Therapy: A Life Line

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I consider therapy and counseling to be right up there with chocolate and wine in terms of must-haves for a parent of a child with ADHD. Since the Best of the Best topic happens to be therapy, I thought I'd explain why I'd give my third-born child* to my therapist:


Have you ever considered he might have ADHD?

She sat back as she said it as though her words were dangerous, as though she was bracing for something. She was the behavioral therapist I sought out for Javi after long months of struggle and frustration and nasty feelings in my gut and heart.

Javi was just five years old and there we were in oversized chairs, talking to a stranger who used words like typical and defiant and manifestation. Stranger isn't the right word. She wasn't a stranger by then.

Every week for months, I sat across from her and willed myself not to cry as my eyes burned with the hopelessness of it all. Every week for months, I sat in the hall outside her office as she worked one-on-one with the child who dominated my thoughts and energy, who required so much more than I seemed able to give him.

Have you ever considered he might have ADHD?

The guilty struck me like an open palm. Yes, I had. And, no, I didn't want to admit it. ADHD, like diabetes and cancer, runs rampant in my family. The disorganized mess that was my childhood, the erratic extremes that my sister drug us to time and again, the last minute and late again jokes from family friends, the drugs and the tension and the anger...

Yes, I had considered ADHD. But I had also considered my faults. I didn't enjoy him enough, didn't appreciate his little quirks, didn't feed him a gluten- and casein-free diet, didn't make sure he get all the exercise he could, didn't force him to do things he didn't like, didn't quit my job to stay home with him instead of sending him to daycare, didn't protect him from destructive biological parents as soon as I should have. The list went on and on.

He was just a little boy. A little boy with huge brown eyes who told the most fantastical stories and made friends with everyone he met. A little boy who couldn't hold a thought in his head, who couldn't resist a single urge, who exploded in anger when things didn't go his way. A little boy who might have thrived if he'd gotten the parent he deserved.

But he was my little boy, and I couldn't stomach the thought of him having the same cluttered memories and disordered boundaries I grew up with.

Have you ever considered he might have ADHD?

His therapist saw my hesitation, my down-turned eyes, the way my shoulders dropped. She leaned forward, and pushed a box of tissues toward where I sat as the tears started dropping despite my best efforts.

I just don't know. I mean, he's so young. What if it's not ADHD? I choked out.

She nodded and closed up her notebook. She crossed over to sit next to me and said words that changed my life: It may not be. How about we try some things and see how it shakes out? We won't worry about medicine, let's focus on environment, diet, and structure. We won't know unless we try, right?

It was like someone finally saw me. Saw my fear (that throwing medication at him was a cop out), saw all the little details I felt I was screwing up (diet, structure), and was willing to work through it with me. I had an advocate, a teammate, in a battle I'd felt so alone in waging.

And then, together, she and I (and the Mountain Man when saw the results of what we were doing) got to work. I haven't felt isolated or alone in this uphill struggle since.

Therapy didn't change my son's behavior or his disorder, but it was a life raft when I thought I might drown in (what I now know for certain) was a frenetic combination of attention deficit and anxiety all rolled into one ball of five-year-old nerves. And, yes, I made an appointment for myself. I highly suggest it.


*No worries, there won't be a third-born child. Two is enough for this mama!


  • Kelly L

    I started therapy 2 weeks ago - I have two teenage girls and I sometimes feel like I just can't say or do the right things...

    I've Become My Mother

  • Kelly Miller

    I'm firm believer in it. Unpacking and examining our junk with someone we know won't ridicule or gossip about us can be immensely cathartic.

  • Shay

    When you say 'therapist' can you tell me what that means? We saw a psychologist for a while as a family and he didn't really do much for us. I have felt pretty defeated in trying to get help for my son after I was told he couldn't get wraparound.

  • Kelly Miller

    Hi Shay - we started with a behavioral counselor way back then (he's 10 now). She worked with us on setting boundaries, saying no, being organized in the home, journaling food and behavior, etc. Therapy was not just talk therapy, though a lot of it was talking.

    Since then, Javi has also worked with an occupational therapist (OT) on organization and social skills. Most recently, he went to a mini-camp offered by his doctor's office that focused on healthy eating choices and table manners. That was led by the OT, as well.

    I see a psychologist personally for my own mental and emotional junk, but we mainly work with the OT and behavioral counselor for ADHD-related issues.

    Hope this helps!

  • Shay

    Thanks so much for the feedback. This is all stuff we've been told he needs to work on, but we haven't got a clue how to help him. I thought the psychologist would help us, but he was fairly useless after one visit. He does have OT at school but it's for his poor handwriting/pencil grip.
    I'm going to try another time to get him wraparound services, since they sound like what you got with the behavioral counselor. I was told he couldn't get this service because it's only for autistic or severely retarded children.
    I feel very frustrated because all of the things you are talking about sound like they would be make a huge difference for my son, but it's like they are so out of reach and impossible to find. WHY is it so hard to find & get this kind of help? It's been years and I want to scream. (Sorry for my drama *blush*)

  • Kelly Miller

    We were referred by our pediatrician to a developmental evaluation center in our area. That's where we found out about the resources available to us. Of course, insurance doesn't cover all of it, so the cost hit was significant at first. I suggest you call around to all counselors/therapists in your area to find out if they recommend someone. We also have a local center for people with disabilities that gave us a list of private care options and we found a great tutor that way. (I should turn this into a post!)

  • Penny Williams

    Kelly, I am so seriously considering driving Luke over to your developmental center! A mini-camp on table manners and healthy eating?! You've hit the jackpot of ADHD care my friend!

    We are stuggling immensely with organization. Didn't think about the OT for teaching that, certainly couldn't get the school to do it, or even help me to do it, no matter how much I begged.

    We see a family therapist who specializes in ADHD 1-2 times a month but we always end up talking about fires and how to put them out and he never really learns any skills there. She's great, but we never seem to get that far before time is up.

    I may see about getting back to OT if they can work on organization and social skills -- hadn't thought of that.

  • Kelly Miller

    We did luck out. Unfortunately, the center didn't do as well here as it does in Raleigh, so it closed up. We now have to drive an hour each way to stay with the Fast Braiin program (http://fastbraiin.com). It's cumbersome, but worth it for now.

    Definitely look into getting an OT (or maybe a student in a counselling program?) to work on social and life skills, like planning, budgeting, and interacting with others. It's been a tremendous help!

  • The Mommy Mambo

    This was a great heartfelt post. My nephew is severly ADHD and I cringed the moment they started shoving pills down his throat. I know it helps them in school, but I fear a bit of their wonder and creativity and genius gets suppressed along with their need to stand up and fidgit 2000 x's per minute!

    This summer hubs and I have noticed that one of the twins seems to space out and tune the world out. Then turn around and ask the most profound quetions of insight!? He's way smart and his brain is always moving so fast that he often misses what goes on around him. And doesn't always remember why we sent him to the garage or closet and will come back empty handed and confused. Which drives HUBS nuts!

    He did awesome in Kindergarten. Top of his class, in fact. But after this summer I'm afraid if he is the same at school some teacher might ask to speak to me and want to label him ADD. And I don't know if I can remain as calm as you? And I know hubs can't.

    We shall see, I suppose.

  • Kelly Miller

    "Shoving pills down his throat" is a bit much. Javi does take 40 mgs of Vyvanse every day and it's been a lifesaver for us. We did not start with medicine, though, because I was uneducated and misinformed about it.

    After two years of trying everything else, we decided we had to explore medication and it was the best choice for us. I felt good about it because it was our last choice, not our first.

    Remember that ADD/ADHD is a combination of factors, not just a dreamy kid. Many kids respond better to a school environment and do just fine in school despite being spacey at home. Javi is forgetful and impulsive, but it's outside of his ability to control and he requires more help than structure and environment.

    Even on his medication, Javi is one of the most creative and intuitive kids I know. Today he has set up a scavenger hunt for his little sister and has created "sleuth" outfits for the two of them.

    His medication doesn't tamp down his personality, it allows his personality to shine through.

  • Anonymous

    I can't imagine anyone who couldn't benefit from a session with a skilled therapist. I think posts like this one help take away any lingering stigma that some people might have about seeking counseling for themselves or their kids. It sounds like you and Javi have found a really talented therapist. What a gift.

  • Floortime Lite Mama

    Great post
    WHat an interesting perspective
    you know I was thinking about this the other day
    A PhD student interviewed me on Floortime and how it impacted me as a parent and I was completely drained after that - I wondered then if I have supressed stress from all the questioning I did of myseld

  • Martianne

    "We won't worry about medicine, let's focus on environment, diet, and structure. We won't know unless we try, right?" That's where I am right now with my SPD/ADHD 5 year old. May it work!

  • Kelly Miller

    @K-floortime lite mama -- Interesting response! I never thought of it as suppressed stress, but I think it definitely was. I had been so careful not to go there and not use this "fake disorder" as an excuse for using pills to shut him up.

    Working with an expert in childhood development and ADHD allowed me to stop questioning myself and focus on making positive changes. The shift changed the way I parent and it affects me still to this day.

    I hope your "completely drained" was cathartic!

  • Kelly Miller

    @Martianne -- It *did* work for a couple years! We didn't turn to medication until the end of 1st grade. We created routines, removed a lot of junk from our diet, worked on coping skills, etc. I felt very prepared and on top of things because the counselor was coaching us each step of the way.

    Many people accuse me of over-parenting Javi, but it comes from so many years of really hard work that was designed to help him not need over-parenting as he matures (if that makes sense).

    We still have crazy days, and we do use medication now, but everything is so different and the diet/environment/structure changes we made back then are still beneficial today.

  • Kelly Miller

    @Kristen -- I agree. As I told a friend who's currently seeking inpatient mental health treatment, working with a therapist is not about needing to be fixed; it's about needing to be heard. We all need that!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Kelly,

    This made me also think about some grown-ups I have worked with who turned out to have ADD and were never diagnosed. While a label didn't automatically change things, deeper understanding did. It's sad how much shame and confusion clusters around our various differences.

    I hope other parents will become more comfortable to explore and heal... when it comes to therapy, you have to find the right match more than any perfect therapist—someone with whom you feel comfortable, as you did in your case.

    All Good Wishes

  • Kelly Miller

    Thanks for your comment. I agree, so many people's lives would be different if somehow they'd found out early in life that they aren't "bad," they are neuro-atypical and their brains don't work the same. The shame is removed and the issue becomes how to work with what is rather than what never will be.

  • Denise

    I love that in the moment you felt your weakest, you learned that you were your strongest--open to this wonderful therapist. And I love that she met you there. Beautiful post.

  • Kelly Miller

    Yes, Denise. I think that's what makes it so special for me. I needed to be seen and heard in a safe way. It clicked for me, then, and I've had wonderful experiences ever since.

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