Advice and Insights for Parents of Children with ADHD
Brandi Valentine is our guest. When it comes to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Brandi Valentine, sitemaster of ADHD News, went through the school of hard knocks. She shares her home and school experiences of raising 2 ADHD children, so you don't have to learn everything the hard way.
David is the HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "Children with Attention Deficit Disorder". Our guest is Brandi Valentine of ADHD News and mother of 2 ADHD children.
Good evening Brandi. Welcome to HealthyPlace.com and thank you for being our guest tonight. You have one boy and one girl. How old are they now? And can you tell us a little about them in relation to them having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Brandi Valentine: Hi everyone! I have one girl, now 15 who has ADD inattentive type, and one boy, age 12 who has ADHD
David: How would you characterize the level of severity of their ADHD symptoms?
Brandi Valentine: My daughter does not suffer from any problems with hyperactivity, but has lots of problems with focus and attention, organization, etc. Her ADD symptoms are rather mild in one respect, yet cause a lot of problems for her, on a day-to-day basis. This problem has caused a lot of issues with class work, projects due, etc., and it is causing some problems already in the high school setting.
My son, has severe ADHD and until this year, he's been in special education classes in a self-contained classroom. His behavior is okay 99 % of the time, but his issues lie with learning disabilities that interfere with his ability to process information and function as other children.
David: And are you married or are you a single parent?
Brandi Valentine: I have been a single parent until just recently. I married in May of this year. I am married to a great guy with ADHD.
David: Do you live in a large town, with a large school district? Or is it a medium or small-sized community?
Brandi Valentine: I lived in a large city with a large school district up until June of 98. I have now moved into a small foothill community with a much smaller school population for elementary and middle school children.
David: As I said earlier, we invited Brandi to be our guest because she has experienced it all and we thought it might be helpful for her to share her positive and not-so-positive experiences with others, so that you wouldn't have to learn everything the hard way.
So the first thing I'd like to address are school issues. Briefly, in general, how have school officials responded to your concerns regarding your children?
Brandi Valentine: In the beginning, they didn't respond well at all. Every problem my son was having was "my fault" and my responsibility to fix. Since I became educated on my rights and the school's responsibilities, I have very few problems with the schools in getting services for my children.
David: I'm assuming when your children were in elementary school, there wasn't much information out there about ADD-ADHD. How did you respond when the school administration came to you and said everything was your problem, your fault?
Brandi Valentine: You are correct, there was very little information on ADD/ADHD when James was diagnosed in 1993.
When they first told me my child was "psychotic", I was overwhelmed with guilt and, of course, in an effort to do everything I could for my child, I listened to everything the professionals had to say. I had no idea, at the time, that the "professionals" didn't have a clue. I feel very badly about some of the things I was a part of during my son's kindergarten year. I feel that they caused me to help contribute to the problem by not being informed professionals about ADD/ADHD.
I trusted them, went along with their demands and contributed to the problems. Foolishly, I felt that these people, who were trained in the handling of children and issues related to education, were giving me the best advice available.
At the time, James had not been diagnosed. They said James was psychotic. Having had an abusive relationship with his father, there was lot of guilt on my part as I felt I had caused these problems. So again, in an effort to do everything I could for my child, I listened to these people, took their "wisdom" and training to heart and went along with their ideas.
In looking back, I believe that a lot of the problems stemmed from their assumption that my son's problems were due to poor parenting. And the fact they didn't want to deal with his issues and needs and, instead, placed the problem at my feet to deal with.
David: So what would you recommend to parents who find themselves in a similar situation today?
Brandi Valentine: If I had the opportunity to do it over again, my advice would be this:
Find out WHY your child is having these problems. Do this by asking the school to do the testing that is available at their end and also have your pediatrician do whatever testing he/she recommends.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! AND THE SCHOOL'S RESPONSIBILITIES! I believe that school professionals rely on their "authority" as professionals to get parents to do as they ask without question. I have learned to question everything until I am satisfied that the professional talking to me is knowledgeable and working in the best interest of my child.
Be involved! I am in contact with my children's teachers on a regular basis. I don't usually wait for them to come to me with a problem. I stay in touch and make sure that they understand that I am available if there are any problems or concerns.
David: When you say "know your rights and the school's responsibilities," where does one find that kind of information?
Brandi Valentine: Good question! In 7 years, I have NEVER had a school district, teacher or principal tell me what my rights were, or that I even had any. If it hadn't been for a very sad situation at my son's school, I never would have known there were rights for parents and children.
I found an excellent manual on my rights and the school's responsibilities through a legal organization that did advocacy work for disabled children. Today, you can find this information EVERYWHERE! I have a zipped copy of this manual available on my site here at healthyplace.com and you can find this information listed by state at www.specialedlaw.net, as well as the Wright's Special Education Law site.
David: So, to summarize this part of our discussion, the first thing you are saying is -- don't be intimidated by school officials; and secondly, if you know your rights and the school's responsibilities, you won't have to depend on what the administrators say and take that as gospel.
Brandi Valentine: Exactly! I have found that the school is much more responsive when they know that they are dealing with a parent that is knowledgeable about their rights.
David: Once you learned your rights and the school's responsibilities, was it a pushover? Did they say: "Well Brandi, we're not going to fool with you. How can we help?"
Brandi Valentine: I wish! No, but seriously, once they realized that I was aware of my rights and their responsibilities, I got a lot less of the "we'll wait and see" tactics. Instead, they were aware of the federal laws and guidelines they must abide by and they all knew that *I* was aware of the guidelines. It made it much harder for them to tell me there was nothing they could do, no services available, and took away a lot of the "delay" tactics I ran into.
David: When Pete Wright was here talking about special education law, he discussed the importance of documentation, documenting all conversations with teachers and school officials, doctors, everyone! Essentially, I came away with the impression that he was saying you really have to be your own advocate, your own lawyer in these matters. Do you find that's true?
Brandi Valentine: Very true. What is the school's incentive to be your child's advocate? They don't have any. YOU are the best advocate your child has. Documentation is very important.
David: Here's an audience question Brandi:
jill: Did the school district ever advise you that you had better put your children on medications or they wouldn't be allowed back in the building?
Brandi Valentine: Yes. In the beginning, they told me that I had to stay in school with my son in order for him to be taught. I quit my job to go to kindergarten with my son. Later, when I took my son off Ritalin for a one-year period, the principal told me that she was concerned for the safety of the other children and that I had to put him back on medication or attend school with him.
David: What did you do?
Brandi Valentine: I told the principal that there were children, without medical problems and not on medication, that were more of a threat to the other children than my son. My son has had a great deal of problems with bullies and taunting, both physical and verbal. It's pretty hard to maintain that my child is a danger to others when there are other children pounding on him who aren't on prescription medications.
I refused on both counts and the principal dropped the issue.
David: What's been your experience regarding medications and ADD-ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)?
Brandi Valentine: Medication has been a godsend for my son. Medication, in my opinion, is a personal choice and not one that should be forced upon a child or a parent.
I also believe that many teachers and professionals are under the impression that medication is a "magic bullet" approach to whatever problems they are having with a child. I have seen a lot of what goes on in classrooms. I have sat in classrooms that are so disruptive and disorganized that the school fired the teacher and brought in an ex-police officer to control the class.
Mix that with children who have different learning abilities, learning challenges that have been undiagnosed, and some teachers are looking for any way they can to make the job they have easier. So they look to medication as an answer rather than piling more work onto an already overloaded work schedule, that would allow them to treat children with more individuality.
David: Here's a question from the audience:
angie: Should I start keeping a record of things since my son will be starting in a couple of weeks or should I wait until kindergarten?
Brandi Valentine: Start now! Many parents do not realize that the school is responsible for helping your child from the day he/she is born.
I found out early on, while James was in preschool, that there were problems. 1 year of preschool and 2 years of kindergarten, and not once, did anyone tell me that there were solutions for the problems my son was having.
Once James entered a structured setting, such as preschool, his ADHD symptoms became more apparent. Teachers then told me there were problems, but failed to tell me that I had avenues to follow.
I would pay close attention to how my child does. Take notes, document, and ask that he/she be tested now for special education. Identify those issues as soon as you can. It will only help your child out down the road.
Joan: Even though I know my rights, I feel like every time I go in to talk to the teacher or the administration about my son, it's going to be a battle. Any suggestions?
Brandi Valentine: I take a support person with me to help keep me on track and help me remember that I need to do what is best for James and not fight with the school district. I make a list of all my issues and questions to help me out. And... I take my manual in with me to all meetings. It's one thing to know your rights, but when they KNOW you are well informed, it's hard to ignore you and/or beat around the issues when they can see with their own eyes that you have the facts in front of you.
8360kev: Do you think diet is better then Ritalin?
David: Have you had any experience with that Brandi? Have you tried adjusting your children's diets?
Brandi Valentine: I can't say that it's better, but I do believe that it is overlooked as a possible solution or at least a benefit to the child.
I have tried several diets over the last couple of years that have made a difference. I can't begin to tell you how much certain things can interfere with your body such as glutens, wheat products etc. I believe that children, on-or-off medication, can benefit from a better diet.
On medication, many children have problems with appetite suppression. If they are not eating well, how can you expect them to be getting all the nutrition they need? I also believe that children with allergies, have more problems with ADD, ADHD symptoms. If you can alleviate these through diet, I would certainly try it.
David: And definitely beware of sugar items, like sodas, snacks, ice cream, etc. That only adds to the hyperactivity.
Can you give us an example of two or three food items that you changed in your children's diet, and what was the difference that it made?
Brandi Valentine: I haven't changed any food items in their diets other than watching the amount of sugar that they eat. Not because of hyperactivity issues but because sugar can deplete the body of minerals. I do add an essential mineral and a multi enzyme supplement to their diet. I do this, because minerals are necessary for proper brain function, and enzymes are necessary in order for minerals to be effective. Enzymes also help with proper digestion and aid in the breakdown of foods.
My experiments with diet have been limited to just myself and my issues with pain and arthritis, etc.
Lesia: Just a week ago, we found that our son is possibly ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and the doctor has told us that he would like to put him on Ritalin 5mg twice a day. My husband and I have only heard bad things about this drug. We think that he is too young for this medication. What do we do? Please tell me that we have another road to take, other than medicating him.
Brandi Valentine: How old is your son?
Lesia: He is 3 yrs. old
Brandi Valentine: Please remember this is just my opinion and that I am not a medical professional.
My experience and opinion is this: even though my son was displaying what I now know to be ADD, ADHD symptoms at 3 years old, if I was given a diagnosis at that age, and was told to medicate him, I would ask myself these questions:
What drove me to seek a diagnosis? His behavior? Is he aggressive? Do I instinctively know that there is something wrong based on behavior and other issues? If so, even with the diagnosis, at 3 years old, I would try other methods simply because Ritalin can impact your child's life forever.
We know now that children who have been on Ritalin are not candidates for the military. If you have used Ritalin, it is much harder if not impossible to get a pilots license. Plus, the choice to medicate often comes with a large burden of guilt.
On one hand, you have professionals who are eager to see you "medicate first, ask questions later". On the other hand, you have others, who want to condemn you for placing your child on a class 2 substance simply because you can't effectively parent your child. Then, you have your own doubts as to whether or not you have done the right thing, about the long-term effects, etc.
I feel that if you try other alternatives first, and choose medication last, then, without guilt or doubt, you can say to yourself that you chose the best route for your child. 3 years is so young.
David: Also Lesia, if you are not comfortable with this doctor's opinion, I would certainly get a second and even a third opinion.
Brandi Valentine: May I ask what drove you to seek a medical diagnosis?
Lesia: We always said he was outgoing and left it at that, but he's in a school for the blind, and the school suggests that we get him checked. The school has been good, and they have been working with us very closely.
Brandi Valentine: You had the medical evaluation, have you had the academic evaluation? That would be just as important to me. They now know that many gifted and talented children are misdiagnosed as add/adhd due to the fact that going unchallenged leaves them bored and exhibiting symptoms similar to ADHD children. Also, a learning disability might be the cause too.
If this was my child, I'd be more inclined to be sure that there wasn't another way to address the problem. Perhaps an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) would give him more individualized help. Help like that, might give him the ability to do what is being asked of him, without the aid of medication. 5mg of Ritalin is such a low dose, I would definitely try to address his issues without it as long as I could.
David: Brandi, since you introduced the subject of "parental guilt"-- earlier you said you felt very guilty when you found out your children had ADHD. Can you talk about that a bit? Your feelings and how they have changed over the years, if at all? Also, how you have coped with that guilt?
Brandi Valentine: I didn't feel guilty about the ADD ADHD diagnosis. That part was the big relief. Most of my guilt has come from the fact that, for so many years, I was told that my son's problems were a product of my inability to parent. I was told this by school professionals, medical doctors, family members, etc. The ADHD diagnosis lifted some of that guilt, by telling me that I was not responsible for what was happening to my son, but then, new guilt issues stepped in.
Many family members accuse me of making a "momma's boy" out of my son, using the ADD/ADHD as an "excuse." Knowing that your child takes a class 2 substance like Ritalin, with possible side-effects not yet known, adds some guilt, as well as what the label of special education has done to my child with regards to his future. And then too, the fact that I consented to have him committed to a psychiatric facility for 2 weeks.
I'd like to say that I handle the guilt well, but I can't. A lot of times, I am able to keep the guilt behind me, not let it affect me. But there are times, when no matter how much rationalization I do about the choices I've made, someone will say something that brings some of this guilt to the surface and I have to deal with it.
Hindsight is 20/20. I do feel that I would do some things differently, but for the most part, if I sit down and think about the choices I've made I have to say that I made each one with my son's best interest at heart. And each decision I made, at the time, was the best possible one to make.
I simply try my best not to put myself with people who do not understand or support my decisions. Unfortunately, some of these people are family members, but I do my best to either avoid the issue with them or avoid them. I can't function properly or have faith in my decisions if I let those that do not support me or understand me, undermine me with guilt.
David: And that's a great point Brandi. We, as parents, can only do what we think is best at the time. We are not experts in every field and so sometimes the choices may not be the best ones. But that comes with 20/20 hindsight.
I know it's getting late. Brandi, thank you for being our guest tonight and sharing the things you've learned and for being forthright about your feelings. We appreciate that. I also want to thank everyone in the audience for coming tonight. I hope you found it helpful. Visit Brandi Valentine's site, ADHD News, right here at HealthyPlace.com.
Brandi Valentine: Thank you for having me and thanks everyone for coming.
David: Good night everyone and thank you again for being here tonight.
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Last Updated: 31 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD