National Alliance on Mental Illness
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My Story: Maureen E. Donais
My son started displaying symptoms at age three, but was not diagnosed with ADHD until second grade. That window of going without treatment led to a lot of frustration and guilt—my husband and I struggled with guilt because we did not know if our son’s behavior was due to our parenting style. Educating ourselves and the community was what really helped my family through these tough times.
As a member of NAMI Salem County, N.J., I was familiar with mental health issues. I had reached out to my local NAMI for assistance when I had custody of my niece who lived with mental illness. NAMI was my sounding board, it was a comfort zone, it was where I could vent about frustrations or fears and be myself. It was helpful to know that other families were going through similar circumstances. Together we needed to be hopeful and not dwell on the negatives—and that’s what NAMI does best.
The biggest challenge was getting my husband to understand that this was a medical problem, not a discipline problem. Through education, he came to understand and thus became very supportive, especially in terms of medication-based treatment. Once our son started medication, he was like a light bulb with an on and off switch—we now call his medicine his “good day” pill.
Later, my daughter was diagnosed with attention-focused ADHD and it was much more challenging to find medication that worked for her. She needed three different trials of medication.
Having a very good primary care physician who was able to work as a team with my mental health provider was key. You need to educate everyone in the family. You are the primary advocate for your child and you need to be able to understand the disease and the process and be able to work together.
Medication can’t do it all; we provide structure in our family life because our children need consistency. I make a chore chart for the week so that our son can check off his chores everyday and, at school, the teachers use positive reinforcement.
When my husband was deployed to Iraq, we made sure our son started one-on-one counseling. It’s crucial to teach kids that talking about their feelings is okay. When children aren’t able to verbalize, they engage in negative behaviors.
Living with ADHD has made my family stronger because we are more educated and aware. I have learned to not judge a child misbehaving out in public because there might be something else going on. I am hopeful that there will be future research and advances in neuroscience.
As a family, we look forward to the monthly NAMI meetings. I take my children with me and we interact with other children and adults. It takes a village to raise a child—and NAMI is my village.