THE ADDed Benefits of AD/HD: Meet Penny Williams, AD/HD Veteran

By Leslie Lindsay

Award Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom. A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom’s view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders.

Seriously, what more could you want from a dynamo parent raising a middle-school son with AD/HD? How about another book? That’s right, Penny has another “baby” about to emerge into the world: WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE NOT EXPECTING AD/HD due out in November 2014.

Well, you’re in luck. We have just the thing for you: an interview.

Leslie Lindsay: You’ve been quite the AD/HD Ambassador! Not only do you keep an active blog/website, but you have written three books (one of which is an ebook) on the topic. Can you talk a bit about your fierce devotion to the topic?

Penny Williams: My fierce devotion to ADHD was born out of necessity. My son was not doing well in school. Punishments, no matter how extreme, were not affecting his behavior much. The school wasn’t offering any ideas as to the root of the problems, instead, his kindergarten teacher blamed us for not preparing him for school.

I checked out over a dozen books on school and learning struggles from the library, but didn’t feel any closer to answers. As I waited the three months for my son’s appointment with the behavior specialist, I decided to start blogging about my son’s struggles, hoping others with similar issues would find me and point me toward the answers I was so desperate to find.

Once my son was diagnosed with ADHD (only a few weeks after his sixth birthday in 2008), my blogging focus turned to ADHD, and parents on a similarly challenging journey began to follow and comment. The website (amomsviewofadhd.com) took on a life of its own and grew to become a major resource for parents of kids with ADHD — a responsibility I hadn’t expected. I committed myself to blogging my experiences and news and information on ADHD regularly.

In 2013, I felt like I owed it to myself and my family to make ADHD move to a supporting role in our lives, and I gave up the website. Six months later, I found myself writing about ADHD feverishly, turning our story into a book, “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD.” Now I’m right back in the thick of it, writing books on ADHD and blogging about our family again, too. I feel like community is so important for those of us parenting a child with ADHD.

L.L.: AD/HD has become such a hot topic in recent years. In fact, like the subtitle of your book, might AD/HD awareness alternate in “peaks and valleys?”

Penny Williams: ADHD certainly waxes and wanes as a topic of debate. It’s a hot-button issue and many exploit that for media exposure. Recently, when the CDC numbers came out that ADHD diagnoses are on the rise, and that 10,000 preschool children were on stimulants (check that stat), the media ran away with it.

I think ADHD symptoms wax and wane too. My son has periods where he does well and then periods where it all seems to be troublesome all at once.

L.L.: There are a lot of folks out there who would (and do) criticize the diagnosis of AD/HD, suggesting it’s not “real,” or that these kids are just “typically energetic,” or perhaps the worst of all—it’s poor parenting. As a former child/adolescent psych R.N., I know this isn’t true. Yet, folks will scoff when we say our child has AD/HD or needs to be on meds to control it. In what ways can we kindly—and diplomatically—set the record straight?

Penny Williams: I don’t know how to kindly set this straight. It’s my experience that people will believe what they want to, no matter what facts I present to them. In all honesty, I feel the urge to be very unkind to those who spout off about ADHD being bad parenting, too much TV or video games, or (my favorite) a diagnosis made up by big pharma to reap big profits. The fact is, you really don’t understand ADHD until you experience it and educate yourself on it. Before my son was diagnosed with ADHD, his dad and I believed that ADHD medication was essentially doping a spirited child into submission. We know nothing but public opinion until we take the initiative to seek the truth. Those who don’t have ADHD in their lives really have no motivation to seek the truth.

L.L.: I understand your son has made the transition to middle school this fall. Wow, what a change! We’ve got new school stuff going on, plus the dynamics of adolescence (read: puberty) going on. How can we all work together as parents, kids, and educators to make this as smooth a transition as possible? And what might you have liked to have known *before* he headed off to middle school?  

Penny Williams: Oh boy! Middle school! I had dreaded this time since my son was first diagnosed. Success in middle school requires exemplary executive functioning skills. What do most kids with ADHD struggle the most with? Executive functioning skills. The new demands of middle school are the exact skills our kids struggle with most — a recipe for disaster. Add hormonal changes into the mix (and kids who talk about sex freely, even though your kid is too immature to yet understand it), and it’s enough to make this momma run away screaming.

The best plan for this transition is to meet with the school ahead of time. My son started a brand new charter school for sixth grade, so we didn’t have the opportunity to meet teachers or even walk the halls of the school before the first day. I recommend the opposite, but I also knew this expeditionary learning environment would be good for my son, once they work through the initial growing pains of being a brand new school.

L.L.: How might parents balance the time and effort that goes into raising a child with AD/HD with that of other siblings?

Penny Williams: This is a touchy subject in our house, as I’m sure it is in many of yours. Realistically, a traditional “balance” isn’t possible. When raising a child with ADHD and a neurotypical child, the child with ADHD requires more attention. That’s just the cold hard truth. And getting siblings to understand wants and needs, and that equality and fairness are not one in the same is like trying to scale an icy mountain in high heels — it’s just about futile.

Instead of striving toward “balance,” make sure that you give your neurotypical child focused time just for them. I make sure to take my daughter out for chocolate, shopping by ourselves, or even for a walk by ourselves. She often comes to the grocery with me now to get time to ourselves. This has made a huge difference in our relationship (she once told our counselor that she was certain we were going to build an alter to her brother), and her understanding and compassion for her brother, and what I go through being his parent.

L.L.: One last piece of advice? Something I didn’t ask but should have?

Penny Williams: Momma self-care is crucial. The oxygen mask theory applies — you must take care of yourself first in order to do your best for others. Raising a child with ADHD, or any disability, is enormously stressful. Moms need respite and calm. Moms need to feel good about themselves, as that reflects on their interactions with others.

Self-care can be as simple as locking yourself in your room for 10 minutes of quiet each day, or exercising daily. Getting together with other moms who understand your parenting challenges is key too. Yes, our kids are our priority, but not at the expense of ourselves.

BOY WITHOUT INSTRUCTIONS can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, select bookstores, and via Ms. Williams’s website. Please consider writing a review on GoodReads, too!

PENNY WILLIAMS

Award-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom.

 A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom’s view of ADHD}, and a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny and get updates about Ricochet at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

[cover and author images graciously provided by the author. Middle school image from www.ps87.info348 on 10.06.14 and world ADHD from  specialedpost.org on 10.6.14]

OCTOBER IS AD/HD AWARENESS MONTH!!!

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