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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Laugh in the Face of ADHD (Um, no I don't)

I don't get it. Does this mean the book is NOT a best-seller?
This Wimp-out Wednesday, instead of a self-serving summary (alliterate much?) of my pursuit of employment, I’m delving into an Important Issue with caps. Content Advisory: if you don’t like serious topics interspersed with irreverent humor, proceed no further. I’m just warning you. I plan to blog about Kelli Stapleton, who is about to be sentenced for first-degree child abuse after a failed murder/suicide attempt involving her autistic daughter. It’s certainly no laughing matter, but I approach everything with humor. If I didn’t have that defense mechanism, I would probably be in Kelli’s shoes. Who knows? Maybe I am.
     As the mother of an ADHD child, I have experienced a small taste of the stress Kelli Stapleton had to deal with. Small taste, mind you. Although autism is much more difficult on families than ADHD, there are similarities (they are related, after all). Some of the drug treatments overlap, ADHD kids can become violent and act out in frustration, parent support of both ADHD and autistic kids is lacking. Being imaginative, I can easily make the jump. And that scares me shitless.
     I’m thinking if I can, there are probably others who can see themselves at risk for this tragic consequence. Others who haven’t had the best childhoods to set an example for functional family life. (The news article said that Kelli’s was “chaotic”) Others who might be going it all alone (while I have a husband who actively participates in the raising of my kids, Kelli did not). People who are so busy struggling to get appropriate treatments and therapy for their children there is no budget left over for themselves. They may not be able to articulate this fear, but I would bet a million dollars that right now there are women (and some men) out there who might find themselves in the position of seeing no other way out than concocting a drastic plot to end the suffering.
     Kelli Stapleton most likely could be defined as legally insane when she gave her daughter sleeping meds and lit a pair of charcoal grills inside her van with the intention of killing them both.That is not something a mother with fully-functioning faculties (again with the alliteration. MAKE IT STOP!) would do. But I checked out her blog (and you can too, here).
      Now tell me if that sounds like the ramblings of a crazy person. (Hint: My blog sounds more like the ramblings of a crazy person.) Correct answer: It does not. She was quite obviously at one time fully vested in her daughter’s treatment and well-being. Before her mental health deteriorated, she was an advocate for autistic children; a former molecular biologist who gave up her career to attend to the demands of raising kids in general, and specifically a child with special needs; a single mom; a woman who had found a good, effective behavioral treatment program for her daughter and was trying to afford it when she lost insurance funding.
     Her husband said she was crazy and that the daughter wasn’t violent. I find that pretty hard to believe. More likely, Kelli Stapleton was a sane woman who became so afraid for her own safety that she cracked and lost all reason.
My oldest helping at O.A.T.S
   Autistic children all have episodes of violence. My daughters volunteer at a therapeutic horse program for children with special needs, and there are a lot of special needs kids that volunteer (sometimes in lieu of riding) as well. (I don’t really see my ADHD child as a volunteer with special needs. Her needs aren’t special special needs—more like moderately charming and sometimes extremely irritating needs. Or something like that.) Anyway, there is one high-functioning autistic teen in particular who helps out with the horses. I didn’t even know she had special needs—she’s that mainstreamed—but when my kids brought their new baby rabbit to the barn to show the program directors, and the girl I mentioned asked to hold the bunny, my daughters didn’t let her. I thought it was cruel until I was told by everyone in the place that she would immediately throw the baby bunny across the room if it made even so much as one move to cause her any discomfort. No one wanted to risk a bunny death. Yet her parents deal with the possibility of that same spontaneous violence every day, like a ticking time bomb.
      My own ADHD child has threatened me with a hammer, kicked and bitten her siblings, and once I got the distinct feeling that she considered punching me in the side of the head as I drove down a winding road. I had to remind her that the car would most likely run off the road if the driver was rendered unconscious. (Better safe than sorry, huh?) Once she threw a rock at her brother, chipping his tooth so that he had to get a root canal at the age of six. The tooth still occasionally becomes infected, causing him a lot of pain and calling for a dose of antibiotics. I don’t even know if that act of violence had anything to do with her ADHD. It might’ve been just a dumb kid mistake. It was kind of a blessing in disguise, because  1.) it didn’t hit him in the head and 2.) she’s had the opportunity to witness how an impulsive act on her part can have far-reaching effects. And I think it scared her enough to keep her from throwing rocks in the future. That’s what it takes to teach a lesson to an ADHD kid.
     Guess what? It takes even more to teach a lesson to a child suffering from autism.
Brianna rides sometimes in exchange for helping.
     Our family has been in our fair share of therapy sessions since my daughter has been diagnosed, and before she was diagnosed I’d been lectured by a number of pre-school and kindergarten teachers about the task ahead of me, i.e., raising The Anti-Christ. You see, they’d written my daughter off at that point as a bad student, a wicked child, instead of considering she might have an attention disorder. Even today—five years after her diagnosis—I sometimes wonder if the early teachers were right about her (It was her second-grade teacher who suggested we take her to a psychiatrist for evaluation). I often wonder, could she be bad? Our relationship is so damaged, that I can barely see how to patch it up—yet I’m trying. I wonder how Kelli’s relationship with her daughter was. Not good, I’ll bet. So heartbreaking for a mother.
      It’s hard to tell which behaviors stem from the ADHD and which are just plain brattiness, because no child is perfect. Mine has had to work extremely hard at what has come easily to her other siblings: things like empathy, sharing, appropriate hygiene, kindness. I need the Lady Gaga concept of “She was born this way” constantly reinforced by her therapist, who also reminds me at every session that my daughter has a lot of good qualities (all common among ADHD kids). She’s driven (and I need to stop seeing this as obsessiveness), quick-witted, confident (and I need to stop seeing this as being a know-it-all), able to appear competent in pretty much any situation (and I need to stop seeing this as conniving behavior that will someday result in her heading up a Ponzi Scheme), punctual (And I DO mean punctual. She freaks if we are running late for anything—even though she is often what causes us to be running late), demanding of perfection, loyal to the end of days, imaginative (not manic, as I sometimes fear). I’m sure Issy had her strengths too, but the light of these was probably doused as she and her mother soldiered on trying to stay one step ahead of Issy’s disorder.
     The question is: why didn’t this family get help? All they had to do was ask. Okay, if that’s what went wrong, here, I am officially asking for help on behalf of every parent of a child with autism/ADHD/bipolar disorder/schizophrenia and any disorder I might’ve missed. They need help. We need help. So now that I’ve issued this official plea for help by proxy, does that mean that if we fail to come to their aid the next tragedy is on us?

For more information on autism, visit Autism Speaks 
Families coping with the myriad challenges related to autism can also call a 24-hour hotline for assistance: 1-800-273-TALK.


  1. Thank you for this excellent and empathetic post, Jen. I'm not dealing with either an autistic or ADHD child, just single parenting for the time being, and there are moments (days, weeks, months!) where murder/suicide starts to seem like a logical option to me. I do think the next tragedy is on us as a society for not stepping up to ensure all parents, and especially to those of special needs kids, have an adequate support system.

    1. You are so right. Parenting is a nightmare. There should be more support for ALL parents. Single, temporary single, same-sex, adoptive. Everyone. I once worked with a woman who'd had a preemie at the same time I had a normal, to-term baby. A few years later, she had another baby, this time to-term. She hunted me down and said, "You didn't tell me it was this hard." I guess I was responsible for warning her of the potential pitfalls of motherhood. It seemed a bit ridiculous at the time, but then I remembered that I was especially careful not to complain to her about the lack of sleep I was experiencing and other unpleasant aspects of mothering, because I figured she had so many added things to deal with, she didn't need to hear me go on. Yet--as a result of this failure of communication on my part--she figured all the challenges she faced resulted from her child being a preemie. She expected the second kid to be smooth sailing in comparison, but is it ever? What we need is more communication. We need to lose the who-has-it-harder competition and the whose-kids-are-doing-better competition. Maybe break down the barriers of support groups and encourage a few moms of special needs kids to join general moms groups and vice versa. I bet we'd find that some challenges are universal and also that we can find support in surprising places.

  2. I appreciate your honest sharing. I have a daughter who was difficult from 4 to 14, even without a formal diagnosis (though she insists she has one--an attention/anxiety mix of some sort). I am pretty darn sure I would have been a parent to snap, had I had a larger problem to cope with. Mental health is something we can't take for granted and constant stress can certainly push us over the line. I'm glad you had a teacher give you good advice fairly early on.

    1. But I'll bet your daughter's doing well now, right, now that the most difficult years are past (I hope, I hope). I read a book that claims ADD and its derivatives are just the vestige of brain programming from our hunting/foraging days (they have 'hunting' genes). So these are the people you want on your side in a zombie apocalypse.

  3. Thanks for reading! I obviously could go on and on about this (and have quite a few times, plus will again). Some teachers are supportive, but we always run into a few that deny there's anything physically wrong with our kid. I understand in a sense, because it's not easy to deal with these children as they're often difficult. But if everyone took a couple extra steps to ensure their success now, the same "problem" kids will repay us by making the world a better place. I guarantee it. Unlike me, these kids like to ACT instead of sitting around writing and thinking about things. Maybe one of them will even find a cure for autism some day.