September is ADHD Awareness Month, and although the month is almost over, it is important to remember that ADHD is something that affects many kids and and teens; parents of these children may find themselves gearing up for possible struggles this school year. According to KidsHealth.org, “ADHD is a common behavioral disorder that affects an estimated 8% to 10% of school-age children. Boys are about three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it, though it’s not yet understood why.” My childhood friend Julianna Wilson was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age; she was an energetic, imaginative, and was a blast to be around. Julianna works in publishing, but also has a blog dedicated to ADHD. Not only does the blog contain her amazing insights into the condition, but she lists resources, books, and even has a whole section dedicated to defining terms associated with ADHD. Make sure to check it out at  http://www.juliannanwilson.com. Here she answers our questions, helps us understand the condition better, and offer advice for parents whose children have ADHD and how they can help them through out the school year. For additional information be sure to check out the Back Up Brain at New York Mom’s World. We have added a new category dedicated to helping families find resources for children with special needs, including, but not limited to ADHD.

NYMomsWorld: Can you tell us a little about ADHD?

Julianna Wilson: By any technical definition, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), previously known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is a neurobehavioral disorder, that, despite what some may think, affects children, adolescents, and adults. But I like to think of it as a cognitive, behavioral, and emotional difference. The term “disorder” leads people to believe that something is inherently wrong. In truth, although there are many hurdles to overcome with ADHD, there are also an abundance of benefits, such as heightened creativity, the ability to hyper-focus, mental flexibility, and an eagerness to try new things, to name a few.

NYMW: How did it affect your childhood?

JW: I was an imaginative child, and could always be found dreaming up a scenario to make believe, inventing a game to play with the kids in my building, or, while alone, writing stories that featured any number of eccentric characters. As my family members will readily attest to, I was always busy. I’m not sure how I didn’t completely exhaust my mother with the number of puzzles, games, and brain-teasers that we worked on together. However, that early attention, prepared me for a life with ADHD, which is often characterized by a need for constant stimulation and knowing how tomanage those cravings. Today, those who know me best frequently joke that I always have an activity in my bag, be it a stack of Unocards or a book.NYMW: Is the condition something you have to manage now?I didn’t experience the negative affects of ADHD until middle school and early high school, when my workload and the demands of my New York private school increased, and I found myself unable to keep up and be as diligent as my classmates. The typical signs ensued…a drop in grades and test scores, an inability to sit still in class (which I frankly always suffered with), and a reluctance to focus on homework for a prolonged period of time.JW: Fortunately, throughout those years when I found myself struggling with ADHD, I was lucky to have teachers, coaches, and parents who supported me throughout every test, assignment, class period, and extra-curricular activity. This meant that I felt monitored constantly, something which often repels those of us with an ADHD personality, but their continued efforts to keep me interested and on task resulted in me learning how to study, how to create outlines for upcoming papers, and how to stay focused for longer periods of time. These formative years taught me the intense discipline and time management that I exercise today. In addition to maintaining a day job in publishing, I write every morning before work, an effort which has resulted in the near completion of a middle-grade fantasy series entitled The Orphaning Place(I’m on my third draft). Although writing has always been a passion of mine, and one which I could hyper-focus on, I don’t think I would have had the skills to get to this point without outside support.NYMW: What advice would you give to a parent whose child was diagnosed with ADHD?JW: Be patient with him/her. And kind. As someone who has grown up with a difference such as ADHD, I’ve gone through feeling less-than my peers, and it can be incredibly isolating. It would have been all the worse had I not had family members and mentors who guided me through the process of growing up.

The best thing you can do to encourage your child and help him/her to manage the potentially detrimental affects of ADHD is to involve him/her in activities that are mentally and physically challenging. It may take some time to pinpoint what the activities are that your child will be able to hyper-focus on, but once you discover them, opportunity for growth awaits. In addition to keeping my interest with puzzles and games, my parents made sure that I was always involved in sports or dance of some kind. They still claim that, during the summer, “camp was the best decision we ever made.” Summer camp kept me on a consistent schedule of activities, but also one that varied each day, so that I was never bored or disinterested. Those activities also helped me expel that excess energy that is typical of ADHD’rs.

NYMW: Is it important to pick a school that is ADHD “friendly?”

JW: Growing up, my school was ADHD friendly in that the teachers, administration, and kids were all aware what Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was, but it wasn’t a school designed for kids with cognitive differences. I do believe that you need teachers who are well versed in ADHD and who can support and empathize with the struggles that ADHD children experience. After all, more traditional discipline and schooling methods often thwart the development of children with ADHD. I often point to Sir Ken Robinson and his liberal philosophies on the development of education, creativity and innovation as he and they both complement to the ADHD experience.

NYMW: How did you get started with your blog?

JW: I started Living, Learning, and Writing with ADHD in late August of 2011. At the time, this subtitle didn’t exist because the idea for a blog formed out of my desire to share my insights and experiences as a young writer, and also exercise the non-fiction voice I had developed as an English-Creative Writing major at Colby College as well as the Arts & Entertainment editor of the school’s biweekly newspaper, The Echo. In my first post, however, I mentioned feeling like an “underdog” because of my ADHD, and that was the concept that readers grasped onto. From there, I started to reflect on my failures and successes as someone living, learning, and writing with ADHD, and began to weave together my life experiences with my passion for writing and literature.

NYMW: Besides your blog, can you recommend any other resources for parents of children with ADHD?

JW: Dr. Edward M. Hallowell and his institute offer a wealth of insight on his website, http://www.drhallowell.com/. ADDitudemag.com is an excellent resource for anything ADHD. And if you’re in New York, both of my parents, Mary Jo Wilson PhD and James K. Wilson LCSW, happen to be therapists. Having raised a child with ADHD, they act as true mentors in their one-on-one sessions with parents of children with ADHD, as well as adults who struggle with the disorder.

NYMW: Anything else we should know?

JW: There’s a post on my blog titled, “Discover Your Heartlight.” While the term is borrowed from the children’s novel Heartlight by T.A. Barron, the concept as I define it focuses on the importance of striving toward what motivates and inspires you. Discovering your Heartlight and nurturing it through its evolution is all the more important for children and adults with ADHD.

Thank you Julie!!!

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