“I knew he was hyperactive even before he was born” Molly would joke, referring to how her son Jake kicked and wriggled all through the pregnancy. At nine months he was running, escaping from his crib, and at eighteen months he climbed up the stairs—by climbing up the banister outside of the staircase. Because Molly had been a teacher before becoming a mom, she was no stranger to the signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “I searched for a preschool where he could be free to run” she recalls. “Even then I knew his school had to understand– this child must move to be happy.”
Over the years, Molly could see that her son was more than just a ‘high energy boy.’ “He never sat down on the couch, he hurled himself over the armrest. He didn’t walk down the hall, he jumped or crawled or pushed himself along the floor.” Jake’s energy level became a problem when he moved up to the ‘big kid’ room at his Montessori school. “I started to dread teacher conferences” said Molly, “Though I heard nice things about how smart he was and how much he was learning, most of it was the teacher complaining that he couldn’t sit still.”
Molly started to dread family gatherings too. “Its not like my siblings kid’s are perfect by any means” she said, “But everyone was so hard on Jake. Nobody seemed to get that he can’t control his energy level” On one occasion Jake pushed a door as he ran, leaving a dent in his grandparents wall. “My parents yelled at him and acted like he’d done it maliciously” she said, “The poor kid had no idea what they heck he’d done. My father started yelling at him, and told him about how he shouldn’t be the kid that nobody wanted to have come over.” Molly’s brother told her to her face that Jake was “too wild” for him. “He and my sister-in-law offered to babysit our kids,” she recalls, “My sister-in-law began the ‘playdate’ by showing him where the time out chair was.” Going out to eat with Jakes’s paternal grandparents could be a nightmare, with Jake fidgeting and getting loud if the food took more than five minutes to come. “Can’t you be quiet? What’s wrong with you?” his grandmother asked in frustration. “It was very embarrassing. It hurt to hear that,” reported Molly.
What frustrated Molly most was people’s assumptions about Jake. “People see him running or jumping or climbing, they think he’s not well behaved. But he is in the ways that really count. They don’t see that he is extremely kind to others. He’s very gentle with his little sister—very protective. He never hits or calls other people names. He likes to help. He wants very much to please, and he cries if he thinks someone is angry with him. He’s not oppositional or rude. Jake is one of the sweetest people I know.” People also made assumptions about Molly. “I am not a permissive parent,” she declares, “I believe in rules and discipline and I enforce consequences.” “The fact is that Jake can’t control his energy level, “says Molly. “Once you understand that, you know how to work with him, but you have to accept that he’s never going to be that perfect, docile child everybody wants.”
Molly needed to feel like she wasn’t a bad parent. She took Jake for an assessment (“It was painful seeing him through the doctor’s eyes as he flopped around her office”). Though she stated she knew her son had ADHD, it was a relief to hear a professional confirm the diagnosis. Molly and David switched Jake from his Montessori school for kindergarten in the public school. “It was amazing,” she said, “To walk in and have a totally positive parent-teacher conference! The teacher really ‘got’ him, and she loved him too! He just needed more structure.” Molly and her husband implemented a behavior plan at home that allowed Jake to earn lots of praise and rewards. “We have learned that we can’t slack off with the behavior plan” says Molly, “We’ve also learned to keep Jake active, to build in time every day for him to burn off energy, and to avoid situations where he would have to sit still for long periods or be too quiet.” “There’s always new challenges” said Molly, “I don’t know if we will end up going for classroom accommodations or private school or medication. Time will tell. But for now, we are in a good place. My son is happy and thriving, and it is amazing to watch him grow.”