When a parent comes to the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Parent Support Group and begins to tell a story of struggle, Vicki Norris is among the other parents in the room who truly understand.
|From left to right, Bart Hodgens, Cryshelle Patterson, Annie Artiga and Elizabeth Sheridan recently launched an ADHD Parent Support Group. |
“The relief is almost palpable when a new person comes in and starts to talk and everybody starts nodding their heads, showing they understand their situation,” Norris says. “It’s almost like a puzzle piece fits in for them. They are like ‘I’m not crazy. I’m not a rotten parent.’”
UAB established the ADHD Parent Support Group earlier this year for those with elementary- or middle school-age children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The group meets the first Thursday of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Community Education South located at 1220 50th Street South. The meetings are open to parents of children with a diagnosis of ADHD. Licensed UAB psychologists Bart Hodgens, Ph.D., and Cryshelle Patterson, Ph.D., along with graduate students Kim Guion, Annie Artiga, and Elizabeth Sheridan, began the program to fill a void for area parents.
“We do evaluation clinics here and we’re constantly giving recommendations to families,” Hodgens says. “We would have liked to have told them there was a support group they could be a part of, but we weren’t able to do that. That was the main motivation, but it also evolved out of our summer treatment program, which we will be hosting for the fifth consecutive year this summer.”
Goals of summer camp
The ADHD Summer Treatment Program is a six-week therapeutic summer day camp setting with daily recreational activities, art classes, direct academic instruction by certified teachers in a classroom and a computer lab. This year’s camp, which has filled all available slots, is scheduled for June 16-July 25. Individual goals are established for each child and parents receive daily and weekly reports on their child’s progress.
“It is very involved and intensive,” Patterson says. “The philosophy behind the program is skills building.”
“There is very clear evidence that medication will treat the three core symptoms of ADHD, but it does not teach important skills in daily living,” Hodgens adds. “It doesn’t teach you how to make a friend, how to keep a friend, how to resolve a conflict, how to catch a softball, or what the rules of the sport are. Our treatment program is based around the skill-building idea in a general sense — problem-solving skills, social skills, athletic skills, academic skills and lots of work on cooperating with a group. They have individual target behaviors that we develop for them and parents get daily report cards. They develop a behavior modification system at home that they can then use for school. There are many different elements to it.”
Norris says the camp was a “life-changing experience” for her child and her family and the support group continues to help her build on that foundation.
What is ADHD?
The three core symptoms of a child with ADHD are hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. The single most important feature of the disorder is that it causes impairment.
“As a consequence of the impact of ADHD, children often are failing at life in a lot of areas,” Hodgens says. “If they have significant ADHD their peers frequently do not want to be around them. They find them annoying and intrusive. They’re not able to function well in an academic setting. Essentially, every area of their life is in upheaval, and their parents are probably extremely frustrated.”
Indeed, parents of ADHD children face many challenges and research shows they experience very high levels of stress — on par with parents of children with autism and other severe disorders.
“It’s very frustrating for them because parents often find themselves back at square one,” Hodgens says. “Children with ADHD don’t do a good job of utilizing rules and instructions. They’ll often know what those rules are they’re just not able to implement them at any given moment, meaning they’re more likely to act on the impulse of the moment. That can be particularly frustrating for parents because it is not due to a lack of understanding or knowledge on the child’s part.”
For example, parents of all school-aged children frequently complain about how hard it is to get their child to do their homework. However, during homework time the frustration level for Norris, as well as other parents of children diagnosed with ADHD, is different and more pronounced.
“What it means for us is that we have a massive meltdown for two hours and everybody in the house is completely frazzled and on the verge of tears,” she says. “It can take over a household.”
While Norris and other parents of children with ADHD can relay those stories to their family and friends, they often don’t fully understand how difficult and stressful it is to parent a child with this disorder, Hodgens says.
That’s why Norris says the support group has become such an important tool for parents. It enables them to network, provide support for one another and receive education from Hodgens, Patterson and graduate students. The educational component, which also is part of the summer treatment program, develops a set of goals for parents to acquire knowledge in, such as anger management, stress management and coping strategies.
“We want parents to walk away from the group feeling as through they have things they can use in everyday life with their child, all while hearing what other parents are having to say and knowing they’re not alone,” says Elisabeth Sheridan, a graduate student who works with the families along with fellow grad students Annie Artiga and Kim Guion.
If you or someone you know is interested in learning more, visit http://main.uab.edu/Sites/adhd-support/ or call 934-5471. Learn more about the summer treatment program.