Like Son, Like Mother?

No need to wonder where my son's attention issues came from. This apple fell from my tree.

"He definitely has attention issues, but he doesn't have ADD."
This is what the social worker told me after evaluating Enzo's questionnaires, filled out by myself, himself, his dad, and two teachers (one of whom gave him the label of "high priest in the church of no homework," whose class he barely passed).
Boy Doing Homework
Discussing all the problems and pitfalls, it was like watching my own childhood being replayed, and even my life now.
After all, said the clinical expert, he's well-socialized, he can sit still (sometimes for hours on end), and has a good opinion of himself. Of the five matrices that determine ADHD, he scored normal in four of them — but was way off the charts with attention issues. That was after the first report card of ninth grade, where in two years his 4.0 had dropped under a 3.0.
When his first report card of tenth grade appeared, Enzo's GPA had slipped considerably below a 2.0. Now we were desperate for some sort of help, or even just some insight, or a referral to another idea.
I went back to Kaiser and stormed the castle. "So, what do we do about attention issues, for goodness sake? How can I help my child?" The guy gave Enzo one more test, this one on a computer — why they didn't just do that in the first place, I don't know — and voilà: a full-blown case of ADD-PI. All of a sudden, the gates of support opened wide.
Within a few weeks, we were in the embrace of what I call Kaiser's ADHD School. I took a series of classes on learning disabilities, parenting practices, and coping skills. We learned about medications and chose one to try. Every week, Enzo and I attended a Teen Group with break-out sessions for parents to ask questions like, "What's with the lying thing?" "How can we stop fighting over homework?" and "Where did he get it from?"
Lightbulbs were going off like crazy in my own head about that one. Discussing all the problems and pitfalls, it was like watching my own childhood being replayed, and even my life now. (I don't have a GPA, but for all my cleverness, I do have a pretty unimpressive AGI.) I had to bite my tongue to keep the conversation on the kids.
I called Adult Psych to explore the possibility that I might also have ADHD. It felt like I could have taught the introductory workshop. I read Driven to Distraction and recognized myself on every page. I took the Kaiser tests...and guess what they told me?
"You definitely have attention issues, but you don't have ADD."


Keep Calm and C-C-Carry On

How our whole family learned to stop worrying and “C” our way through anxiety.
When Enzo was little, he loved doing sleepovers. But that all changed one year, the year he realized lying awake in strange place wasn't any fun. When he was about six, he stayed overnight with his Uncle Zoom, who had a new baby in the house. Between the distracting sounds and his underlying sleep challenges from ADD, he was up at 4 AM, dressed, ready for the strange night to be over.
the letter C
He really wanted to go away to Science Camp with his class, but could not imagine how he would cope.
After that, he would become hyperaware of the fact he was lying there awake when his friends were dropping off. And then he would start worrying. He’d call to get picked up. Then he’d start planning not to stay over. His dad was sympathetic because that’s the kind of kid he had been. He could never sleep away from home, even if the whole family was with him.
This became a problem for Enzo in 5th grade, when he really wanted to go away to Science Camp with his class, but could not imagine how he would cope.
We signed up for a great class at Kaiser called the “Family Worry Class.” The therapist explained that the people who took the class all had a superpower called sensitivity, which runs in families. She gave us her “Five C’s” for handling anxiety while you’re in the middle of it. They work for your kids, and they work for yourself. In my words, they are:
1. Calm: Take deep breaths. Slow down and don’t rush through it.
2. Cheerlead: Be positive. Tell your kid they can do it — they’ve done so much before.
3. Change the Channel: A distraction can help, like food, a game, or TV; another option is to find ways to cope. (Look, another "C"!)
4. Check In: Let kids talk about their experience and how they're feeling.
5. Continue: Keep going, keep trying, don’t give up.
It was good to learn the therapist's Five C’s. We had been relying too much on our own favorite C’s: CriticizeCatastrophizeCry, get the Creeps, and Chatter about endlessly about how bad it feels.
Thanks to the Five C’s, Enzo made it to Science Camp, and although he didn't sleep much, he felt very proud of himself. The C’s helped him in so many other ways, too — taking tests, going to a new school, and even trying sleepovers once again. Now he’s away practically every weekend, and can think about leaving home for weeks at a time. Maybe even for good! (We'll see how that goes.)
The other great thing about the class was that we went to go help our kid, and ended up helping ourselves as well. 


The Forklift of Love

Getting a sleepy ADHD teenager out of bed calls for heavy machinery — and a lot of patience from the crew at home.

Until we learned about ADD, it was always a mystery why our little guy couldn’t sleep. Even though Enzo, as a small child, was more than once called “The Thing That Would Not Sleep” by his exhausted-to-the-point-of-a-horror-movie parents, he was a blessedly solid sleeper once he was down. Yet, he surprised us all (as teenagers do) by growing up to be “The Thing that Would Not Move.”
forklift love
Sleeping past nine! Oh, how we reveled in those luxurious summer mornings! It was like being newlyweds again!
Baby Enzo was better than an alarm clock. Even before he was born, I could never stay in bed past 6 AM. During his first decade, those bright little eyes would fly open at six…fricking.…AM. Even on weekends.
Later, when school days became a grind, he’d sleep in until seven. But on weekends, when there was so much more to look forward to, the son would still rise with the sun. "I've got a lot to do today," he'd say when we stumbled into the Lego jungle.
We were so proud the summer before eighth grade, when he took up a new hobby: sleeping past nine! Oh, how we reveled in those luxurious summer mornings! It was like being newlyweds again!
Now that he’s pushing seventeen, the novelty of that has also worn off. On weekends we don’t see him until noon. And on school mornings, trying to get both that brain and body working takes nothing short of heroics.
Trying to wake up a teenager on a school day is not easy for anyone. Trying to wake one with ADD is like trying to get a pig to fly, according to his father, "Dave." ("It's a waste of time, and it annoys the pig.")
His first alarm goes off at 6:15. It’s a song, or rather some electronic song clip, that he has chosen the night before, and it is set on repeat on the iPod that rests in the speaker on his headboard. At 6:30, his clock alarm starts beeping, and now there is a funky rhythmic jam going on in his room. At this point, his dad starts grumbling: “I could always get myself out of bed. This is nonsense.” (Dad has learned to go to work early to save his sanity.) A few minutes later, the radio goes off.
By 6:45, if Enzo has not crawled out to turn off the beeping yet, I go into his room and start shaking his loft bed. Sometimes it takes an earthquake. When he was little and we needed him to move, we’d just bring on “the forklift of love” and lift him out. That became an impossibility after he reached the hundred-pound mark.
Half the time — and I swore I would never do this — I get angry. I start shrieking things like, “Oh, my God! It’s 7:30 already!” Or I get snotty. "Okay, I'm driving you to school without you." But I hate to go this route. While others might respond to the stress in my normally calm voice with a shot of adrenaline, Enzo doesn’t seem to have been built with this response. For him, motivation must come from within. Nagging backfires. In the mornings, the higher-pitched my voice goes, the more he shuts down.
But what goes on in that brain? When I was younger, I remember having just as much trouble getting out of bed, especially after a night of brain-racing. There are stages you have to work through in that transition between the sleep state and the awake state, which, according to the experts from the sleep study Enzo participated in, are constantly at war for our time. “I am working things out,” he mumbles. He’s still achieving the mystical tasks his dream set out for him.
On a good day, he’s up to kiss his dad goodbye. He gets dressed quickly...and then lies down for a pre-breakfast nap.


The Thing That Would Not Sleep

Enzo's busy brain kept him up and active even as a baby. We had to develop guerilla tactics to ease him into sleep.
We used to dread bedtimes. Once the novelty of being born wore off, once he rested up from that exhausting ordeal, Enzo just could never see the point in sleeping. He just didn’t want to miss a thing. If I wasn’t able to nurse him down, his dad, "Dave," would carry him around the house and the yard showing him how the birds were asleep, the animals were asleep, all his friends were asleep, his toys were asleep, and daddy was, well, dead on his feet.
Top Pick ADHD Kid Can't Sleep
Once the novelty of being born wore off, Enzo just could never see the point in sleeping.
— Kristen Caven, ADDitude blogger
We always thought we were bad parents. His little friends would just put their heads down and close their eyes when they were sleepy. It was probably because of the pacifier that he never learned to self-soothe. It was probably the co-sleeping. And then, after two or three years of that, when he took up combat sleeping, it was probably because we didn’t have the guts to let him cry it out past 2 or 3 AM.
The ADD diagnosis turned out to be a sweet victory. See? He’s neurologically different. He’s got thoughts in his brain. All night long.Thoughts, do you hear me, interesting thoughts! Hah! to you doubters!
Beyond the typically prescribed bedtime baths, off-buttons on TVs, rigid routines (hard to keep when you have ADD, too), and ban on Coke at dinner, we had to work hard to find remedies that worked. When I was a baby, the only thing that would put me to sleep was a drive around the block in the Volkswagon Bug. That never worked for little Enzo — cars, as you know by now, are way too interesting to him.
These things did:
>> A Positive Attitude. Knowing that I was the adult helped me “dominate” my toddler into taking a nap when he needed it. Sometime around age 7, I looked at my husband and said, “You know, even though it hasn’t seemed like it, he has actually gone to sleep every night of his life.”
>> Homeopathics. We discovered these tiny little sugar pills that dissolve on a child’s tongue when the teeth started coming in. They were lifesavers so many times, when dealing with everything from sniffles to stomach aches. Guess what, the right ones can help with racing brains, too! Bach Flower Remedies are also wonderful non-drugs, and always help bring on the Zzzzs.
>> Company. Although a child “should” be left alone to sleep in peace, having a big person there to model being quiet and calm helped Enzo relax. When self-regulation is difficult, having a body with a restful heartbeat and slow breathing nearby provides a neurological pattern to follow. Controlling conversation is the challenge...
>> The “Broken Record” trick helped keep me from being drawn into conversation. I would only permit myself to say, “Today is over, it’s time to sleep.”
>> Touch. Backrubs helped Enzo get in touch with his body. A story about the backrub helped him focus and relax. Favorites were the Weather Report (taught by Dr. Louise Hart), and the one about the cat that walked out and made tracks in the snow.
>> Story Tapes. He listened to a recording of Winnie the Pooh (read by Peter Dennis) over and over and over again. It was long and calming and interesting but a little boring. We found one that worked, and he listened to it every night for four years!
Eventually I developed Mom’s Guaranteed Sleep System with Magic Stories™ that could both hold his interest and bore him to sleep. (Send $99 and two box tops in.)
And then one day he found late night radio and a talk show podcast that allegedly did the same thing. I love you but now get out of my room, Mom and Dad!
As a teenager, Enzo participated in a sleep study and got some sleep coaching, plus he's gotten to know himself a little better. For example, he has also become a writer, and can relax better after doing a brain dump. But whatever he ends up doing with his busy brain, he may always be a night owl, wired to rev up when the rest of us are revving down.


We're Driven by Attention — Not Lacking It

Ready for a creative challenge? Get to know the sparkly flipside of ADHD, and let it energize your life.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to attention. When it is there, when it is not, how hard it is to summon, how hard it is to turn it off. For example, I can ask Enzo’s Uncle Zoom a question and never get an answer; his ears turn off when he’s attending to something inside his mind. Then there are times I want Enzo’s dad, "Dave," to just let something slide, for goodness sake.
There is really no deficit of attention in ADD. Your attention just doesn’t always go where other people want it to.
— Blogger Kristen Caven
There is really no deficit of attention in ADD. Your attention just doesn’t always go where other people want it to. For years, Uncle Zoom and I have tried to think of other names for ADD; we and others like us are absolutely driven with passion, and have boundless energy when there is something creative pulling us.
Thus, I was thrilled to discover the idea of the Interest-Driven Nervous System (IDNS). This is one characteristic, according to Dr. William Dodson, that every person with ADHD has, no matter what their other symptoms. Unlike the 90% of people who can achieve something if it is important or if there is a reward to be had or a consequence to be suffered, folks wired with an IDNS are only motivated when something really captures or holds their attention. As he puts it (consequences be damned), they are only motivated if something is:
  • Novel,
  • Interesting,
  • Challenging, or
  • Urgent
Or, as I like to think of it, if something is SparklyAnnoying, Fascinating, or On Fire.
And by golly, if there’s nothing interesting going on, some of us will make something sparkle. Or set something on fire...
If you look at it this way — thank you, Dr. Dodson! — you can see that ADD is not at all about having Attention Deficit, but by being Attention Driven.
When your life really is out of order, ADD is indeed a Disorder. And exclusively following one’s Interests can certainly create Disorder. But here is the key to transformation: seeing ADD as a creative challenge intrinsically harnesses the power of the IDNS. Why? The IDNS thrives on challenge.
So if you accept the creative challenge of understanding your own mind, and work hard to structure your life in support of your strengths (easier said than done, like most things), it is theoretically possible that all challenges can be overcome.
Follow this line of logic, there is then only one thing an IDNS can lead to: an Interest-ing life!


Electronic Attention Suckers

Every family struggles with ways to manage this generation’s darn distracting devices. Here’s our best trick for keeping video games from taking over our son's life.

When we got Enzo his first handheld video game, he was too young in my opinion, but still much older than most kids these days are when they are handed their first Electronic Attention Sucker (E.A.S.). We had held off as long as we could for several reasons:
video games
My husband still teases me about my 1996 Mardi Gras Tetris-and-chocolate-cake-binge.
1. He had plenty of toys already that he could never find enough time for: Legos, paper airplanes, and, um, trains.
2. He already didn’t spend enough time outside, and every minute you are in front of a screen is a minute you could be spending doing something usefully dangerous—like building forts, or burning things with magnifying glasses.
Because it had happened to us. My husband, who I shall call “Dave” in this blog, has for years made a daily hour or two of collecting rings, battling bad guys, or building civilizations part of his life. And “Dave” still teases me about my 1996 Mardi Gras Tetris-and-chocolate-cake-binge before I gave both up for Lent.
It had also happened to people we care about. Enzo’s talented Uncle Art, for example, lost four years of his adult life gaming in every free moment before he chose to spend every possible moment painting and building a career.
The thing is, video games are actually designed for addiction. The tasks are stimulating and challenging. There is always a level to beat, and when you beat it, your reward is to start another level. There is no such thing as a game that will come to a satisfying end just before dinner time. Even game creators are now realizing they have done damage to childhood, and telling kids to go outside more.
It was only fair that Enzo would get his own Electronic Attention Suckers though. We did not want to deprive him of the adrenaline and dopamine-fueled pleasures of his generation. But before we let him put his twitching thumbs on the thing, we set up a Video Game Agreement that said things like he could play age-appropriate games for two hours on a weekend, if he asked first, and so forth. The deal was: if he couldn’t play by the rules, he would have to turn the game off, period.
The best rule on the list was this one, an idea from a friend: When we call your name, you need to pause and look up. The fact that he would lose privileges for 24 hours if he did not hear us and respond motivated him learn how to shift his attention gears, make good eye contact, and mind his manners — all things that can be incredibly difficult for hyperfocused ADDers. But the immediate reward of getting more dopamine helped train his brain in a good way.


Give a Kid a Little Extra Time…

A day at the beach, a great idea, and a kid who doesn’t want to transition.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned Enzo’s remarkable childhood ability to sit in the sand and have fun with a bucket and a shovel for hours on end. In the days before he discovered race cars, it was all about the dump trucks and front-loaders. He didn’t have the patience to get properly dressed, stay sitting down while he ate his sandwich, or watch a movie past the first act, but mention that we were going to the beach and that kid would get organized! The best present I ever got for him was three miniature shovels. One would have made him happy, but three meant he got to direct a crew. Holes were dug. Castles were built. Friends were buried.