Growing up with attention deficit disorder: from dreamer to achiever
Anneke Rautenbach (18) was a little dreamer who lived in her own world. She was six years old when specialists diagnosed attention deficit disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity.
Attention deficit disorder. A term that's bandied about to refer to children who either bounce off the walls or live in their own dream world. But when I was small you didn't hear it often.
I was the only girl in my class with the little white pill that had a neat indent in the middle so it could be divided in two. I still remember the bitter taste clinging to my palate. And to this day I struggle to swallow pills.
Every morning an older girl who looked like she was trembling with energy and I had to present ourselves for our mid-morning medicine.
We shared a smile but I didn't really understand what we had in common. At stop signs she would climb out through the car window; I was quiet and happy to sit still as long as there was a window I could look out of.
I sometimes lost my pills. And much else besides: jerseys, pencil cases, homework and important notes. I underwent a lot of therapy at the time, something called brain gym. When I was nine, I came first in my class and from then on I was fine.
I can't remember taking Ritalin after my 11th birthday or during school holidays. Ever since then I've done really well at school but I struggle if I have to do lots of things at the same time or when I have to manage my time very carefully.
I'll never know whether it was the little white pill or the brain gym that saved me. Or whether I did in fact suffer from attention deficit disorder or was just a dreamy little kid.
My organisational skills have improved. I'm also a prefect and proud of my blue badge... which reminds me, where did I put that little blue thing?
Anneke's mom, journalist Elmari Rautenbach, writes:
The afternoon my daughter, then six, and I walked out of the hospital, I felt shell-shocked.
A few weeks earlier, her teacher had called me aside and said my child was rapidly falling behind the rest of the class. She'd suggested we take her to a paediatrician and have her tested for ADD.
Anneke's diagnosis was attention deficit disorder, characterised by a lack of activity. She was the kind of child, he explained, who couldn't distinguish between all the stimuli around her and reacted by escaping to a dream world of her own.
I was still not convinced that medicine was the solution. Anneke started educational therapy and was moved to the front row in class. The teacher spent extra time with her after school. There was progress, but very little.
Another teacher gave me advice I remember to this day. His answer about Ritalin was simple. "For the right child at the right time it's like turning on a light." It also helped when we put her in a smaller school and started brain gym therapy.
We gave her responsibilities around the house and refrained from taking over when she took too long. Anneke gradually learnt to organise her life. She still makes lists and uses notes for studying.
Practical tips for parents:
Parenting a child with ADHD can be very challenging for parents, as Elmari testifies. Does your child have ADHD? Here are a few tips to help you cope:
- If dietary adjustments and supplements don't work and the specialist prescribes medicine, make sure your child takes it as prescribed so you will be able to report accurately on improvements and side effects.
- Arrange with your child's teachers that they sit in the front row in class.
- Teach them to make lists of things to do, pack or take along to school.
- Make sure there is a specific routine at home.
- Eat at regular times and teach your child that homework must be done at specific times.
- Give them an alarm clock and put up a year planner and calendar on the wall so that they can learn to plan their day and see sport days and music lessons at a glance.
- Check if and how they did their homework and make sure all tasks have been completed. Don't help them. Allow them to do it by themselves, even if it takes a long time.
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