We have a very important rule in my family – learn to celebrate differences.
Oh, you’re vegan? Tell me more!
You change your hairstyle every few weeks, you go girl!
I see you enjoy wearing mix-matched socks? “Do you!?”
I’d like to say, I epiphany’ed this new rule, however, the reality is, it became an official family rule when my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD.
Thankfully, Kamaiyah has always been different. At 5 she was diagnosed with SLI. Growing up, she preferred her binky over talking. She and I had communication on lock but when she would talk with others, she would get frustrated and give up when the other person couldn’t understand her. She was mostly an observer or a pointer. Still, she liked to jam out to DJ Lance Rock and felt trapped by the confines of socks and shoes. Sure, she loved her playmate time but embraced her alone time a little bit more.
Even with a speech diagnosis, it didn’t trigger a need for me to be concerned about her emotional health until she reached the age of 6, soon to be 7. That’s when I realized she didn’t have what physicians, educators, and psychiatrists would describe as ‘appropriate social cues’ and ‘the ability to transition smoothly’.
We’re talking signals that she would give to put space between herself and others, and the cues that prevent her from blurting out the obvious, in addition to making not-nice statements about people. Then there were times when her emotions would flip flop due to a very slight change in direction. What would seem small to me was, in fact, a very big deal to her.
As I stated earlier, my family thrives on affirmation and affection. A warm, encouraging hug is one of our most positive and powerful forms of non-verbal communication. We always praise each other for small and big moments and when appropriate, we have proper moments of correction. Yet, because I’m a core member of the “more you know camp” I wanted to know if these were things to worry about.
With some suggestions and my own googling, I decided to get her tested.
After doing my own initial research, I was fully prepared to be given an Autism diagnosis. She had all the symptoms, but the two that stood out were her inability to move from subject to subject or transition easily and her literal “no filter.”
The official testing lasted a full day. She was given various cognitive, language and speech tests. It became so overwhelming that she had two serious meltdowns, I’m talking about take your hair down and full on ‘mommy save me’ tears. Of course, I calmed her down and encouraged her to complete as much as she could but what I wanted to do was get her out of there quickly. It wasn’t until I watched in on her one-on-one with the psychiatrists that I truly believed something was ‘different’ about Kamaiyah.
While engaging in verbal and non-verbal communication with her interviewer, she walked around the table, climbed on top of the table, crawled underneath the legs of the table. Finally deciding to sit down, she rocked in her chair until I thought she’d topple over. She never missed a beat in her conversation but the way she kept moving left me speechless. She simply couldn’t be still.
I wanted to have my own “pull my hair out” moment and say girl be still. After her one-on-one, Kamaiyah and I waited and waited … until receiving the official diagnosis: Kamaiyah had ADHD (attention and hyperactivity combined).
After that day, I went through a substantial period of guilt and self-judgment. What could I have done differently? How could I let this happen? Eventually, I came to learn, that most people who judge or place blame do it because they don’t know what ADHD is. ADHD is a neurological disease that affects the brain. It is not a behavior issue but can show up that way. I am learning every day, including how anxiety affects how Kamaiyah shows up. So here are a few things I’d like you to understand about me, my daughter and ADHD:
- It’s no one’s ‘fault’ she behaves this way. Her brain works differently than other kids. At 9 years old if she could better control her impulsivity, hyperactivity, lack of focus and overblown emotions, she would. But that is why the village around her works together to remind and guide her. Trust me, this is the hardest part but I hold everyone who interacts with Kamaiyah accountable, including Kamaiyah.
- Girls with ADHD are often negatively labeled and stigmatized as “drama queens” because they usually go one from emotion to another in a short time-frame. That’s bias and inaccurate. She likes to talk and her impulses lead her to make some interesting decisions but she’s so much more than the labels. Kamaiyah loves to dance, sing, paint, read, is really good at telling her infamous knock-knock joke, she’s such a good big sister to her younger brother. She’s starting to love math and is the biggest empath with the biggest heart.
- Consistency is key. Have a daily routine that you and family can follow. This is very important and your family will call you out when you misstep (my kids do all the time). This includes everything from praise to moments when consequences are appropriate. It may feel like a lot but the structure is so important.
- Your child may show up differently at school vs. at home. Home is a safe space, where redirection and regrounding is allowed and not rushed. I can’t tell you the number of calls I’ve gotten from instructors, not knowing how to handle a moment or situation. My answer is always, let’s break down the moment to find out where the break down started. This is a big for us! Especially when teachers aren’t trained to coach students who show up differently and do not understand the cultural nuances that could positively impact Kamaiyah’s experience. My advice, don’t give up. Continue to fight and show up for your child. Encouragingingly demand that everyone who is responsible for your child’s education stay in the game.
- As a parent, take time for yourself. Doing this teaches Kamaiyah how important self-care is. She knows mommy likes to workout, so while I workout she dances. We both have our oil regimens in the morning as a reminder to ground ourselves and take a pause before heading out. We have our weekend time for nails or getting our hair done. I cannot stress how important this is. These gems will be the foundation for demonstrating how important self-love and self-empowerment is.
- Listen. Listen and pay attention to your child as they express themselves. It is so important for Kamaiyah to know her words are valuable and I give her the space to communicate.
Together, my daughter and I are still on the path of learning, making every day a new opportunity to interact with the purpose of building each other up. There are still times when nothing works. I go to the bathroom, give a good scream and get back in the game.
Even in those moments of uncertainty, I know that my family will be ok because we continuously work to maintain spaces that are loving, accessible and authentic to us. We are always working together to identify her own triggers and apply the foundation we’ve built. A foundation that allows free, positive expression and that will grow her into being able to cope in any new environment, situation, or challenge.
It just takes patience and time.
p.s. Kamaiyah and I both agreed to sharing this portion of our lives.