ADHD Community

My Journey into ADHD Advocacy

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I am Judy Bonnell, and I'm your host for this site. Perhaps you're curious about how I came to my passion for helping children with ADHD and for my advocacy work in general.

My husband and I are the parents of seven children, his, mine, and ours. We've been parenting for almost forty years, yet our youngest is only nineteen. Practically speaking, we have raised two families, seventeen years apart, and have seen many changes educationally and culturally during those years. Both families include children with ADHD, as well as other disabilities.

My First Family

The first family includes a child who was extremely hyperactive. She was one of the 10% of babies who today would be labeled "difficult". That was putting it mildly! Family members took 4-hour shifts around the clock for months with her.

At four years of age, the hyperactivity diminished and she become physically hypoactive, although she says today that her mind is always in a hyperactive state. In those days, we didn't know she had a disability, as the term ADHD didn't exist. We only knew she was dreamy, unorganized, and forgetful.

My daughter struggled with what today are known as poor executive functions. Fortunately, she did not seem to have any serious learning disabilities. A gifted child, she muddled through public school without extra supports. She hit her stride in college, became a member of the National Honor Society, and made straight A's. As often happens, she found the college environment much more ADHD friendly, with less busy work, repetition, and fewer distractions. She went on to be very successful in her chosen career. She is a sweet darling, and I admire her tremendously for overcoming those obstacles presented her by an undiagnosed disability.

My Second Family

Our second family consists of one son, who not only struggled with ADHD, but who also has several learning disabilities and is gifted. By the time he was in school, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was on the books.

However, we quickly discovered that the "law" wasn't the same as reality. There was a widespread lack of knowledge about the requirements of the law, both among parents and school personnel. The issues became even more complicated because we were dealing with a disability that was also misunderstood and sometimes flatly denied.

At that time, it was actually a hindrance for our son to be gifted as well as have ADHD and learning disabilities. The general attitude was, "He's smart. He just isn't motivated. He just doesn't pay attention." I was particularly alarmed when the responsibility to learn seemed to fall entirely upon his shoulders. Consequently, we'd spend hours each night trying to teach him what he didn't learn during the day, before we even started on the homework.

When he was in 6th grade, he fell so far behind that we decided to home-school him. Suddenly, his attitude changed. He gained some self-confidence and progressed academically by leaps-and-bounds. He was rapidly reaching the teen years though and we wanted to integrate him back into the mainstream community. Finally a situation arose that proved to be the last straw.

Learning the Ropes of Advocacy

In desperation, I called our State Department of Education which connected me to our local Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). PTI's are all over the country and are funded by the U.S. Department of Education for the purpose of educating parents about the law, their rights, and how to be a successful, active participant in their child's education. They also act as a resource when parents need information on disabilities, as well as perform other services.

I was put in touch with another parent who was an advocate. That day changed our lives. I learned how to advocate for what our son needed. I learned that schools are responsible for identifying children with disabilities, evaluating their needs, and providing the services necessary for that child to make progress. I also learned that in special education law, the whole child must be considered, emotionally and physically, as well as academically.

We enrolled him in high school for his freshman year. He was able to access the services he so desperately needed and made progress both academically and socially. He graduated with honors, holding his head high as he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. Our district made great strides in learning to look at teaching in a flexible, creative way, and I believe everyone grew in the process. I give them credit for continuing this growth process after our son graduated.

Helping Others

During this journey, I decided I would keep on growing in my advocacy role and I reached out to other parents in the same way I had been helped. I didn't want parents wasting years trying to figure out how to help their child. I had a good store of information to pass on and continued to gain information on disabilities and the law.

Despite my involvement in this work, I am a business person and I own and operate a year round franchised campground. During the years, I have managed to obtain some higher education, and once we "retire," I hope to again pursue a degree. Meantime, running a business has been quite an education in itself. My primary hobbies are antiques, classical music, history, piano and organ, and tole painting.

Not only on a one-on-one basis in our state, but across the internet, I find parents with similar plights and needs. By sharing our successes, frustrations, and strategies, I believe we can become a powerful influence in how our children are served. We can also insist that our children be taught the way they learn.

My favorite motto is: "If a child cannot learn the way we teach him, we had better teach him the way he learns."

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