The Thing That Would Not Sleep

Enzo's busy brain kept him up and active even as a baby. We had to develop guerilla tactics to ease him into sleep.
We used to dread bedtimes. Once the novelty of being born wore off, once he rested up from that exhausting ordeal, Enzo just could never see the point in sleeping. He just didn’t want to miss a thing. If I wasn’t able to nurse him down, his dad, "Dave," would carry him around the house and the yard showing him how the birds were asleep, the animals were asleep, all his friends were asleep, his toys were asleep, and daddy was, well, dead on his feet.
Top Pick ADHD Kid Can't Sleep
Once the novelty of being born wore off, Enzo just could never see the point in sleeping.
— Kristen Caven, ADDitude blogger
We always thought we were bad parents. His little friends would just put their heads down and close their eyes when they were sleepy. It was probably because of the pacifier that he never learned to self-soothe. It was probably the co-sleeping. And then, after two or three years of that, when he took up combat sleeping, it was probably because we didn’t have the guts to let him cry it out past 2 or 3 AM.
The ADD diagnosis turned out to be a sweet victory. See? He’s neurologically different. He’s got thoughts in his brain. All night long.Thoughts, do you hear me, interesting thoughts! Hah! to you doubters!
Beyond the typically prescribed bedtime baths, off-buttons on TVs, rigid routines (hard to keep when you have ADD, too), and ban on Coke at dinner, we had to work hard to find remedies that worked. When I was a baby, the only thing that would put me to sleep was a drive around the block in the Volkswagon Bug. That never worked for little Enzo — cars, as you know by now, are way too interesting to him.
These things did:
>> A Positive Attitude. Knowing that I was the adult helped me “dominate” my toddler into taking a nap when he needed it. Sometime around age 7, I looked at my husband and said, “You know, even though it hasn’t seemed like it, he has actually gone to sleep every night of his life.”
>> Homeopathics. We discovered these tiny little sugar pills that dissolve on a child’s tongue when the teeth started coming in. They were lifesavers so many times, when dealing with everything from sniffles to stomach aches. Guess what, the right ones can help with racing brains, too! Bach Flower Remedies are also wonderful non-drugs, and always help bring on the Zzzzs.
>> Company. Although a child “should” be left alone to sleep in peace, having a big person there to model being quiet and calm helped Enzo relax. When self-regulation is difficult, having a body with a restful heartbeat and slow breathing nearby provides a neurological pattern to follow. Controlling conversation is the challenge...
>> The “Broken Record” trick helped keep me from being drawn into conversation. I would only permit myself to say, “Today is over, it’s time to sleep.”
>> Touch. Backrubs helped Enzo get in touch with his body. A story about the backrub helped him focus and relax. Favorites were the Weather Report (taught by Dr. Louise Hart), and the one about the cat that walked out and made tracks in the snow.
>> Story Tapes. He listened to a recording of Winnie the Pooh (read by Peter Dennis) over and over and over again. It was long and calming and interesting but a little boring. We found one that worked, and he listened to it every night for four years!
Eventually I developed Mom’s Guaranteed Sleep System with Magic Stories™ that could both hold his interest and bore him to sleep. (Send $99 and two box tops in.)
And then one day he found late night radio and a talk show podcast that allegedly did the same thing. I love you but now get out of my room, Mom and Dad!
As a teenager, Enzo participated in a sleep study and got some sleep coaching, plus he's gotten to know himself a little better. For example, he has also become a writer, and can relax better after doing a brain dump. But whatever he ends up doing with his busy brain, he may always be a night owl, wired to rev up when the rest of us are revving down.


We're Driven by Attention — Not Lacking It

Ready for a creative challenge? Get to know the sparkly flipside of ADHD, and let it energize your life.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to attention. When it is there, when it is not, how hard it is to summon, how hard it is to turn it off. For example, I can ask Enzo’s Uncle Zoom a question and never get an answer; his ears turn off when he’s attending to something inside his mind. Then there are times I want Enzo’s dad, "Dave," to just let something slide, for goodness sake.
There is really no deficit of attention in ADD. Your attention just doesn’t always go where other people want it to.
— Blogger Kristen Caven
There is really no deficit of attention in ADD. Your attention just doesn’t always go where other people want it to. For years, Uncle Zoom and I have tried to think of other names for ADD; we and others like us are absolutely driven with passion, and have boundless energy when there is something creative pulling us.
Thus, I was thrilled to discover the idea of the Interest-Driven Nervous System (IDNS). This is one characteristic, according to Dr. William Dodson, that every person with ADHD has, no matter what their other symptoms. Unlike the 90% of people who can achieve something if it is important or if there is a reward to be had or a consequence to be suffered, folks wired with an IDNS are only motivated when something really captures or holds their attention. As he puts it (consequences be damned), they are only motivated if something is:
  • Novel,
  • Interesting,
  • Challenging, or
  • Urgent
Or, as I like to think of it, if something is SparklyAnnoying, Fascinating, or On Fire.
And by golly, if there’s nothing interesting going on, some of us will make something sparkle. Or set something on fire...
If you look at it this way — thank you, Dr. Dodson! — you can see that ADD is not at all about having Attention Deficit, but by being Attention Driven.
When your life really is out of order, ADD is indeed a Disorder. And exclusively following one’s Interests can certainly create Disorder. But here is the key to transformation: seeing ADD as a creative challenge intrinsically harnesses the power of the IDNS. Why? The IDNS thrives on challenge.
So if you accept the creative challenge of understanding your own mind, and work hard to structure your life in support of your strengths (easier said than done, like most things), it is theoretically possible that all challenges can be overcome.
Follow this line of logic, there is then only one thing an IDNS can lead to: an Interest-ing life!


Electronic Attention Suckers

Every family struggles with ways to manage this generation’s darn distracting devices. Here’s our best trick for keeping video games from taking over our son's life.

When we got Enzo his first handheld video game, he was too young in my opinion, but still much older than most kids these days are when they are handed their first Electronic Attention Sucker (E.A.S.). We had held off as long as we could for several reasons:
video games
My husband still teases me about my 1996 Mardi Gras Tetris-and-chocolate-cake-binge.
1. He had plenty of toys already that he could never find enough time for: Legos, paper airplanes, and, um, trains.
2. He already didn’t spend enough time outside, and every minute you are in front of a screen is a minute you could be spending doing something usefully dangerous—like building forts, or burning things with magnifying glasses.
Because it had happened to us. My husband, who I shall call “Dave” in this blog, has for years made a daily hour or two of collecting rings, battling bad guys, or building civilizations part of his life. And “Dave” still teases me about my 1996 Mardi Gras Tetris-and-chocolate-cake-binge before I gave both up for Lent.
It had also happened to people we care about. Enzo’s talented Uncle Art, for example, lost four years of his adult life gaming in every free moment before he chose to spend every possible moment painting and building a career.
The thing is, video games are actually designed for addiction. The tasks are stimulating and challenging. There is always a level to beat, and when you beat it, your reward is to start another level. There is no such thing as a game that will come to a satisfying end just before dinner time. Even game creators are now realizing they have done damage to childhood, and telling kids to go outside more.
It was only fair that Enzo would get his own Electronic Attention Suckers though. We did not want to deprive him of the adrenaline and dopamine-fueled pleasures of his generation. But before we let him put his twitching thumbs on the thing, we set up a Video Game Agreement that said things like he could play age-appropriate games for two hours on a weekend, if he asked first, and so forth. The deal was: if he couldn’t play by the rules, he would have to turn the game off, period.
The best rule on the list was this one, an idea from a friend: When we call your name, you need to pause and look up. The fact that he would lose privileges for 24 hours if he did not hear us and respond motivated him learn how to shift his attention gears, make good eye contact, and mind his manners — all things that can be incredibly difficult for hyperfocused ADDers. But the immediate reward of getting more dopamine helped train his brain in a good way.


Give a Kid a Little Extra Time…

A day at the beach, a great idea, and a kid who doesn’t want to transition.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned Enzo’s remarkable childhood ability to sit in the sand and have fun with a bucket and a shovel for hours on end. In the days before he discovered race cars, it was all about the dump trucks and front-loaders. He didn’t have the patience to get properly dressed, stay sitting down while he ate his sandwich, or watch a movie past the first act, but mention that we were going to the beach and that kid would get organized! The best present I ever got for him was three miniature shovels. One would have made him happy, but three meant he got to direct a crew. Holes were dug. Castles were built. Friends were buried.


Life Is Derpful

There's so much going on in my son's teenage brain! Is it ADHD, or just high school?

After spending a weekend catching Enzo lost in one screen or another, calling him over and over to come to dinner, reminding him four times to pick up his towels, and nudging and poking him to complete the tasks on his whiteboard, I get a text Monday morning. “Blindsided by binder check in Chem.”
Stick figure with question mark, confusion
Blindsided? How so? It was right there on the whiteboard: Go over Chem homework calendar. It says Binder Check right on the date in question. I flip through his planner to see that he wrote the same thing months ago (with me supervising)...but the pages have not been turned since.
I sigh and stop and think. His teacher has explained it’s better to get an F than a zero, and busy, busy Enzo needs every point he can get to pass this class. I turn away from my work and look at my schedule, wondering whether or not to rescue. I try not to do that, and I usually don’t have to, but lately he’s been more distractible. Some might call it...puberty. There is so much more going on in that brain. And so much more that is expected of tenth-graders than there was of ninth-graders...or fifth-graders. But the problems have always been the same.
“You should be able to keep track of your things,” his father says on days like this, a teacher who knows his developmental benchmarks, plus has high expectations of his verbal, clever son.
“You know better than that,” I never say — I bite my tongue instead — but he does, and I know that because he rocks it once in a while.
“We’ve already covered that material,” says every single teacher.
It’s hard for adults — or anyone on the "outside" of his brain — to remember he’s got that switch that shuts on and off randomly. “I’m sorry,” says Enzo, over and over again.
I changed my plans for the day so I could swing by the school with his binder. On my way there, I got a text from him that read, “Brown changed binder check to Wednesday.” I sighed and wondered, is it ADHD? Or just having a teenager?
Later that day, Enzo explained it this way to his ADHD Teen class: “Sometimes life feels like a series of cluster-derps.” At least he got a laugh!


Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The last week of the marking period is always when we wish we had more traction to avoid an ADHD spinout.

This will sound like a familiar scene to those of you with teenagers. It's the last week in the marking period, and we check the online gradebook, and then our heads explode. Suddenly, the teachers who haven’t used the system for a month have gotten caught up, and lo and behold, there are some terrible surprises.
Tire marks on the street
It's the last week in the marking period, and we check the online gradebook, and then our heads explode.
This is the week when I start kicking myself for having a life, a career of my own, distractions that keep me from hovering over the homework and pawing through the backpack on a regular basis. I should really mark these weeks on the calendar, cancel all my appointments, and just plan to be stressed.
The “Big Struggle,” as Hallowell puts it, is the family crisis that ADD brings forth. Ours goes like this: Enzo’s school troubles show up. Tension rises. Voices rise. His dad feels the need to jump in and take control. I feel the need to jump in and smooth things over with the optimism that ADD affords, but it just sounds like happymouth. Now I’m on the hot seat, too; after all, these inattentive traits are from my genes. When Dad leaves for work and there are only the two of us, Enzo and I try to re-balance and start moving forwardthrough the anxiety, guilt, and frustration. Hugs help. And then I say, “But seriously, this is the week when the rubber meets the road.”
Enzo is silent for a moment, his head hanging...and then he says, “Are you saying I'm a car? Well, that's good at least.” The mood lightens for a second while we consider whether that’s the right phrase or not... After all, hasn't the rubber been on the road this whole year? This past marking period, with the semi-consistent Bs and the few perfect scores, when it seemed Enzo was finally getting some traction? I guess he slipped off onto the shoulder without us noticing in the last few weeks, spinning his wheels in the dirt on the side with all those extracurricular obsessions, somehow not getting those TEN English assignments into the right basket... And now, just before the finish line, he's climbing back on the pavement again.
"I guess I'm a Ford MT now," he says with a sigh. "It's an awesome car, and super-reliable.” I raise an eyebrow at him, wondering where that came from. “Except—” he continues, raising a finger, “when it doesn't start.” 
Hah! He got me. I can't stay mad at him. This metaphor may be a non-starter, but somehow he’ll get through this.


Mastering the One-Track Mind

My son's obsessions run deep and fast. I can't wait to see how he harnesses his pedal-to-the-metal enthusiasms.

Since Enzo was barely out of babyhood, he’s had long-term obsessions. First it was construction machines. He could tell the difference between a street sweeper, a paving machine, and a combine harvester. We had to read Byron Barton’s Machines At Work and say “Goodnight Guys” every single night. At three he built his first collection: all of the Bob the Builder toys. He would go to sleep sometimes snuggling a front-loader.
Kid playing with a truck
The love goes deep. And the detail is fascinating.
After Useful Vehicles, he loved TRUCKS of all kinds — dump, fire, and monster — and he liked the song "Hello, I’m a Truck" so much that a friend made a tape of nothing but this song. Over and over and over…and the cassette was played over and over and over...
Then came the big love of his life: Trains. This was no surprise, since his first complete sentence had been, “I...hear...dat...train!” Between ages four and eight, he learned everything about trains and collected no less than seven sets. He could tell us the route of the Santa Fe and the B&O lines, and identified each type of engine that passed by with its model numbers. We were able to recycle an old family joke: “When God was giving out brains, you thought he said trains, and asked for one track.”
Does every child obsess on things? It seemed normal to me. I had my cats phase, my owl’s phase, and my horse phase in junior high, during which I only read books in which the main character was of the equine persuasion. With Enzo, trains gave way to Legos, Legos to Bionicles, and sooner or later, Road and Track magazine arrived, and the vehicle obsession turned to cars. Fast cars. Cool cars. Maybe you know someone like this. The love goes deep. And the detail is fascinating. When I drive down the street with him, I can point to any car and he can tell you its make, model, year, and some interesting fact about the company that made it. It’s a specialized talent that could certainly translate to a paycheck if we could ever figure out how to harness it...
This kid is built for learning. He has an intense ability to focus and absorb, and can stay on track with an astonishing and admirable focus...but only if it is a track he chooses. With a kid like that, you have to find ways to help him keep choosing a track that goes somewhere, be it school or a personal interest. Parenting is all about watching when our kids fall off of their track, wander away from it, veer off course precipitously every time a distraction goes by. Our job as parents are to constantly put our kids back on the track. Day after day, week after week.