Parenting with ADD: When Your Kid is Judged by Your Disability
I hate the school year. I write about it almost every year- how much I hate the school year as a parent living with ADD and co-occuring mental health disorders. Those of us with ADD tend to be unable to handle transitions to our schedule well and even with tons of planning, it takes a long time for a new schedule to be manageable.
The hardest part about this, as a parent, is that your kid ends up getting consequences for your mental disabilities. (Yes, ADD/ADHD is covered under the ADA as a disability, if it substantially limits one or more major life activities.)
This has become increasingly difficult for me as a parent of a middle schooler because kids in middle school are supposed to make their own lunch, make sure they get to school on time, and get their parents to check work and sign work logs. Many teachers assume that if these things do not get done, it is the child’s fault. Fortunately my son currently attends a school that understands differences. However, I worry about this for high school because at that point, he might be in a school where teachers often think that they are teaching the child healthy consequences for their actions by giving them penalties for being late to school or not having their work signed by a parent. But, what happens when these things are not done because the parent has a disability?
Today I woke up 1 hour earlier than I usually do to make sure that I was ready to get my son to school on time. No matter how many supports I put into my environment to remind me of the change in schedule, my brain panics because of the new schedule and I get disoriented and confused. Our brains can not process and remember changes in routine easily like neurotypical brains can. Even with all of my work and planning and multiple alarms, I was still 5 minutes late getting my son to school.
I should be upset about this, but this is actually a great improvement to other years. Just a few years ago my son was missing a good amount of school because I could not even get out of bed to take him to school. This was when my bipolar disorder was especially bad and I could not get him ready, fed, lunch packed, or drive him to school.
I know that neurotypical people see a persons ability to be on time and get things done as a sign of responsibility and commitment to working hard, but that is just not true for people with ADD or other mental disabilities. In fact, I believe we are often more responsible and more committed to working hard than many neurotypicals. We have to do way more preparation and work to do things that are simple for other people. Most neurotypical people do not need to add in an hour or more of transition time, set over five alarms just to get out of the house for one meeting, or set up multiple systems in their home to make sure they can function. If we are doing that much work just to try and get our kid to school, we are being very responsible.
If you are a parent with ADD/ADHD here are some things I want you to know:
You are NOT irresponsible.
Advocate for yourself and your child. If your ADD/ADHD severely impacts your ability to function, it is a disability and you can ask for accommodations that decrease the consequences for your child.
Everyone is imperfect. Don’t let people tell you that just because they can get x, y, and z done that everyone can do it. They have things they are not good at too, you just don’t know that, and they probably don’t talk about it.
You are not harming your child. You are teaching your child what it is like to live with a disability and how to work hard for what you want and who you love.
Celebrate your success! Instead of focusing on how I got my kid to school late, I choose to focus on how I actually got my kid to school!