I have a 13-year-old son called Alex. He fits snugly between two daughters (one older and one younger) and a husband, making what would look to society as the perfect family. The only difference is that Alex has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
ADHD affects around 3%-5% of the child and adolescent population in the UK. Even as recently as 10 years ago there was little awareness of the condition. ADHD is a diagnosed condition that affects the chemicals in the brain and is often referred to as the 'unseen disability'. Alex often looks normal – he just behaves in a way that is often unaccepted by society.
The main traits of the condition are attention difficulties, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, insatiability (the world is never enough) and social difficulties.
The true symptoms of Alex's condition came to light as soon as he started school. I was called in to the classroom almost daily because of his behaviour – which looking back on it showed all the hallmarks of an ADHD child.
Seven years ago I sat in a consulting room at our local hospital and was told my son suffered with ADHD. Like many people I had never heard of the condition before. I remember being overcome with relief that it wasn't me being a terrible parent who couldn't control her child – that there was some explanation why Alex behaved the way he did.
Even as a baby Alex was lively, funny, and exhausting. He even gave up his daytime nap at six months old! By 10 months he ran everywhere (walking wasn't an option). Taking him out meant strapping him into a buggy with three harnesses, which he still managed to escape from. Alex couldn't keep still for a moment and neither did I – trying to keep up with him. I cannot remember the amount of times I was told: 'Don't worry, he'll grow out of it. He's just a boy.” But he never did.
Toddler groups, playgroups and nursery were all a nightmare and although other parents appeared to be sympathetic, I knew my son was socially different and didn't fit into the mould. Family outings and shopping trips became a nightmare. People felt sorry for me, I was exhausted and losing the plot.
The hardest thing for me during this time was the feeling of isolation that Alex's condition brought. No one seemed to understand his behaviour or see the real child underneath. Alex was a happy, intelligent, sensitive and, above all, loving child who received knock-backs at every turn from school, peers and outside activities. This would grow to the point where I watched his self esteem replaced by anger and frustration.
Following Alex's diagnosis – as with most children with this condition – medication in the form of Ritalin was offered to us to help him. The thought of medicating my child caused endless anxieties, yet we felt he deserved the chance if it worked.
The result was miraculous. Suddenly we had a window of opportunity to work with him. He would sit and concentrate for short periods of time, he was less challenging, and he seemed generally calmer. Alex was able to cope better with the school environment and we started being able to go out as a family. We felt normal.
The biggest lifesaver for me was being signposted to the local support group. A phone call to a complete stranger one evening, who understood what I was going through, became my lifeline.
What helped me through was the acknowledgement that I wasn't alone – that there were other kids on the planet the same as my son. Friendships were made; our kids were accepted as they were. Knowledge and understanding of the condition, and how to work differently with Alex, made it easier for me to become his voice and fight his corner when I needed to.
My passion for wanting to change these children's lives has led me to work for our local support group, running parent education, providing respite, working with local schools and anyone who has any involvement with these children.
Although the journey with Alex has brought many challenges over the years, I feel we are all doing okay. With the right support, help and encouragement, kids with ADHD can achieve great things – and as a mother of such a child, I am determined he will be one of them.