By Kamalini Natesan
What do you do when your child is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder? Here, a mother talks of her own struggle with, and gradual acceptance of, the diagnosis and how it enriched the family.
It all started with us being summoned to his school. We weren’t unduly surprised but the tone was too solemn to be caused by habitual irregularity of conduct. Instinctively, I clutched my heart. What had our son been up to now? It was a far more serious issue than we had ever imagined. We were told that our four-plus son had ADHD.
What was that? My husband and I were perfectly normal folk, with decent lineage; how could our son have contracted whatever this string of alphabets meant?
The school counselor explained that the disorder could easily be rectified with medication and counseling. What was she talking about? Medication? Chaithanya was a great boy, just a little hyperactive, a little aggressive and a little obsessive about what he liked very much. I could see myself getting defensive.
We had to undergo an Objective Type Selection Test and most of the answers we gave, separately, turned out to be positive pointers to a child with ADHD, albeit not a very severely affected one. We were devastated.
Medication, we were gently informed, would help him sit for an adequate length of time to allow better absorption and better integration at school. We had noticed that he was exceptionally ‘naughty’ and did not sit still much, but which four-year-old does? We were not about to give in to such an atrocious diagnosis of such a lovely child. But then the school had never once mentioned that he wasn’t lovely or was lacking in intelligence. As parents, we jumped to biased conclusions about ADHD. Both of us decided to do our homework. We read up on the disorder as much as we could on the Internet. Little was known about it in India, but the US had much research on the subject.
The symptoms of ADHD fall into the following two broad categories :
o Failing to pay close attention to details or making careless mistakes when doing schoolwork or other activities
o Trouble keeping attention focussed during play or tasks
o Appearing not to listen when spoken to
o Failing to follow instructions or finish tasks
o Avoiding tasks that require a high amount of mental effort and organisation, such as school projects
o Frequently losing items required to facilitate tasks or activities, such as school supplies
o Excessive distractibility
o Fidgeting with hands or feet or squirming in seat
o Leaving seat often, even when inappropriate
o Running or climbing at inappropriate times
o Difficulty in quiet play
o Frequently feeling restless
o Excessive speech
o Answering a question before the speaker has finished
o Failing to await one’s turn
o Interrupting the activities of others at inappropriate times
We were told that at least six of the above symptoms draw a positive diagnosis presented before the age of seven; the symptoms usually begin to appear between the ages of four and six. Symptoms must appear consistently in varied environments. Even I had to acknowledge that these symptoms seemed to be present in Chaithanya.
We started to observe aspects of our child, which we had previously attributed to his being different from his sister.
As a child affected with ADHD, he responded to every sound in his environment, and therefore was unable to focus on any one activity for a decent length of time, thereby hampering his absorption and learning levels. Being as intelligent as he was, he was unable to perform to his optimum level. As parents, it was difficult to admit that our son needed medication. It was also hard to recognize that our son had a handicap, however concealed to most. I now see how unhelpful such an attitude was. We do not still know when this disorder arises, and we are not to judge the whys and wherefores. There are myriad theories about this neurological disorder. Some of the causes have been cited as hereditary (dopamine deficiency), metabolism, head injuries, smoking or complications during pregnancy, external factors (biohazards including alcohol, tobacco smoke and lead poisoning).
My own labor with Chaithanya had lasted over 48 hours, resulting in a Caesarian section. We do not have clear evidence that his ADHD is hereditary or that it may have been caused during the 48 hours of intense labor. It is impossible to tell. However, the fact of the matter was that our child needed help.
Handling the Issue
In ADHD, it is the child alone who believes that he is less than others and there is something seriously wrong with him. He ends up worse than ever, unable to maintain lasting friendships. His peers shun his company, never knowing how he may react. The fact that he cannot be appreciated and praised like the other children of his class, eat into his self-esteem and he may resort to negative means to grab attention. An ADHD child is also given to sudden bursts of anger and aggression if he finds the environment too threatening. The child continues on a solitary path wrought with painful mysteries, if he is not given timely intervention, loving help and the nurturing that every child deserves.
As observed and discussed with our doctors and counselors, the first step was to understand that children with ADHD have a different metabolism. Therefore, a diet modification plays a major role . Removing artificial colors and flavors, and certain synthetic preservatives from the child’s diets, was the first step.
Along with the administration of medication, counseling played a major role. Most counselors guided us on how to give emphasis to finding our child’s strengths and arranging for him to spend more time in these areas, while minimizing time spent dealing with only his areas of difficulty.
Most ADHD children are intelligent and find it impossible to contain their knowledge. Chaithanya has an uncanny knack for predicting and analysing situations, although he seems distracted often. If something deeply stirs him, he is moved beyond words and is speechless. His abilities and talents are always superlative, be it music or mathematics, yet he tends to fall out with the team due to his ‘containment’ problem. He is a terrible loser too. To win in life is his motto, and if he can’t, he’d rather win it backwards, be last but never the least. Be noticed for whatever it’s worth.
All in all, our son has been our greatest teacher; having taught us that life is not about conforming alone, that it is an eternal process of learning and loving. Patience is not just a virtue; it is an imperative tool to growth. To see one’s children flower in the manner that he deems fit, not how you deem fit as a parent. That has been a difficult lesson to learn and we are still very much in the learning mode. Above all, he has taught us about loving him for who he is, and for all the gifts he has unwittingly brought to us on a platter, without our asking. Most importantly, he has taught us to cherish every moment and live it fully.
Over the past four years, he has learnt social norms, knows right from wrong behavior and is a lot more contained than before. He has his moments, but then don’t we all? Overall, there is an immense positive development in him and he is far more aware of his own shortcomings and talks about them too. Quick to apologize when wanting in manners, he is one endearing child yearning to become a man and usurp all the benefits that come with adulthood. We love and treasure our child with his idiosyncrasies and his specialness. He is our son and a son that does us proud every day in so many little ways. We hope to do him proud too; that is far more essential to his philosophy of life and thereby ours.
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