This month is ADHD awareness month, which is a topic close to the heart of Debbie McKinney, our Service Manager in Doncaster. ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a health condition which can affect people’s ability to focus and can lead to additional challenges in education and work. Debbie has three grown up children, all with ADHD, and was delighted when one of Changing Lives’ services was able to support them in their search for work. This is her story.
As well as being a manager at Changing Lives in Doncaster, I am also a single parent with three boys. All my boys have been diagnosed with ADHD.
What does that mean to those without first-hand experience?
Well, as a young parent I had never heard of ADHD, but I soon became familiar with it.
My eldest son didn’t sleep through like my friend’s children. From being able to crawl, he was an escape artist. And he was asked to leave mothers and toddlers as he didn’t seem to grasp the concept of going round the other babies, not through them.
He was diagnosed with ADHD at five years old after being referred by school and the GP, and we were put under a consultant at the hospital.
When the twins came along five years later I recognised the signs early on: not sleeping through, hyperactivity and the need for a play pen that resembled Alcatraz to stop them escaping.
Children with ADHD quite simply act before they think: they are impulsive; they have no fear; they don’t think of consequences or risks; and they just don’t stop or seem to pause.
Parenting with ADHD requires a thick skin, running shoes, caffeine, tolerant neighbours and an ability to think one step ahead all the time.
The twins learnt quickly that if they could escape and run in opposite directions then I could only chase one at a time – always the one heading nearest the road first – and then, with that one under my arm, I’d catch the other. I have been to the shop in bare feet and pyjamas with a child under my arm regularly!
The thick skin is for the looks, tuts and comments from strangers who believe they could parent so much better, but have no understanding of the personal circumstances of our family.
I am overfamiliar with the opinion of people who would start sentences with ‘If they were mine’. Professionals like to have useful suggestions too, they tend to start with, ‘Have you tried…’.
And, the answer is yes. Yes to the naughty step, time-outs, star-charts, pocket money, egg timers, the list goes on. And did it work? No.
However, there are plenty of positives to parenting a child (or children) with ADHD.
The great side is my boys are funny, loving, popular, caring and always make me laugh. There is never a dull moment and life will never be predictable. I could write a book on the craziness that we have been through and we are still a close and loving family.
They’ve also taught me so much about people whose lives are more complicated than others, and I have a huge capacity for coping with stress, workloads and people who need empathy rather than judgement.
One of the challenges the boys have faced, as they’ve grown older, is finding a job. People with ADHD can be easily distracted and have a lower concentration level than others. This can make the hoops we all have to jump through to find work, a much trickier target.
Fortunately, the boys have benefitted from working with a Changing Lives project here in Doncaster that helps people to get into employment.
The project provided them with help to write CVs, apply for jobs, prepare for interviews. They phoned them to encourage them before attending interviews. They even offered driving lessons to help them broaden their search area for jobs.
Thanks to their hard work and determination, as well as to Changing Lives, all the boys are now working and succeeding.
People often say ADHD doesn’t exist. But speaking from experience, it definitely does. With a little more awareness of the condition and the appropriate support from professional agencies, there’s no reason why the unique talents of people with ADHD shouldn’t be seen as a benefit to an organisation.
As for me? Well, the coping skills and ability to see one step ahead have certainly given me the confidence and life skills to thrive in management. And I wouldn’t have my boys any other way.
Last year, Debbie’s sons Jack and James gained an apprenticeship and then full-time employment through our Talent Match programme in Doncaster. Find out more about their success here.