- Need to know: A mum takes us on her journey of understanding hyperfocus and ADHD and how she provided the right environment for her child.
Understanding hyperfocus and ADHD
Q1. Every family has a unique and different story. Tell me a little bit about yours?
I am a single mom that works full time as an elementary school teacher. I have fraternal twin girls — Poppy was diagnosed with combined type ADHD right before she turned 5 (along with ASD at 7) and Rose was diagnosed with inattentive type ADHD at 7. I was diagnosed with inattentive type ADHD at 43 (I am 46 now).
Rose and I were both diagnosed when we all had full psychological testing done three years ago. My daughters are not on medication (yet, I am not opposed to it) and I take a stimulant daily. Poppy, my daughter with ADHD and ASD, struggles in school but is now up at grade level thanks to a great deal of support and help in school. Rose, my other daughter, excels in school to the point she has skipped a grade and is still at the head of her class.
Poppy was always seen as “quirky” and almost no one believed me when she was diagnosed. She is not “typical presentation” or what people expect to see with either diagnosis. She is quite social, makes eye contact, does her best to follow rules, and while she is high energy she is not bouncing off the walls. She is the reason I pursued my MS in AbA. I graduated with my BA at 43 and my MS at 45 with a 3.9 and 4.0 respectively. So, my daughter and I help to disprove the stereotype that people with ADHD cannot excel at school.
Poppy does equine therapy (riding therapy and a social skills group) as well as OT, speech, and gets Special Ed support and accommodations through her IEP. She is also in AbA 15 hours a week. Poppy was in CBT at 4 (so was her sister) to learn self advocacy and regulation skills as well as to help work through some changes in our lives.
Q2. What prompted the diagnosis of you/your partner?
For Poppy, I knew there was something I just didn’t know what. She was diagnosed with articulation disorder and began OT for sensory struggles at 2. Once she started K4, it was confirmed there was more going on. So I pursued an IEP (which was a disaster) and then pursued diagnosis with her therapist and primary doctor. She was diagnosed with ADHD at that point, but I knew there was something more.
We moved and changed therapists. That was when she suggested a screening for ASD. I didn’t believe she had it, but thought it was worth eliminating and maybe it would steer us in the right direction. To my surprise, she checked every box except aggression. So, the diagnosis was clear. It hit me hard and I blamed myself for a long time, but I looked at it as showing me the right way to help, support, and teach her. Then I threw myself into research and got her all of the services I could so that she could fill her toolbox with everything she could possibly need.
For me, I was genuinely shocked when my results came back with a diagnosis of ADHD. I figured everyone was like me — forgetful, a bit disorganised, easily off task, etc. When I started the stimulant, it was like a cloud, that I never knew was there, got lifted. It was amazing. It made life so much easier. My depression and anxiety improved, my energy improved, I was better at my job and more productive. I wish I would have known sooner.
Q3. How did this knowledge affect and change how you saw yourself?
The knowledge and diagnosis explained a lot for me and helped me to be less frustrated with myself and how to make things work better for me. I used to beat myself up a great deal for not being more like other people and not being able to stay on task or get started on things like I felt like I should. Now, I understand why things are the way they are and I can plan and work around it.
For my daughter, it helps her and others to understand her quirks and to be more patient.
Q4. How do you think being neurodivergent changes your approach to parenting?
Honestly, it changes my approach to everything. Being diagnosed with an invisible disorder prompts me to think about how everyone is different, disorder or not, and that behaviour is a symptom and not something itself to be corrected. It has taught me to take the time to see what is leading up to or causing the behaviour as opposed to reacting quickly and placing blame. I think it helps me to think outside the box because I see things from a fairly unique perspective (so I have learned). This helps me to manage my home and classroom better.
Q5. Our communities, workplaces and society in general are built for neurotypical people. What have been some of your biggest challenges to date and what has helped you navigate them?
The biggest workplace challenge for me is sensory overload with things and being easily distracted and side-tracked. Running a classroom gives me control over a great deal of my environment. When I am in situations that I am unable to control, I have learned that being direct with my boss and coming to her with possible solutions that still get the job accomplished is what helps the most. I do not expect people to change for me, but I know that when something is within my control I need to do my best to control it.
Hyperfocus is an amazing gift when it cooperates. It is how I generally get big projects done, for both school and work. I know if I do not do something from start to finish right away that I will likely not go back to it.
My other big challenge is that I tend to be a loud talker. This has been a constant struggle that I am still working to correct. It involves a lot of self awareness and conscious decision making because I tend to completely forget, especially when I am in the middle of teaching a lesson or frustrated/emotional.
Q6. How do you juggle the demands of adult life and raising a neurodivergent child?
When you don’t have any other option, I think you just do what you need to do. Most things get done after the girls go to bed, but I think that is how it works for most parents. Juggling therapies and activities is incredibly challenging, but it is crucial to my kids’ success in life so I do what I need to do. It is frustrating, exhausting, and expensive, but then again that’s parenting in a nutshell. It is also amazing and wonderful and I cannot imagine my life any other way.
Q7. What are some of the lifehacks you have found to help you manage the day-to-day with your child(ren)?
Meal prepping on the weekends, involving the kids in shopping and cooking, giving them responsibilities of making their own lunches and cleaning (within reason). Scheduling everything in my google and outlook calendars with reminders and alarms.
Q8. Do you have books, podcasts or other resource recommendations?
The Out of Sync Child
Online Support groups of parents in the same situation who get it
Q9. When we care for others it’s important to put on our “oxygen mask” first. How do you look after yourself?
I am horrible about self care, but I am trying to get better. I listen to Audible in the car, have made changes to my lifestyle to get healthier, and I am learning to say no and not feel like I need to take care of and fix everything.