Neuroscience, therapy empowers families with ADHD

Parenting an ADHD child is exhausting. Your day is filled with looking for things your child "lost," dealing with careless mistakes, selective listening, fidgeting and epic amounts of redirecting distractibility. And that list is only a small selection of all that you really have to deal with.

There are always many other symptoms experienced due to multiple factors - the possibility of multiple diagnoses, your child's biology, personality, environmental settings and life transitions. It's child management taken to a whole new level as a parent or caregiver.

You long to see your child succeed, but the time you spend redirecting and coaching toward that success seems endless.

You long for a breakthrough, a change, but you're not even sure what that would really look like or if it would have a lasting impact. Frustration is a daily reality for both you and your child.

If you are a parent with an ADHD child you probably have tried a smattering of things to deal with the symptoms. There is no shortage of resources for dealing with ADHD in your child. A few of the most common strategies include medication, behavioral therapies, and diet and lifestyle changes. Some may have helped, others not so much. You probably have researched a lot to find out all you can about how your child's brain works in order to best help them.

One interesting discovery in the last decade within neuroscientific research has been the effects of mirroring patterns in human beings. Imitated behaviors are just one aspect of the mirroring effect. Mirroring can begin to be played out like this: When your child gets distracted or jumpy, chances are you begin to feel that way too. When you get frustrated, your child begins to get frustrated as well. These are your mirror neurons working and they can play a crucial role in how you and your child interact with each other.

Understanding mirror neurons paired with acceptance and commitment therapy can be a real game changer for parents with ADHD children.

In my experience, one therapeutic approach I have found to be a real game changer is to combine the above neuroscience with ACT. ACT is a therapeutic approach heavily based in mindfulness. It involves learning and working toward being able to accept who you are and begin to shift to a more compassionate stance when dealing with ADHD symptoms. It's like that old saying, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

The hard reality is that true ADHD will interfere with functioning or development across time and settings (unlike dealing with trauma symptoms which can look similar to ADHD but can begin at any time in life, and ebb and flow depending on the setting). But change is possible and you don't need to work through it alone.

If you, the parent or caregiver, begin to accept your child's fidgeting as a way to regulate themselves (and maybe a way to practice self-regulation yourself) you may find yourself less frustrated. If you commit to finding creative ways to redirect your child's inattentive brain, chances are your tolerance level will begin to change and your relationship with your child improve.

Parenting is hard. But you're not alone. Keep up the good work.

- Susan Stutzman is a licensed clinical professional counselor specializing in child therapy and owner of Kid Matters Counseling in Hinsdale.