Raising Kids with Mental and Learning Disorders
and the struggles that no one sees
When I sat down to write this, I tried to think of the many angles to take. I am bipolar and have ADD and I deal with other issues. When my daughter was diagnosed with extreme anxiety, and my son as high functioning autism and ADHD, I admit I jumped on the pity train and tried to make it all about me. What did I do to make my children not "normal"? Why do my kids have to suffer like me? A slew of other things went through my head, but I finally realized, they are perfectly normal, and so am I.
My daughter was born premature, and she had some issues with her lungs, but nothing major, besides being small. No big deal, she got to come home right on schedule. As she started preschool she had no real stand out symptoms. What child likes being left alone at daycare or preschool for the first time? Two years later, my son was born. He was on time and seemingly had no issues. Same thing—he got to come home on schedule. This time there were no issues with being left alone at preschool. As they aged, things seemed to stand out about both of them. My daughter was getting more and more upset with being left alone, even at her grandparents' house. I asked her what was wrong, as there was no reason for this. She said she didn't know, she just didn't like being left behind.
As she entered middle school, there came a point where she would just outright refuse to get on the bus, or out of the car and go into the school! It would take hours for her to get into the school, and then another 30-40 minutes to get her to go to class. Her level of anxiety was something her counselors had never seen. We were being looked at to see if we were responsible for it. We were treated like bad parents. It turns out, she has bad anxiety and that generations of my wife's family have anxiety, to include my wife, but not at this level. We were finally able to get her to relax enough to live life without many issues, with sports and other creative ways like journaling. Now she goes to school, is almost in high school, and is a star competitive cheerleader and as long as she is active in this, she has no issue, except for occasionally. Sleepovers are still iffy.
My son was in a very good preschool, one of the best in the area, but they weren't moving him up as he aged. I asked why and they told me because he was not ready. What did this mean? He is a child, he is 3 and 4 years old. How can he not be ready? After talking to them, it started to become clear that developmentally, he was behind his friends. We had him tested and he was diagnosed with ADHD, and after fighting a losing battle, he went on medication for it. He started kindergarten and he was getting notes sent home with him every day that his handwriting was bad. I thought to myself, then teach him how to fix it, you are a teacher. She couldn't get him to figure out how to hold a pencil. He got speech and occupational therapy and did develop the proper communication and handwriting skills needed.
Seemingly things were okay, but they weren't. His handwriting never got better—it stayed at the kindergarten level, even throughout first and second grades. We broke down and took him to get tested for anything that could explain this. He was diagnosed as a very high functioning autistic child with moderate ADHD. Great, we thought, now he can get the help he needs in school and we can get him caught up to where he needs to be. Wrong again! It has been a constant battle to get him the services he deserves and needs. The school has fought us every step of the way. He is an extremely smart boy, and his reading, vocabulary, English, and comprehension is through the roof. The major thing we noticed with him was when he was in soccer, or baseball, or a basketball game, or wrestling, all of which I had to coach him in because no other coaches were patient enough, he would just stop and cover his ears when it got loud.
Upon having them both tested we realized that we had our work cut out for us, but that it is what makes them unique and why we loved them so much! They are our kids and there is nothing that can make them seem indifferent or weird to us. Sure there are trying times, but we are the reason they are here, and it is up to us to make sure they are protected and ready to deal with the world, regardless of whatever differences they may have. Raising children is hard enough without the medical and mental issues thrown into the mix. As hard as it is on the parents, think about how hard it must be for the children. Kids are mean, we all know that. But they are getting meaner as the generations pass, not nicer. They cannot get away from it with social media and phones and tablets everywhere they go.
I have learned that even though you think it is alright, it is probably a lot worse in their heads, and that needs to be kept in mind. Yelling in frustration only makes the situations worse. Having an understanding of what is bothering them in the first place and trying to understand why, is the best way to help, though I must admit I am guilty of not always following that rule myself. Add a parent that is bipolar and you have the makings of what I can only imagine is a nightmarish world for my wife. The point is this, communication is always the best way to deal with any and all issues that are associated with the three, and indeed more, disorders. There is good news, however. If you try and keep control of your emotions, their emotions are most likely going to be in check and everyone's life will be easier.