Vicky Evans talks to us about her experiences with her son, getting a diagnosis for ADHD, and now supporting other Mums through the same process.
When you are watching as your child seems to be coping less and less well with everyday life, it can feel like a hopeless place to be. Questioning what you’ve done wrong as a parent and having no idea how to turn it around.
There is a lot of stigma around ADHD because often it can be labelled as an excuse for some of the challenging behaviours associated with it. A stigma that often only serves to make the parents feel even more isolated. Vicky tells us what ADHD really is and how to navigate that often long and extremely windy route to a diagnosis, from someone who’s lived it.
What is your background and training?
I am a mum of two and my son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was nine years old, after several years of failing to cope with increasingly challenging behaviour. I had no idea why he was becoming more aggressive or why he would say such horrible things about himself or other people. I felt completely alone and had no idea who to ask for help, or what to do next. I was walking on eggshells in my own house and at school he was barely managing to stay in the classroom. I felt like I had failed as a parent and that I was being judged by the people around me, including my friends and family.
Once my son received a diagnosis, it was still six more months of waiting before we could start the parent training course CAMHS provided [editor’s note: CAMHS is the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the UK]. However, once I started this training, everything started to make a little more sense. I could suddenly see the reasons why my son was getting so frustrated and lashing out. It was at this time I also met other parents of ADHD children and I realised that I was the only one that hadn’t yet tried medication for my son. This was down to the fact that I’d been so terrified by the list of side effects for the medication and had no real guidance on what we should try, and no other parents to ask advice from.
Nevertheless, we were starting to make a little progress. The more I was learning, the more interested I was becoming in how the brain works and I decided to train as an NLP (neurolinguistic programming) practitioner to better understand my son’s behaviour. Once I’d completed this training, I began to use these techniques to alter my own parenting techniques, so that they were more suited to my son. Things really improved from that point, meaning we had much fewer meltdowns and arguments at home and he was doing much better at school. I gained the confidence to speak to his school and let them know exactly what he needed to be able to cope better, and it worked!
I also started to reflect on the process we’d been through for the ADHD diagnosis and what would have made it easier. I realised that the long waiting times meant that children were waiting too long to get the support they needed, and their self-esteem was taking a nosedive throughout that time. I also realised how isolated I’d felt throughout the process and that I hadn’t even known how to get the process of a diagnosis started. The more I was learning the less challenging behaviour we were experiencing and the more positive my son was becoming. We were re-connecting as a family and I was finally starting to feel in control again. I left my role in airline management and took a job as a teaching assistant for a year to have the time to focus on my learning and my son.
I then decided that I should be using what I had learned and our family experiences to help other families and stop people having to wait so long to get support and not feel so isolated.
I now run my business, Parenting ADHD, around my job as a teacher.
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is a neurodevelopmental disorder, that commonly runs in families. It is the result of the part of the brain responsible for self-control and attention having developed differently. There is no cure for it, but it can be managed very well with behaviour management training for parents, and with medication.
ADHD is not as simple as your child displaying challenging behaviour and not listening to you. During the diagnosis process you, as the parent, and your child’s teacher will normally be asked to complete a Conners test. This is a questionnaire that is used to assess for emotional, behavioural and academic disorders. It is very detailed and helps build a picture of what is going on in your child’s everyday life and whether they meet the criteria for diagnosis. These criteria include symptoms being displayed before the age of twelve and present for at least a six-month period. They also need to demonstrate that these symptoms are having an impact on everyday life and are present in more than one setting; school and home.
Now before we delve into identifying the challenges associated with ADHD, there are some positives. Although ADHD children can’t focus easily on tasks that they don’t find interesting, they may be able to hyper-focus on things that they do enjoy to the point that they become very good at them. There are several entrepreneurs, scientists and sports personalities that either have been diagnosed with ADHD or are thought to have had the disorder. People with ADHD are often funny, creative and really do care about the people around them. People with ADHD are just as likely to be as successful as their peers, if they find what interests them.
What are the different types of ADHD?
ADHD is the umbrella term, but there are three types of ADHD presentation. The inattentive type, sometimes known as ADD, the hyperactive-impulsive type and then a combined presentation, where the child displays both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types. You will be told what presentation your child displays when you receive a diagnosis.
What are the signs of ADHD?
There are many signs that your child might be struggling with ADHD, and it is not as simple as saying your child is hyperactive or struggles to pay attention, as these can be true for lots of children.
Here are some more specific signs to look out for:
Difficulty getting organised or starting tasks
- Often loses things
- Struggles to transition between activities
- Not able to easily tidy up after themselves
- Struggles to comprehend how much time has passed
- Needs constant reminders about time limits
Difficulty focusing on mundane tasks
- Struggles to complete homework
- Gets into trouble at school for distracting other students
- Daydreaming / staring out the window
- Flying off the handle at the smallest thing
- Aggressive behaviour
- Negative about themselves
- You tell them to go and do something and then find them 10 minutes later doing something else
- Gets angry or upset when you need your child to switch to a different activity
- Transitions cause upset or hyperactivity / anxiety to worsen
Poor working memory
- Difficulty recalling what’s just been said to them
- Lots of work committing things to memory and ‘learning’ information.
Thinking before they say or do something
- Missing the ‘stop and think’ capability that we all have
- Acts impulsively
What should you do next if you suspect your child has ADHD?
Firstly, have look at the signs of ADHD listed above and decide if think your child is showing any of them. Your child needs to be showing signs in a significant number of these areas for at least six months and in at least two settings to be diagnosed.
Start talking to professionals or other mums, but make sure it is people that will know something about ADHD. One great thing I was told a while ago was to never take advice from people who haven’t been where you’ve been or haven’t got to where you want to go. It’s the best advice I’ve ever had.
When you speak to your child’s teacher, make sure you are asking specific questions, not just asking if they think your child has ADHD. The reason I say this is because teachers (through no fault of their own) are not trained to spot ADHD and will not necessarily be aware of the signs to look for. Children also present their ADHD differently in school than they might at home. Keep your children’s reports, keep in contact with the teacher about how they work and behave at school and keep a log of any incidents that your child has been involved in.
Keep a diary of events that happen at home, that you feel may be out of the ordinary. Problems you are experiencing that other parents don’t seem to be experiencing. You need to collect evidence to present to your GP or Educational Psychologist and a diary of events would be useful, including ‘triggers’ to these events. Videos of your child’s behaviour that worries you may also be useful.
If you have been refused a referral or you don’t think you have the right diagnosis, then you need to go to someone else. The same professional is not very likely to change their mind unless you provide some new substantial evidence. Go back to the list of signs of ADHD and put your case together again and start again.
Even if you don’t receive a diagnosis, but you are certain your child shows some of the signs, then getting behaviour management training for yourself in the first instance will make a difference in your home. Behaviour management training for parents of children with ADHD is much more focused on changing the behaviour and expectations of the parents, not the behaviour of the child.
Why is low self-esteem a common theme?
Imagine yourself constantly being told things like, ‘you need to listen’, ‘you need to concentrate’, ‘you’re being too loud’, ‘why are you so weird’ or getting into trouble because you can’t stop and think before you react to something. Imagine noticing that you are different, that you have less friends than other people or you keep getting low marks at school because you are finding it hard to pay attention. Imagine feeling like this for years, and as a result you feel more and more negative about yourself.
Low self-esteem itself causes a lot of the challenging behaviour that is then associated with ADHD children. Anger, embarrassment and anxiety start to cause things like a bad temper, being mean to people, cheating, lying, attention seeking. For this reason, we need to focus on boosting self-esteem as the key to rectifying challenging behaviour. Often, just by raising self-esteem these challenges will start to disappear as you are tackling the cause of the behaviour rather than the behaviour itself.
How can you help other parents and their children?
I help parents understand what ADHD is and what it means for their child, and I help them link the challenging behaviours to the reasons behind them. I show parents how changing their behaviour and expectations can turn family life around by reducing arguments and boosting self-esteem. They can start rebuilding relationships and focus on making sure their child has the tools they need to live a positive life.
Boosting self-esteem is the focus of my work with parents, not only of the children, but also for the parents who often lose faith in their own parenting abilities through this process.
I work with families online in 1-2-1 sessions and I offer an online course that takes families from diagnosis, to becoming more aware of their own behaviour and becoming an expert in their child’s needs.
Where can we find you?
Vicky Evans is a parent coach, specialising in ADHD behaviour. Vicky uses her experiences with her own child, as well as the knowledge from her training as a school teacher and NLP practitioner, to provide practical tools to parents. Vicky has a talent for helping you understand what ADHD means for your child and the reasons behind their challenging behaviour. She loves working with families to help them achieve a calmer and happier life. Find out more about Vicky’s coaching services in our directory here.
Vicky also runs an online Facebook support group, Parenting ADHD. It is a wonderful community of Mums who have children with ADHD. Within the group Vicky provides support as well as practical tools to reduce arguments, boost your child’s self-esteem and reconnect as a family. Find out more about the Parenting ADHD support group in our directory here.
Vicky is based in the UK. She can work with you via online platforms such as Zoom or Skype.
For further information about ADHD these websites are also very useful:
ADHD Australia – https://www.adhdaustralia.org.au/
ADHD Support Australia – https://www.adhdsupportaustralia.com.au/
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is intended as a general educational aid. It should not replace advice given by a qualified healthcare provider in relation to your own unique circumstances and those of your family. Always consult your doctor regarding medical or mental health concerns that you or your family may have.