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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Raising kids with ADHD: “It takes a lot of energy”

Robin Blitz, MD, a developmental pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

As a developmental pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Robin Blitz, MD, takes care of young patients with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other disorders.

At home, while raising two boys of her own, she’s learned firsthand how to navigate the rough waters of an ADHD diagnosis. Blitz talks about coping skills, management plans and keeping a sense of humor through it all.

One might assume that a developmental pediatrician would spot ADHD very early in her own children. True?

Aaron, who is now 21, was diagnosed when he was 7, but not by me, and [he was] not treated by me. He would get done with his work very quickly. But he was not the child who could sit still with his hands folded at his desk, even though that’s what his teacher expected. I, as a mother, thought that was a little ridiculous.

You talk about how his desk was too small, which made it tough for him to sit without squirming around and making noise.

It was a distraction in the classroom but he didn’t know what else to do. And nobody was helping him with that. The school wouldn’t even let me put bricks under the legs of the desk or buy him a new desk. I was very frustrated.

Did you think he eventually would settle down?

I really thought he was bored. So I went in and did a whole behavior management plan for the entire class. And I set up a whole system where Aaron could earn Popsicle sticks if he would finish his work and then read quietly. And I got a treasure box that the teacher could use with everybody.

Any luck?

Even with that set-up he was having difficulties. I wasn’t very successful. It was very frustrating as a mom. It just wasn’t the right school placement for him. Behaviorally, it was a problem. So, we went to our pediatrician, who then said that I should have one of my colleagues in developmental pediatrics evaluate him.

As a developmental pediatrician yourself, how did you feel about that?

I’m like, OK! [Laughs.] We worked with a counselor. We actually changed to a better school for him and for his brother Sam. I already had behavioral management systems set up at home. He started on medication.

How did he respond?

For him, it was amazing. Aaron even said to me, “It’s like a million race cars [were] going off in my head in all different directions. Now I don’t feel like that’s going on in my head anymore.”

It was a different story for Sam, now 19.

We were in this lovely school by then that had multi-aged classrooms and thematic learning, so there were no behavior problems. He had wonderful teachers. He was in third grade and over winter break he said to me, “Mom, I read that book on the coffee table on ADHD—how come you never told me I have it?”

Sam admitted that he was doing fine as long as a classmate kept him “on task.” Not a disruption in class at all. I’m guessing ADHD is different from child to child.

Being a parent of two kids, you really have to parent each one differently. They have two separate personalities and they needed separate things from me as a mother.

What have your sons taught you about ADHD that help you practice medicine?

I tell parents you have to have a sense of humor. Otherwise, you can go crazy as a parent of a child with ADHD. It takes a lot of energy. You can either laugh about it together, and continue to have a good, loving relationship, or you can get really aggravated and both of you end up in anger. Nobody wins that way.

Sam and Aaron both are away at college now, in honors programs, but close enough to visit. How’s it going?

You know, I hope…I think I’m doing an OK job. They still come home. They still like doing things with me. We’re going for sushi tonight.

Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint writes about health topics and produces audio and video stories for RAISING ARIZONA KIDS magazine.

On the podcast:

More on day-to-day life with the Blitz family, and tips for helping kids cope with ADHD as they get older.

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