I don’t think my eldest stepson has ADHD but does that kid ever fidget, get distracted and fail to behave as my partner and I would sometimes like. Of course I tend to find it endearing for in these instances he is the carbon copy of his father.
As an individual now in his mid thirties, my partner’s fidgetiness was never really questioned as a child. Easily distracted and sometimes struggling with focus, he nevertheless went to university and went on to forge a successful career. I wouldn’t be surprised if my partner experiences a degree of attention deficit but because his mother insisted on good manners and appropriate behaviour, he is simply a slightly twitchy and somewhat away with the fairies adult.
I don’t mean to play down the experience of those for whom ADHD reflects a crippling way of handling the world. I wholly believe in a condition that presents those experiencing it with immense difficulty. My gripe is with parents who take a diagnosis as an excuse for stepping back from instilling basic standards of behaviour in their children.
I have sat at the table with my stepchildren and heard their father have to shout to get the attention of the eldest (this at a table where no TV plays in the background and there are no toys or diversions, just food on plates and cutlery). We often have to repeat ourselves to him and forever state that if someone addresses you, it is polite (and expected) that you answer.
There may be an issue or he may simply be one of life’s dreamers. Either way we will support and love him but (and it is an essential but) we will never desist from stressing the importance of acting with good manners. Regardless of how you experience the world, there is a world existing beyond you and your needs. You can either strive to fit within that world to the best of your ability or you can get angry.
As someone living with OCD, I experience my share of frustration at a world that sometimes doesn’t seem to make sense. Sometimes I want to scream and bang my fists at the nuances and details that are beyond me. I have a degree of empathy towards my fellow man but there are many areas where I find him oversensitive and ridiculous. However, my upbringing means that I take responsibility for this. It may feel unfair that I experience the world that way I do but I recognise that this if not the fault of the world and its inhabitants.
If the stepson we call Wriggle Bum were to be diagnosed as having ADHD it wouldn’t change the world. It would change our world and that of his mothers and grandmothers but to the world at large it would be a detail about him that could just as easily by exchanged for epilepsy or diabetes. While I will always seek to make the boys feel like valued members of both their family and society and to encourage them to seek their dreams, I’ll also seek not to provide them with excuses.
We all have crosses to bear of varying degrees after all. The lesson I feel we must teach our children is that they must be borne with the greatest grace possible. Hug them and sympathise with them but never let their crosses be an excuse to give up.
The parents that cling to the idea that ADHD is genetic often seem to be missing the point (although that might possibly be the ones that elect to talk to the media). In looking for a reason for their children’s behaviour they are shifting their focus from dealing with their children’s behaviour. They appear to be looking at the behaviour rather than the child. In seeing something to cure, are they missing the extent of their child’s personality?
I’m fortunate. My eldest stepchild is not aggressive or rude. Being a Wriggle Bum extends to not sitting at the table properly and ignoring questions; he is far from a difficult child. But if it were to emerge that he had ADHD I’d be far more concerned with how we could work to support him than what caused it. For that reason I have the nagging suspicion that the parents that have jumped on the ADHD as genetic bandwagon give strength to the idea that ADHD is based on bad parenting.
I’m reminded of a fellow student I knew at sixth form. The girl was dyslexic yet had set her heart on becoming a doctor. She recognised that she’d never work in Accident and Emergency as her dyslexia was heightened by stressful situations but felt hard work and determination could see her working as a GP. She is now a doctor. She could have used her dyslexia as an excuse (I’ve met plenty who have) but I don’t recall her ever being bitter.
In all but the most extreme cases, ADHD is unlikely to stop those living with it from attaining their dreams. Like dyslexia or OCD, it may throw up some additional challenges but if the individual has be brought up to embrace that and tackle those challenges head on and in good humour then its significance will fade into the background. Wherever possible, parents should seek to avoid it defining their kids.
Genetic or not, it doesn’t really matter. If there’s to be a debate, I say it should be about the support for families with children with ADHD and the teachers responsible for them. How can we provide the best care for them? They are what they are, let’s start from there rather than focusing on causes.