Today’s blog is an excerpt from the recently published Not Just on Sundays (giveaway below–hurry, ends March 25, 2015!). It’s about what ADHD/ADD children may think about/hear/feel when different adults are making a lot of noise about how they should behave and act when they are struggling to regulate their bodies and minds. I believe it relates, in pieces, to children with autism spectrum disorders as well—and children with anxiety disorders, often a combo meal with ADHD/ADD. Anxiety is already present in these kids, but this blog—this very short snippet just skimming the surface—is specifically about the anxiety produced by typical expectations on an atypical child.
Thankfully, we are in a much better place with my son right now. This was written at the beginning of 2014. But I go back to my journaled thoughts very often to try to “walk in his shoes” and never forget the perspective and tiny voice inside a child who can’t quite express all of these things yet but so desperately needs the adults in his life to understand.
I debated adding our ADHD/anxiety/OCD journey to the book. It’s a footnote to the anxiety section, but to show how we walk through these trials and find the other side—or often learn to wait in the valley for another side to come into view—real-life examples from my life are needed. Being bare-naked-vulnerable for myself is one thing; my child is completely another. But people need to know how we walk our children through these challenges. I have heroes who went ahead of me in this. I know how badly we all need to walk this journey together.
If you have a child on the autism spectrum, a child with mental health struggles like anxiety, or an ADHD child, this is for you. I pray that you will find something in it that ministers to your heart, encourages you to go on, but more than anything, points to my heavenly Father, the only One Who can sit with us in that place and bring sweet peace in the midst of seemingly endless storms.
I originally wrote this very sensitive blog to a limited number of trusted friends and family. I feel this is really important to understand. I’m only beginning to unlock it myself. This is what a child with ADD/ADHD hears every day of his or her life, from all of us: teachers, coaches, parents, etc. We’re mostly well-meaning, but we’re all completely guilty of it.
“Sit down, Joey. Stop talking, Joey. Joey, stay on task. Joey, are you cutting correctly? Joey, pack that backpack faster. Did you hear me, Joey? Joey, are you listening? Joey, stop tapping your pencil. This is time to be still, Joey. Joey, are you with us? Joey…Joey…Joey….Joey….”
I get it. I understand how and why it happens. I am guilty of it myself, but this is what my son feels, trapped inside a jail of anxiety about something he struggles to control and is developmentally too young to solve or even know what the adults are so frustrated with. Because my son is such an external processor, I have the benefit of hearing what is often in his head. I’m beginning to realize that it sounds like this:
“I need to worry if I did everything they just said. What did they just say again? I might not have done that. Oh, wait, maybe I did. Oh, I don’t know. I might be bad. They think I can’t listen. I didn’t mean to not do the first three instructions. Maybe I’m dumb. I don’t think I have a good memory. I don’t know how to sit still. Oh, she might be mad again. Should I put a bandaid on this cut? Wait, did she tell me to get my shirt on? But I need a bandaid on this cut. I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t stop crying, but that slows me down, and they think I’m being a baby when I cry.”
This morning, I chose to say this (next paragraph). I don’t know where it came from except God. He showed me a glimpse of what my son was feeling, and it felt incredibly heavy to carry around. He’s so worried about the simple tasks he can’t complete that he has retreated into a world where things can be better controlled. He is locked into this: “Did I wash my hands? I can control that. Maybe I washed my hands. Let me do it another time because I’m not sure. That way at least my hands are clean. I know I can do that. Maybe I touched a germ, so let me wash again” and other such small tortures.
It’s a prison of the mind, and I am committed to daily blessing and praying him into seeing that he doesn’t have to live this way.
Me as we waited for the bus:
“Little Man, you are amazing just the way God created you. I know you are told all day long to ‘stay still, listen, stop talking, don’t fidget, did you finish that worksheet, are your boots on, and do it faster,’ and that must be really, really hard. And that must make you feel like you don’t meet expectations a lot of the time. But you know what? You are a wonderful little boy with a big heart, and I would never think that you did wrong on purpose. People are trying to help you focus, but it sounds like a long day of demands, and I’m so very sorry. You go off today with the peace of God on you. You stop and quietly ask Him for help when you can’t please an adult. He knows how pure that heart is inside of you because He put it there, and He knows you are trying your best every day and that some days are very hard and you hurt big inside. I love you deeply, and you don’t need to worry all day long if you did everything right. As long as you try, I know you are doing your best work. I’m really proud of you. Don’t worry if you did everything right or in the right order. You don’t have to be perfect. I’m not perfect. I need God’s help too. Every day of my life. I am very proud of the wonderful son and child you are. Go in God’s peace, Son. I love you so much.”
And it could be that I wanted to see it. It certainly could be. But I felt his shoulders lighten a little. I felt something heavy blow off between us. I felt his painful guard relax. A tiny bit. For the first time in weeks, he let me quickly embrace him. He might have skipped once as he walked to the bus. And I came inside and wept because God showed me what he carries around inside, and it’s way too much for a child. Way too much. I hope my reflections somehow help those of you with children who struggle similarly. Thank you for reading.
[Nothing about this post is anti-medicine or anti-behavioral therapy in addition to prayer. We are taking steps ourselves to pursue the best course for our child. It was more or less to share our journey and to open up our adult minds as to what goes on inside the mind of a young child trying to deal with this. It’s also not a post soliciting help or sympathy. We are prayerfully taking our own steps. It’s a dialogue for parents on this road alongside us. You are not alone.]