship with them?
  • Needed you to feel dependent on them?

If you’re going at full intensity from the time you wake up to the time you collapse into bed, ask yourself: can you spare a few minutes of down time if it means you’re less likely to forget something important or yell at your kids?

Fellow parents: how do you recharge when you feel overextended? Do you struggle to create down time for yourself?

Home economics: small hacks make a big difference

If you feel like you're working too hard to maintain order at home, there's hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

If you feel like you’re working too hard to maintain order at home, there’s hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

When it comes to ADHD in the home, the key is to work with it, not against it. Let go of expectations and figure out what really works for you.

Most importantly, make it easy on yourself. When something’s not working, don’t beat yourself up, refine your process.

Here are a few tips for a more peaceful, organized home.

Create supports where you need them

If you or your family struggle with the same thing(s) every day — like picking out clothes in the morning — you need strategy and communication, not tough love.

Example: after reading a parenting book that told me a five-year-old should be able to pack his own lunch, I decided my husband should, too. Except he often didn’t. Instead of berating him or just continuing to do it myself, I put a dry erase board (pictured below) on the fridge. He uses it for lunches, but I actually appreciate it most on weekends and on nights when he gets home late. Instead of interrupting me to ask, “what can I eat?” or “what can I give R. for snack?” he can assemble something from the food categories on the list.

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Keep rags, cleaner, and an old toothbrush under your bathroom sink…

…and if you have young children, clean during bath time. Every ADHD parent has gotten bored during bath time, so why not fidget with something productive?

Even if you don’t have kids, keeping all the supplies within arm’s reach allows anyone to clean up when they see a mess. Often, ADHD’ers notice the toilet could use a quick swish with the brush, but we’ll forget by the time we open the bathroom door. Once you remove this barrier, you might be surprised at the cleaning help you receive!

Use a highlighter

A highlighter can help you slow down, mark things you need to remember (like deadlines or supply lists), and catch important details.

I learned about highlighters’ magic powers in college. It was senior year, and we were learning to write grant proposals in Business of Art. Our professor suggested color coding with highlighters: using a different color to call out phrases we should regurgitate in the proposal, documents we’d need to attach, important dates/deadlines, etc.

In the years since, I’ve used this strategy to win thousands of dollars in grant funding, file my tax return, complete complex banking documents, and bring all the required items to our orientation meeting with R.’s preschool teacher. It’s probably the most practical skill I learned in college. Go figure.

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Fill donation bags as you receive them in the mail

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: never trust yourself to drop anything off at Goodwill. We live in the city, and we often receive printed plastic bags from charities seeking clothing and houseware donations.

The charities mailing out these bags will pick them up — full of distracting, unwanted clutter — right from your doorstep. The bags are preprinted with contact information to schedule your pickup. It doesn’t get any easier.

Every time you receive one of these bags in the mail, unpack it right away and look for things to put into it.

Contain clutter and distractions (literally)

Baskets can save an ADHD household. Whenever I see a clutter hotspot forming, I ask myself, “would a basket solve this?”

For example, my husband used to store a lot of clothes on the floor. His reason: he planned to wear them again, thus they belonged to neither the closet nor the hamper. I bought him a basket for his in-use clothes and the clothing-on-the-floor issue disappeared.

Baskets and other open-top containers also help with out of sight, out of mind issues. If your family resists putting something away, they may just want to be able to see it (i.e., remember it exists).

If you feel like you're working too hard to maintain order at home, there's hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

A less conventional idea: create a home for distracting objects to get them out of your hands. Smart phones can kill your focus, not to mention family dinners. Our cell phone bin invites anyone in our home to deposit their phone, reduce distractions, and enhance our time together. It has made a huge positive impact on my everyday life.

What about you? What small change has delivered huge benefits to your household?

Book Review: ADHD According to Zoë

ADHD Zoe book review
Zoë Kessler’s ADHD According to Zoë is a fun, accessible read for women with ADHD. While those in Zoë’s demographic — single women grappling with a midlife ADHD diagnosis — will appreciate this book the most, any post-college woman with ADHD will relate. For those with new diagnoses seeking additional information, Zoë offers plenty of references to outside sources.

Disclaimer: I don’t love or agree with every expert she quotes. However, a discerning reader will benefit from Zoë’s reading list. ADHD According to Zoë is a great first book about ADHD, but it’s certainly not the last one you’ll need.

The author’s background in stand-up comedy shines through on almost every page, making heavy subject matter feel light. This will help the reader who feels overwhelmed, down on herself, and at the end of her rope. Zoë is the kind of writer readers warm up to quickly. ADHD According to Zoë shouldn’t be taken as an in-depth strategy guide, but an inspiration for any woman who’s lost hope in ever getting her life together.

ADHD According to Zoe cover artZoë’s anecdotes will give readers plenty of opportunities to smile, nod, and say (sometimes ruefully), “me, too.” Her friendly writing style and unwillingness to give up on herself is contagious. Her words will breed self-acceptance in spite of our many flaws — something every ADHD woman needs, especially those regretting a late diagnosis.

That said, I would have enjoyed a little more memoir and a little less self-help. Zoë is at her best as a storyteller, and we learn what it’s like to be a woman with ADHD through her stories. Since her strategy suggestions are merely a jumping-off point, some of that word count may have been better spent elsewhere.

I don’t agree with every one of the author’s book/expert recommendations, but use your own best judgement. She seems to idolize Dr. Ned Hallowell as a leading ADHD expert, while I — recent indecent assault allegations aside — don’t buy into his marketing of ADHD as a potential “huge asset in one’s life.” Some may find this perspective therapeutic or helpful. I find it misguided at best, a barrier to effective treatment at worst.

However, Zoë also quotes extensively from Russell Barkley’s Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, which is an excellent resource. Like any reference material, the key is to pick and choose your sources, evaluating and comparing them carefully, until you develop a nuanced understanding of the subject.

The bottom line: if you’re a woman over 30 with ADHD, and especially if you’re single, this book is for you. Zoë’s voice and perspective are strong, and she’ll help  you down the path to self-acceptance, which includes letting go of those heavy regrets about your delayed diagnosis.

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