Parents, if you have a child that just doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes, I’m here to give you hope.
Of course, my diagnosis of ADHD didn’t come out of the blue. I was inquisitive, impulsive, distracted, and daring…all at the same time! My incessant chatter and impetuous motion created a host of learning difficulties from the moment I arrived in elementary school. My kindergarten teacher often reminded me to “take my voice out of the sky” with a hand gesture going from the sky to her mouth because I had no awareness of how loud my voice was. She would complain to my parents that I would try to take over control of the class, as I really thought what I had to say was more important. And with over 40 years of teaching experience, my teacher insisted I was like no other 5 year old she had ever met, as she often had to remind me that she was the teacher.
I was diagnosed at age seven with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with Motor Overflow. My parents took me for the evaluation because everyone knew there had to be something wrong with me. Although I was “smart” and “engaging,” I talked and talked and talked and talked and rarely stopped moving. I had difficulty following directions, staying on-task, staying engaged in learning activities, not talking, staying still, completing assignments, turning in assignments, keeping my desk clean, (you get the picture, right?). I remember struggling through spelling tests, not having a clue what to do, and learning to read was a challenge I loathed. I will never forget my mother and I fighting nightly about reading “The Sun Is Up.” I was assigned to read it night after night, and my mother would become so frustrated, as I would pronounce a word correctly on one page and then mispronounce it on the next page. In an effort to avoid the task at all costs, nightly reading with me came with a whole host of behaviors.
“Motor-mouth” was a term of endearment. My mother said I was a “spirited” child and I remember my dad saying to me “all you need is a volume control and station selector.” Unless it was a high-interest task, paying attention was almost impossible for me. In 2nd grade my teacher often moved me to the “Dog House” (an isolated seat in the corner, where he moved students who distracted others). I was so impulsive I got a 5 in “Self-Control” that year, which landed me in a full-on evaluation in the Neuroeducational Center at a local hospital. This led to my rather obscure diagnosis in the early ‘80’s, of ADHD (I fit the description of ADHD to a tee, with a severe deficit in all three categories, of Inattention, Hyperactivity, and Impulsivity).
“Hard-headed” was another term of endearment my parents often used because I had to do things my way, even when I was warned about the consequences of my poor choices. Somehow I always thought I would get away with it, whatever it was. In addition to all of this, one of the biggest problems I had was with honesty.
It didn’t matter what it was about, if I thought there was a chance I could avoid accountability, I would tell a story. I was so distracted I missed a lot of lessons in class, therefore I often had no idea how to do the assignments, so I would lie and tell my parents I didn’t have homework to avoid doing them. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know homework was assigned (because I wasn’t paying attention during class), and then I would lie to my teachers about completing it, insisting I turned it in and that they must have lost it. I would lie to try to avoid getting in trouble for not paying attention and for talking too much. Even though it only worked a fraction of the time, that was enough reinforcement for me to roll the dice every time I was confronted with taking responsibility for my actions.
It took me all of my childhood to begin to understand the importance of my word, and fortunately I started figuring it out during high school. With maturity on my side, and a strong desire to hang out with my friends, I started to value my parents’ trust. In high school the stakes were higher and my freedom to hang out with friends was paramount, so I started to realize if I just shifted all of the effort I put into avoiding the work, into doing the work, I could actually get it done, and I didn’t have to lie. I had the maturity to start thinking about my future, to take ownership for my actions, and to care about how lying may impact my relationships with others. As high school progressed, I learned how to “do” school well and academics got easier and easier for me in college.
For parents of children who sound anything like how I used to be, I have one piece of advice….. Accountability. As much as I lied to avoid accountability, my parents held me accountable every time they found out (and they almost always found out…. almost). The consequences were real (even if they didn’t work in the moment) and they were masters at sticking to them (I once got grounded for 10 whole weeks, and they held me to the entire 10 weeks)! Over time, these experiences built up in my brain. I clearly remember in high school weighing out if I should lie about a situation or not, and momentarily reflecting on the harsh punishment of the past prompted me to make a better choice in that moment. Trust me, it may not seem like it has any effect when they’re young, but consistently holding your child accountable for their words and actions (even if they forgot to take their ADD meds that day) will pay off handsomely in the future.