Beyond Surviving: A Story of Thriving with ADHD

Oct 25, 2016 | Posted by Jennifer

In my house I have a son who I’m trying to help grow up into the man he’s meant to be. He is my sweet, precious boy, and I love him very much. He’s a delight, but at times he’s a disaster. All his life he has struggled to form himself into a round peg when he is very much a square one. He has severe ADHD, and he faces his condition daily with renewed determination that humbles me.

As a baby, my little boy slept a lot. When he finally decided to wake up around eighteen months of age, he entered a state of virtual perpetual motion. He was an entirely different experience than what I’d had with his big brother. Suddenly, I saw the wisdom of having all the outlets covered, the stairs blocked, and the CDs and other breakables put on a higher shelf out of his reach. He was into everything, and by everything, I mean EVERYTHING.

We muddled along, my little whirly-bird boy and I, quite happily, until “schooling” started. I couldn’t, for love or money, get my boy to sit still. He couldn’t engage with his text books, no matter how colorful they were. So I got rid of them. I invested in creating a “School in a Box.” Instead of doing math worksheets, we rolled dice and added them up. We grouped tiny pompoms into groups of three or five or six and counted them. We put spider rings, gummy worms, and plastic lizards in groups and discussed their differences and their similarities. I pulled out three objects at random and asked him to create a story out of them that had at least one problem and a solution.

For a long time, that was our school. It took approximately twenty minutes a day because that’s all he had to give me, frankly. To say I wasn’t worried would be a gargantuan lie. I did worry—a lot! And I prayed—a lot! As my little boy grew taller, we did eventually start doing more formal study, but it looked a little different than what I was doing with his brother.

This sweet boy found that if he could stand and do his studies orally, he could focus better. When he got tired, Wikki Stix worked their magic. He fiddled with them while he sat with his brother and sister and listened to me read from a story or their history or science. Even though to my eyes it appeared that his mind was a mile away, he was the first one to try to answer a question about the reading, and he was almost always right.

We added IEW writing when he hit third grade. Not knowing any better at the time, I had him work through Level B of the Student Writing Intensive because that is what I was using with his brother. (IEW would usually recommend beginning with Student Writing Intensive Level A* with a struggling learner.) While he needed my help with scribing, he actually managed the course just fine as long as I didn’t make him work for more than twenty or thirty minutes at a time. He simply couldn’t take it.

School subjects have certainly been challenging for us. I’ve had to adjust my expectations over and over again. I tend to forget easily. I have been known to push him harder than I should. I get frustrated with myself more than him these days. My sweet boy is now in the 11th grade. He has survived very well in an academic co-op for the past two years. He has even survived me as his IEW English teacher!

This summer he entered our local state college as a dual enrolled student. He wanted to challenge himself outside of the homeschool environment to see if he could manage the rigors of inflexible deadlines, difficult professors, and long classes. The first class he took was a three hour, three-day-a-week math class that began at 6:00 PM. Talk about pressure! He stuck with it, and while it wasn’t easy, he ended up with an A in the class! Our family celebrated when he got the grade, and my son’s smile lit up the room. He had done it!

And he continues to “do it.” This term he’s carrying three classes. He’s working hard, has joined a student campus volunteer organization, and has found friends in a gaming club that meets on campus.

I’m breathing easier these days, though I do have some regrets. I wish I would have been calmer in my son’s younger years, that I would have enjoyed him more for his unique abilities and gifts. During one particularly challenging period, I sent him to stay with his grandpa for a fun break. Grandpa recognized right away what this busy boy needed. He took him to his friend’s machine shop and set him to welding a piece of metal. That Christmas, my father gave him his very own anvil as a Christmas gift. It was his favorite gift that year, perhaps ever.

Yes, ADHD has certainly been a challenge in our home, but by keeping lessons brief, choosing subjects that were as meaningful as possible, and allowing him plenty of time to explore things that mattered to him, we have emerged from the other side of ADHD stronger. My son is excited about his future college prospects, and he is continuing to learn ways to self-manage his schedule and his professor’s expectations. I know he has a bright future ahead of him!


*The Student Writing Intensive series was discontinued in November 2019. Structure and Style for Students: Year 1 Level A is now recommended for most struggling learners.

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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