Living with ADHD during Lockdown – Chantelle shares her family story
Living with ADHD during lockdown
My name is Chantelle Knight, and I work as a PSHE Framework Development Officer for Portsmouth City Council. As part of my job role, I support schools in teaching children life lessons – about relationships, emotions, mental health and wellbeing.
I have many titles – woman, mother, partner, employee, business owner, amateur K1 (kickboxing) female, author, poet, philanthropist, and day dreamer extraordinaire! It’s fair to say that, like many parents, I have more sides to me than a 50p piece!
This is probably a good time to mention that I am also neuro-diverse – I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD -diagnostically named Severe Type ADHD). What this means is that for each side of the 50p piece, I have an equal 5 sides and 5 sides after that! You can find more information about neurodiversity here: https://portsmouthlocaloffer.org/information/neurodiversity/
In this blog post, I’d like to talk about my personal situation over the lockdown period, with a focus on the different things that have helped myself and my family through it – I hope you will find it useful!
For most families, routine and structure are a fundamental cog in the integral construction of positive performance – which sounds very professional, doesn’t it?
Only I am not writing this blog as a professional, so I would like to translate that to something that may be easier to understand. I am a woman who manages having a professional job, whilst combating a medical condition that totally overrules my ability to self-regulate (control my thoughts and emotions). I’m also raising 3 little versions of me who need the same structure, balance and boundaries that I myself struggle to maintain. This is especially complicated in a time of lockdown, where none of this is even possible because we are restricted to our own 4 walls and without our usual routines.
Welcome to the world of a neuro-diverse family in completely unprecedented times! My first message of this blog is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I hear you. I hear you, parent who has learnt how to ‘attend’ online meetings with your child’s school over the past few months. I hear you, parent who has wanted only for your child to be understood and accommodated for their own individual need. I hear you, parent who is coaching your child and helping them confront the inner demons that are most often displayed when they are at home with you, where they feel comfortable to just ‘be’. I hear you, parent who has worked hard to access specialist support, hoping for the ‘right outcome’ for your family. I hear you, parent who is trying to overcome the educational obstacles, wanting the best for your child who is classed as SEN, and now you have to be parent, teacher, employee, and everything else combined … I hear you.
It’s very easy for us to compare ourselves with the ‘family next door’ – you know the ones, who have all eaten breakfast, bathed, dressed, and are doing phonics at 9am. Meanwhile, we are scratching our heads over why there are 3 left shoes by the front door and no right shoe in sight, negotiating a packet of crisps for breakfast as long as your child logs on to a google classroom! Because the reality is, unlike the ‘child next door’, our ADHD child didn’t go to sleep until 3am and then either woke up 2 hours later full of beans again, or needed dragging out of bed past 12 noon.
I would like to share my first-hand experience as (1) an adult with ADHD, (2) a mother of ADHD children, and (3) An educational professional in the field of ADHD. I am openly taking the opportunity to discuss the inner workings of an ADHD family and the impact this condition has on children’s mental health.
This is especially important when considering the impact of the pandemic on education. Our 2020 year 11 cohort of students have struggled over the past year. For every child with ADHD, mainstream secondary education is full of ups and downs. The stress of year 11, mock exams and GCSEs affect all, but neuro-diverse people more so, which is understandable when we consider what an exam is. It is a 2 hour window to remember as much as you possibly can about a subject. The very nature of ADHD is an attention deficit, which can become a lot worse under pressure.
After all of the stress, revision, and preparation, this particular year group did not sit their exams in the end. This couldn’t be helped, and for some students this was possibly a blessing in disguise, and for others a huge disappointment after all of their hard work. This brings me on to the topic of college. A hopeful land for ADHD students. Parents reading this blog will probably relate to this: we spend the whole of Year 11 and probably most of Year 10 championing our ADHD kids to go to school – “You’re nearly there” “College will be SO different” (it is) “not long now” “you’ve come so far” “keep going” “you’ll be in college soon”.
For the 2020 year 11 cohort, this was not the case. When they did finally get to start their college placements, everything was different. We had moved to a digital world, where lessons took place on tablets and materials were shared electronically.
Teaching was delivered on a platform that is incredibly difficult for neuro-diverse students, who so regularly rely on verbal dialogue and instruction to understand and process the task at hand, as well as the presence of a physical teacher who they can ask questions and check they are on the right path. For this reason, my daughter struggled hugely with adapting to working and learning this way. It was too inaccessible for her ADHD, and as an adult with ADHD I can heavily relate to that.
It isn’t easy at 16 to give up on something, especially if you have ADHD, because we are so programmed to be sensitive to our “failures”. But it is not failure if you are 16 / 17 years old right now and are struggling with college learning. There are other options. My daughter has an apprenticeship and is thriving. She has found her way to adapt, overcome and succeed. Sometimes we need to adjust our goal posts – even if we have been set on the path we have wanted to take for many years. Now, more than ever, it is OK to do something different. We can always go back to education. It is a life long journey.
The pandemic has meant many changes for daily life, with education and school being just one. However, I would like to end this blog post focusing on the positive, which is that the lockdown did provide us with moments of togetherness we might not have had otherwise. Where hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention were thoroughly embraced, where moments were locked into memories, to be nothing more and nothing less than pure, acceptable and welcomed freedom for my ADHD children to express themselves with very few time constraints.
This is what we have achieved during this time:
- Accepting change and adapting to it
- Establishing new routines and making ourselves accountable for them
- Setting personal goals and completing them
These achievements are definitely worth celebrating, especially in a time where it feels like celebrations are limited! As a family we have been faced with many challenges over the past months, but we have also shown that we are capable of adapting to these changes, even if it hasn’t always been easy.