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Q: I am a 13-year-old girl who is trying to understand ADD. My mother divorced my father and married my stepfather, who had undiagnosed ADD. They had a son, my half brother, who was diagnosed with ADD when he was six. My stepfather was diagnosed with ADD. I have been told what ADD was, but I can never truly understand it. I feel like I can never really communicate with my stepdad. He always seems like his brain is fuzzy. Can you give me some communicating tips to help me talk to him in a true conversation without feeling like ripping my hair out? Also, can you help me communicate with my eight-year-old brother who has this problem, too?
A: Glad you asked, Sarah. Living with family members with ADHD can be a challenge and it's important for everybody in the house to have a good understanding of this condition. Otherwise, kids and parents can get very frustrated when communication is difficult or when you encounter a "fuzzy brain." When you need to say something important to your step-dad or your brother, it's very helpful if you say: "I really have something important to tell you? Is this a good time? Or place?" (Since they both may be distracted by many things going on around them). It's very hard to get a message across when the TV is on, or when there are lots of people talking and doing things all at once, like in a mall.
Talk to your step-dad and your brother and ask them what the best conditions are for listening. They may want you to tap them on the shoulder or say their name when you need to talk with them. It might help if you ask them to come into a quiet room and ask them to sit facing you. As silly as it sounds, you may want to set up an appointment with your step-dad to talk with him about something special, so he'll reserve that time just for you. When you want to tell him or your brother something, let them know something about the message in advance. For example, you might say: "I really want you to listen carefully because this is very important to me. There are three things I need to know from you. May I ask you now? The first thing is..." and so on. You might even want to consider writing messages to them on a piece of paper or a message board reserved for just that purpose. If they use email, that's another way to get their attention. Calling them on the phone (even if it's from one room to another) is a way to help them hear only you. The phone focuses your voice right where you need it to be (unless of course, there's a football game on TV).
Here are some books that might help you, your dad, your brother, and your mom. By the way, how is your mom dealing with this? She may have some pointers for you, too, or she may need this advice as much as you do.
- My Brother's a World-Class Pain: A Sibling's Guide to ADHD-Hyperactivity by Michael Gordon, Ph.D. (A story that helps families deal with ADHD.)
- Learning to Slow Down and Pay Attention by Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. and Ellen Dixon, Ph.D. (Illustrated with cartoons and contains activity pages to help kids learn how to pay attention and get more organized).
- Eagle Eyes by Jeanne Gehret, M.A. (A child's view of ADHD)
- Distant Drums, Different Drummers? A Guide for Young People with ADHD by Barbara Ingersoll, Ph.D. (written for children and adolescents, age 8-14. A positive view of ADHD)
- I Would if I Could: A Teenager's Guide to ADHD-Hyperactivity also by Michael Gordon, Ph.D. (A humorous book that looks at impacts on family relationships.)
- All Kinds of Minds by Mel Levine, M.D. (This is a great book for helping children and adults understand learning disabilities and attentional problems).
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.