When my husband and I were planning our family, I would have visions of the type of parent I wanted to be and what our family would look and be like. I thought about my hopes and wishes for my children and even had in mind how I wanted to instill in them a love of learning and the value of education.
Once our children came onto the scene life was harder to balance than I had envisioned. I struggled to work full-time with two children in daycare and find the balance I was looking for. That being said because my kids were not receiving homework I felt the status quo was still the way to go.
The first hint that something was amiss was when my daughter was at the end of pre-school. Her educators came to me with the news that she struggled with her numbers, she could not learn past the number 5. Because she was so young the conclusion was that she would likely catch up in elementary school. In kindergarten, I was relieved to hear that she was average compared to her peers. That relief did not last long, because in the fall of the following year I learned from her grade 1 teacher that she was struggling in all subjects but reading was her biggest struggle. Since I wanted to be on top of things and get her the help she needed, I had her assessed. I had known ahead of time that she was too young for a diagnosis, so I was simply looking to learn where she was and how to best support her. Post assessment, she was put on an IEP and hired a tutor specializing in learning disabilities. Despite these two interventions, she continued to struggle academically, so in grade 3 we had her re-assessed and even considered switching her school. The assessment concluded by stating that she had a generalized learning disability and continued to require an IEP. At this point in her academic career, I was primarily looking to her psychologist, tutor, teachers, and school administrators for guidance on how to best support her. I would do research and come up with creative solutions at home but I was not self-directed or confident in my ability to know how to help her best. My daughter hated the idea of changing schools so we kept her where she wanted to be. I felt I was just doing what we needed to do to get her through elementary school. I expected that once we found a high school more tailored to her needs, her academic experience would change.
In the fall of grade 6, as we were applying to high schools (in Quebec high school starts in grade 7) we learned she needed a new assessment. This time the results were different. This time we learned that our daughter had ADHD inattentive type, 3 learning disabilities, and anxiety. I was thrown. I had expected to hear she would have a learning disability. I had not expected 3 and I certainly did not expect ADHD. I was frozen, I knew close to nothing about ADHD aside from the stigma that it was either inattention or hyperactivity and I felt overwhelmed by the 3 learning disabilities. The psychologist who assessed her told me that the best thing I could do for her would be to work on her executive functioning as her skills in this area were weak. I asked her if she knew anyone who could help us and at the time she did not. So I left her office knowing what I had to look for but not knowing where to turn and how to tackle the 3 learning disabilities. I mistakenly thought her learning disabilities were her biggest problem and did not pay much attention to the fact that she also had ADHD. Because I did not know anything about it other than society’s stigma I chose to keep the diagnosis a secret and focus on what I understood better. So I focused on her learning disabilities, specifically math and writing because her tutor was working diligently on her reading abilities. Also, I found a coach to assist my daughter with her executive function weakness and a psychologist to help her with her anxiety. This is where my life would be changed forever.
I became fascinated by what her coach was doing with her. She was teaching her things, at a more advanced level than I, of what I had been doing with my kids at home. When I questioned her about where she learned all these things she pointed me in the direction of the Smart But Scattered series of books. I quickly devoured one of the books and learned that unconsciously I had been doing basic executive function support at home. I became hooked and was obsessed with learning more. Along with learning about executive functions, I started learning more about ADHD and quickly realized that her ADHD was her biggest problem. This led me to more books, seminars, courses, and getting coached myself.
What I learned revealed to me that my parenting skills were not as effective as I had thought, especially for my neurodiverse daughter. The coaching I received helped me be accountable in implementing the learning I was doing and the changes I wanted to make so that I was better able to support my children. The blinders I had been living with were lifted. I started to see clearly how our education system is not built for the neurodiverse. I started to see ADHD differently, and how our world is not built for the ADHD/neurodiverse brain. I started seeing that all children benefited from executive function skills learning, not just neurodiverse children. This shift in mentality had a major consequence. I no longer looked to or depended on the teachers, school administrators, and other experts to guide me. I became the leader, identifying things that were missing or ways to do it better. I started leading the conversation with her teachers and resource support staff.
While my parenting and the way I was able to advocate for my daughter changed for the better, I was still not satisfied with the amount of yelling I was doing and the level of frustration we were experiencing. I knew enough about executive functions and ADHD to know that self and emotion-regulation were real issues. Around the same time, I discovered Shanker Self-Reg. I read the book which further changed my and my family’s life. I learned that as a parent I was dysregulated and a dysregulated parent cannot help regulate an equally dysregulated child. I learned how to regulate myself and once I was more regulated, I was in a better position to help my daughter regulate and surprisingly help my neurotypical child better regulate as well.
My parenting continued to change in positive ways as I became more regulated and I was able to continue supporting them in more productive and empathetic ways. As time went on, I started noticing changes in my kids. Most notably in my daughter. I learned how to stay calm amid her meltdowns, I learned how to detect patterns in her behaviour to know when she needed my regulation support. I learned how to teach Shanker Self-Reg to my kids without explicitly teaching it. Today, it is still a work in progress but the change in our family has been enormous.
Since my daughter’s ADHD diagnosis, I’ve learned that any change in her had to start with me. I had to work on my self-regulation, parenting skills, and knowledge about ADHD and executive functioning skills. This process also helped me become a much better advocate for my daughter. Today my daughter gets tutored and coached and is at a school better suited to her personality and neurodiversity. Despite this, I remain the leader of her team ensuring she has the best supports to help her in reaching her goals. Is life picture perfect? No, we still have challenges, but life is not nearly as difficult as it used to be and her performance in school is also significantly better. Her teachers inform me that she pays attention in class and is also an amazing self-advocate.
So, I ask you, are you parenting the way you want to parent? What is one thing about the way you are parenting that you would like to, and could, change that would make a difference for your ADHD child?
I believe all parents are resourceful, resilient, and not alone!
Joy Gandell, MScA, ACC is a self-employed executive function, parenting, and learning coach. The name of her coaching practice is SETA Coaching & Training. She is also the host of the Being With Joy: A Quest To Crack The Parenting Code podcast which can be found on all the major podcast platforms. She lives in a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, and resides with her husband, 2 teenage children, and dog Molson.