Thunderstorms and Rainbows: The Extraordinary Life of a Child with Behavioural Challenges

I am the single mother of an extraordinary boy. He arrived in this world on May 27, l997 at 2:30 a.m. after an interminable amount of hard work and coaxing, an attitude, I must confess, that pervades his life to this day. His first few minutes of life were concerning, but when he was returned to me from the necessary procedures, I was reassured by his quiet perfection. I didn’t realize while looking in his face, that this would be the beginning of an incredible relationship, not to mention one of the few blessed moments of quiet.

At the age of six, my son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder. While not all of this was apparent during his infancy, there were facets of his budding personality that upon looking back, marked what would be the most challenging role of my life.

My first clue that he was indeed going to be a challenge was when I asked the night nurse how my son had slept and was told "…restless". Let me tell you, that didn’t even begin to cover his sleeping patterns! After bringing him home from the hospital, I quickly learned that his idea of sleeping through the night was nothing like mine. I counted myself as fortunate when my ‘bundle of joy’ slept for two continuous hours. He refused to sleep anywhere, except on my chest, or beside me in his car seat. I can still remember my absolute elation when he slept a solid four hours!

I had put him in his baby swing in front of the television. Being that I was exhausted, and the swing’s automated mechanisms only ran for fifteen minutes, I attached my housecoat tie to the back of the seat, thereby providing myself with a very effective, functional apparatus to rock my son. (I must admit to being very pleased with my ingenuity). So, while he slept soundly for the four hours, I dozed on the couch behind him, waking every so often to pull the string.

Thinking I had stumbled upon the magic formula to coax my child to actually nap, I was eager to repeat the performance the next day. After a half hour of false starts, he finally drifted off to sleep. Imagine my disappointment, when only another half hour passed and he was awake…for the rest of the day. So much for a magic formula!

I would like to say that he outgrew his insomnia, along with the need to sleep with me, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Up until the time he was six months old, it wasn’t uncommon to finally get him to sleep in time for me to say good morning to my daughter, who was getting up for school.

Around that same time, I decided to move him from his ‘make shift’ bed (a full size, fold down stroller) into his crib. I can recall talking to my family doctor about how impossible it was to familiarize my son with his new sleeping arrangements. He told me it was not uncommon to go through a difficult transition period, and gave me instructions on how to ease him into his new bed with a minimum of fuss.

Armed with his ‘words of wisdom’, I decided to put it to the test that very night. The plan was to put my son in his crib, and leave the room. After fifteen minutes, I was to go in, settle him down to sleep, and again leave the room. I was to repeat this as often as necessary, and was assured my son would only cry for about an hour or so.

After five hours of screaming, several phone calls from irate neighbours, and twenty some odd trips to ‘reassure’ my son, I gave up. For the next year and a half, I spent my nights sandwiched between my son on one side, and my husband on the other. It was either that or risk waking the neighbours.

In a Pollyanna like effort to remain positive, I thought perhaps my son’s aversion to sleeping in his crib was due to a comfort factor…after all, those mattresses are not exactly built for a relaxing night’s sleep. So, shortly after my son’s second birthday, he was moved into his own room with a regular twin sized bed, minus the legs.

To my delight, he absolutely loved it. He bounced on it, built forts with the blankets, converted it into a racetrack one day and an army base the next, but come bedtime refused to stay in it more than five minutes at a time. There went the ‘comfort’ theory down the tubes.

For seven years, I waged a nightly war, trying to get my son to bed and keep him there. Even though I did everything humanly possible, short of resorting to duct tape, it was "normal" to finally have him fall asleep by midnight or one o’clock.

The A.D.H.D., although not yet diagnosed, was noticeable by the age of four months. Wherein most children of that age are fascinated by the images on a television screen, my son showed absolutely no interest. The only thing that captured his attention was the occasional thirty second commercial break. As he grew older, it appeared that nothing could maintain his interest for longer than five minutes. He was constantly on the move from one thing to the next, leaving a trail of objects in his wake.

Around the time my son was entering kindergarten, socially restricting behaviours became apparent, coupled with a more pronounced inability to focus on tasks involving higher concentration, like cleaning his room.

This particular chore was generally met with complete non compliance. The main reason was not, as most people suspect, the fact that he just didn’t want to clean his room, which I assure you was part of the problem, he just did not know where to start, or how to complete, in his eyes, an insurmountable task.

Now I don’t know about you, but waging a weekly war over keeping a bedroom clean was not exactly how I wanted to spend my time. I had enough battles to fight without adding any more to my agenda. Simply trying to get my son to brush his teeth without either supervision or my help was exhausting, never mind trying to get him dressed and ready for school each day.

It can be very difficult to understand the thought processes and subsequent behaviours of a child with A.D.H.D./O.D.D. Whereas, when you say "no" to a child without these disabilities, he or she will generally subside and grudgingly acquiesce to your suggestions; the same response is not forthcoming from someone like my son.

The majority of "normal" requests, like; ’get ready for bed’, ’brush your teeth’, ’eat your supper’, etc., all have the same tendency to become the trigger that starts World War III.

Over the years, my son (who turned eleven a few days ago, a testament to my intestinal fortitude, plus my success as a parent) and I have become accustomed to a rather turbulent, as well, at times, volatile ‘mother/son’ relationship. He has learned to temper his outbursts somewhat, having conceded to using ‘Yes Mom’ as a sign he has heard my directions, and in turn, I have learned to pick my battles.

There is a lot of ‘give and take’ involved in our lives that isn’t generally present when raising children that do not have behavioural challenges. Where most parents simply expect and receive compliance with their rules and regulations, I have to explain the reasons why a certain task needs doing, when I want it completed, and the resulting consequences should it not be attempted. This ‘type’ of reasoning, though sometimes long and tedious, helps to limit the often times explosive reaction to the redirection of his attention.

This doesn’t mean that I have found the secret formula to actually get him to do the things I have asked, but with a lot of cajoling and repeated requests, (I believe the non politically correct term is ‘nagging’) I have managed to achieve the means to an end as it were.

Generally speaking, most families who have children diagnosed with these disorders have busy, stress filled, and at times, chaotic lives, that no one except another parent of these incredible youngsters can hope to comprehend. I have been told by other such parents who have more than one offspring, that had they been blessed with their behavioural child first, they never would have had a second one. (Seems I’ve heard that somewhere before…)

At times, I find myself buying into the mainstream thinking with regard to my son’s definite character traits, rather than celebrating the positive forces he also displays: he is funny, exceptionally smart, loving, generous, sensitive, kind hearted and curious, to name just a few of his wonderful qualities.

It isn’t easy being a ’kid’, as the majority of adults will attest to, and when you factor in a socially debilitating personality feature, it becomes downright difficult. Not only do you have the usual altercations and miscommunications that occur between children at school or home, you instantly have twice the speed and size of escalation, and triple the amount of episodes. Couple this already overburdened psyche with an Anxiety Disorder, and you have the recipe for a person who bounces off the walls, cannot concentrate for longer than 15 minutes at a time, has an attitude the size of Mount Everest (and not afraid to use it), and is resistant to change of any kind…not exactly an easy situation to contend with.

Suffice it to say, that living with an ADHD/ODD child is an adventure that isn’t for the faint of heart! My personal experience with my son includes school suspensions beginning in kindergarten, through and including grade 5, expulsion from a ’behavioural school’ in grade 2, half days through grades 1 to 3, psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors (three separate appointments each week), doctor’s appointments, specialist appointments, parenting classes, ’Care Team’ meetings, R.C.M.P., neighbourhood and school parent ’visits’ to list a few, but I’ll save those stories for another time.

As I am about to embark on yet another parenting program, I am hopeful there will be more ideas to try and tools to implement. I will keep you posted as to my success…

Enelle Lamb has been writing for 8 years, and to date has completed the first book in a children’s adventure series, with a fantasy series in the works. She lives in the Fraser Valley with her son, daughter and three cats.