When I practiced pediatrics in a traditional office, I would often meet new families and their kids who had just moved to the area or transferred from another doctor’s office. Every now and again, I’d meet children who had already been diagnosed with ADHD, and who had already been started on a medication by their previous physician. Their parents were often acquainted with how to get and update their children’s Individualized Education Program/Plan (IEP) for school accommodations, so that their learning plan would be structured with their ADHD in mind.
To the external observer, it would seem that these kids were good to go, with everything they needed to succeed. Sometimes, even their parents seemed satisfied that they were no longer getting complaints from school and that their kids were able to sit down and do their homework without World War 3 breaking out before their final math problem.
However, one thing I noticed is that many of these families had not been given any other strategies or tools to help their kids succeed with, much less understand, their ADHD.
Of course, sometimes, if they had worked with a psychologist, doctor, teacher, administrator, or therapist who was particularly good with educating and counseling families on ADHD, a few families did come away with advice and plans on how to support their kids beyond starting a stimulant medication and getting some classroom accommodations. Unfortunately, that seemed rare. Which is a problem, given that more than 60% of children continue to experience ADHD symptoms as adults1.
It’s hard to blame the psychologists, doctors, teachers and other folks who weren’t able to support those families with additional strategies and tools. Imagine being a pediatrician with 5 other babies, kids and teenagers waiting for you in the office, one of them feverish with belly pain possibly from an appendicitis, another one wailing in pain from her ear infection. Imagine being a teacher with 30 other kids to attend to every day in the classroom with a family to take care of at home. There’s always another child who also has pressing needs, so when a child or adolescent with ADHD appears to be doing “good enough” on medication, they may be forgotten in the shuffle.
That’s why finding the right team of people to help with your or your child’s ADHD is so important. Depending on your situation, you may benefit from different specialists on that team: a psychologist, a doctor (a psychiatrist or primary care provider with experience managing ADHD), a therapist, and a coach are all roles to think about when putting together that team, depending on your needs, age, other physical or mental health considerations, and so on.
I’ll eventually write a series with more things to consider for each of these roles, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) The Ability to Truly Listen.
Despite the fast-paced world we now live in, where teachers, therapists, and doctors are forced to take on more and more work with less and less time and money, there are those people who still know how to listen to you (and your child, if they’re the one with ADHD).
By listening, they have the opportunity to find out what you are uniquely struggling with and need support for, instead of just giving you a one-size-fits-all lecture or treatment plan that they hand out to everyone who walks in their door and utters the letters “ADHD.” Over time, the person who listens can begin to understand the nuances of your situation, becoming better able to advise, coach, and treat you because they come to truly know you.
While this may sound like common sense, I cannot even begin to stress how important this basic quality of human connection is for someone to truly support you with your ADHD journey, and how it cannot be taken for granted. There are a lot of barriers to listening these days in schools, doctors’ clinics, and therapists’ offices: packed schedules, computer documentation, healthcare burnout, and even just a plain lack of awareness by an inexperienced teacher or doctor of how critical listening is to truly helping others. Do not assume that it’s standard for someone not to pay attention and listen to you (or your child), and do not accept that there isn’t someone out there who *will* listen.
2) A Teacher’s Heart.
There is so much information out there to absorb about ADHD. You could probably spend years going through all the books, YouTube videos, blogs, magazines, and other great resources that currently exist. I am constantly impressed by some parents who, in addition to balancing family time and work and dog walks2, somehow manage to read all the books and watch all the videos and become experts to rival the trained professionals.
That being said, it’s hard to wade through the oceans of information out there. Having people on your team who are good at honing in on the tips you need is incredibly valuable so you can focus your energy on learning the information and strategies you need to thrive.
Not only is it important that they can help you sift through that information, however: they should be good at teaching it to you. If you are an adult, can they convey complex information in a way that you can understand without having to constantly refer to a textbook or Google? If they are speaking to a child, do they seem to have a good understanding of what that child can grasp at an age-appropriate level… without putting them to sleep from boredom? It take’s a teacher’s heart to help arm you with the strategies and tools you need.
3) A Holistic View of ADHD.
The sad truth is that so many people in the serving professions have been reduced to trying to recognize a pattern (“oh, he has ADHD”), providing a generic solution (“let’s get him an IEP/stimulant medication/standard therapy”), then ushering you out of the room as fast as possible so they can see the next patient or client. Of course, one-size-fits-all is not how human beings work, as much as we all wish it did for the sake of convenience.
Finding educators and providers who understand that there is no single, silver bullet for ADHD will most likely bring you more success in the long run. There are providers who recognize that each individual is different, with different factors that influence your well-being. These people know that a holistic approach that combines medication, therapy, coaching, nutrition, exercise, and so on will make the biggest impact over the long term.
These folks may be harder to track down. Our educational and healthcare systems are notoriously terrible at talking to each other, and our healthcare system is quite siloed and divided and just not great at keeping everyone in the loop. Yet, imagine if everyone on the team worked together? If your therapist, your coach, and your doctor all stayed in touch and worked together with you to find solutions that worked for you? It sounds like a dream… but I say, dream big.
One of the most important things you can build with a team that has the qualities above is trust. A team of people who listen to you, who have an earnest desire to teach and support you, and who see the unique, whole person you are, is hopefully going to engender more trust. Especially when it comes to something that touches so many parts of our lives like ADHD, that trust may make the difference between you feeling able to share your challenges openly and get the support you need, versus not feeling that you can voice your challenges and ending up more frustrated.
I wish that I could say that it was easy to find a team you can trust, but it does take some work and some time. That being said, it’s worth the effort, and in the long run, you’ll thank yourself for finding the best people to have your back as you move forward with this journey.
1) Sibley MH, Swanson JM, Arnold LE, et al. Defining ADHD symptom persistence in adulthood: optimizing sensitivity and specificity. J Child Psychol Psychiatr. 2017;58(6):655-662. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12620
2) Ask me later about my theory about people with ADHD and their dogs.