October brings cooler weather, Halloween costumes, and pumpkin patches. The spookiest month of the year also happens to be ADHD Awareness Month. ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is "is a neurological condition that impacts executive function, working memory, impulsivity, focus, distractibility, and emotional health". This month serves to raise awareness and continue to break down stigmas associated with an often stigmatized disorder. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance wanted to sit down with a Pennsylvania father, Kevin Welsh, who was not diagnosed with ADHD until after all four of his children were born to gain some perspective on what it was like growing up with an undiagnosed disorder, how it impacted him as a student, and how his life has changed after his diagnosis. We also want to connect parents with some very useful resources that can help you better understand and help your child with ADHD and can start to answer some questions for parents who suspect their child might have ADHD.
When asked whether or not Welsh recalls having trouble in the classroom growing up he brought up the fact that he hid behind his humor. "I fooled around in class a lot because it was a lot easier than paying attention." said Welsh; "especially in math class I used my sense of humor and personality to try and distract from the fact that no matter how hard I tried to focus and figure it out it hardly ever clicked for me". Excessive talking and getting distracted from the task at hand are both symptoms of ADHD that can be recognized in a child. For a more extensive list of symptoms to look for in a child click here.
Welsh worked very hard at being a student and called himself "a B student at best". This can be the case for many children with ADHD because they often have to work harder to get themselves to focus on the task at hand and their natural state is often different than that of other children. For a more in depth explanation of this idea take a look at Dr. Deep Penesetti's take on it.
It wasn't until a casual conversation with his doctor during an annual physical did the topic come up. He was talking to his doctor about the stress of being a young father of four and said that he often had problems finishing tasks and what one second was a priority to him, the next second he nearly completely forgot about it. This caused issues at work and at home with bosses, and his wife being frustrated with outcomes, or lack of outcomes, of many projects that he began with great initiative. His doctor ultimately diagnosed him with ADHD and wrote him a prescription for Adderall. This diagnosis sent a wave of relief over Welsh because he finally began to understand why certain things had been so difficult for him his entire life. Seconds after the relief came a concoction of other emotions including anxiety, stress, curiosity, and fear.
"I told my boss immediately. I worked in sales and my boss had always asked me how I was able to build such great bonds with our clients, to the point where I was being invited to their children's birthday parties, but I was not always able to close the deal and make the sale. This diagnosis made sense of that concern of hers and knowing it and getting medication for it made me a better salesman." Because of my being open with my symptoms and diagnosis with my boss it made her think of her own son, who went to his doctor and was also diagnosed with ADHD. We here at PA Parent and Family Alliance have seen how impactful it can be to be vulnerable and share your story. This interaction with his boss not only helped him as a salesman but helped her son get a much needed diagnosis.
When faced with the task of telling his wife about his diagnosis he was slightly more hesitant. His wife was raised by a single mother who preferred a "rub some dirt on it and toughen up" approach to parenting which had been passed down to his wife. This and the overall stigma of mental health issues had made him very nervous to tell the important people in his life. He told his wife what their doctor had said and that he was planning on taking the medication she had prescribed to him. He would be lying if he said his wife was completely understanding and supportive at first. "The hardest part is that nobody can see it if you break your leg everybody can see and know that obviously you need a cast. With something going on in your mind nobody can physically see it so it is harder for them to understand that you need to take care of it.", said Welsh. His wife did, however, come around when she realized the marked difference in him when he stayed on top of it.
"I do wish I was diagnosed earlier in life, I think it would have helped me through every aspect of my life. Most importantly I think to be aware of the fact that I have ADHD would have helped me finish college. When I was in college I was so easily distracted and had such issues focusing on my work. One of my biggest regrets is dropping out and I really do think being diagnosed could have changed that."
Welsh grew up in the 80's when mental health was highly stigmatized. Your children are growing up during a time that has a lot more understanding and research surrounding the world of mental health. If you suspect your child might have ADHD click here to take an online exam to see if your child's symptoms could point to ADHD.
If you are a parent reading this thinking that maybe you could be in the same boat as Welsh and have ADHD yourself click here to take an online adult ADHD test. When asked what Welsh would tell a young parent who was having the same problems he was but is nervous to seek help he said; "in order to be the best parent you can be you have to take care of yourself. Check in with yourself and do what you need to do to make sure you are always there for them in the way they need you."
Sharing his story not only made Welsh a better partner and dad but also helped his boss find answers about her son's challenging behavior. Sharing your story matters. To learn how you can Share Your Voice with our community and others click here.