In an effort to bring awareness to Mental Health Awareness Month and Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month, I thought that it would be a great idea to address questions that are asked often as parents raising a child who is medically diagnosed with ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, and Motor Tics Disorder. If you are interested in reading a background story of my son prior to reading this post, feel free to read my previous post A Parent’s Journey: Raising Micah.
As a disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Please take into consideration that these are responses from my own experience in raising my son and personal opinion based on personal research.
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What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three types of ADHD symptoms:
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
- Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.
Micah was diagnosed with the Hyperactive-Impulsive type of ADHD.
What are examples of lifestyle choices to help manage a kid who has ADHD?
Yes! So many! If I have to prioritize in choosing only the top three, I would suggest the following:
- Have a routine for the child.
- Plenty of good quality sleep.
- Healthy diet.
Having a routine for the child. This goes for any child for that matter. Have a set schedule for morning and evening routines and write them down with your child and place it on a bedroom door, someplace they can see everyday, or when they’re old enough to have a cell phone set reminders on the reminders app. It’s not a fix all situation, but it does help promote consistency and the effectiveness of them being independent. My son still needs to be reminded to this day, but there are rare moments that he does follow his routine thoroughly, which is good, only practice makes perfect.
Plenty of good quality sleep. Because Micah fidgets so much and even as he sleeps, he usually wakes up multiples times throughout the night. When he was going to traditional school (he’s now homeschooled), it was often hard to get him up in the mornings as he was always so tired. That lack of sleep also reflected his performance in school. To help combat tiredness with Micah, his bedtime is 9 pm and he sleeps on average eleven to twelve hours a night with a weighted blanket. Of course, I have bought him two different weighted blankets over the years as he’s gotten older and bigger. I first bought a 10 pound weighted blanket and upgraded to a 15 pounded weighted blanket, as he’s thirteen now at 92 pounds. So choose a weighted blanket according to the specifications of the merchant.
Healthy Diet. Growing up, Micah was a picky eater. PICKY! It was so hard to have him eat vegetables, the moment he saw any green color in his food, it was off limits to him. But over time with consistency, I was able to manage having him east some vegetables with the exception of mushrooms, olives, and among other things. After reading The Elimination Diet: Discover the Foods That Are Making You Sick and Tired–and Feel Better Fast by Tom Malterre, the book had recipes that really helped me incorporate more vegetables into my son’s diet. I love the green soup recipe in the book and Micah loves it too, a win for everyone. Besides foods to incorporate into a healthy diet, I would like to emphasize the importance of food to avoid or minimize and the number one culprit is processed sugary foods. There are healthier options to fix the cravings for sweetness, therefore, I make sure to always have available fruits that Micah can eat as a snack or even make a smoothie.
What tools do you recommend for a child who has ADHD?
There was a day in Micah’s first grade that I went in the mornings with him before work in an effort to help him transition from home to school. I was chatting with one of his classmates and complimented him on his necklace and his classmate responded that it wasn’t a necklace but instead a fidget. So I asked Micah’s classmate, what the fidget was for and he responded that it helped him focus. After that encounter, I went through a wormhole of research as to what fidgets were and what they were for. So I went ahead a bought a variety of products to help with his fidgeting.
- Oral Fidgets – Micah had and still has an oral fixation with chewing his fingers and ends of pencils and pens. To help with this as well as avoid germs, I bought chew necklaces which seemed to help. First I bought a smooth raindrop shaped chewing necklace and when he lost that one I decided to buy him a brick stick textured chewing necklace. I also bought Micah chewable pencil toppers as he was always chewing the erasers of the end of his pencils.
- Hand Fidgets – Micah fidgeted a lot with his hands and having the need to touch and quite frankly just fidget with things in his hands. To help with his hand fidgets I bought a tangle fidget toy, stress and squeeze balls.
- Wiggle Seat – The wiggle seat proved to be really helpful for Micah, especially at school, when he had to sit for long periods of time. The wiggle seat really helped him with his squirming. It worked so well that I bought one for him to keep it as school and one at home for when he was doing his homework.
Is it common for someone who is diagnosed with ADHD to have other types of neurological disorders or mental illness?
Yes. My son was diagnosed with ADHD at age seven and then diagnosed at age nine with Tourette Syndrome and Motor Tics Disorder. These diagnoses are neurodevelopment disorders that symptoms can overlay with one another as well as other types of spectrums such as OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar, and etc.
What is Tourette Syndrome?
Tourette Syndrome is a neurodevelopment disorder that someone is born with. It is a hereditary gene. The Tourette Association of America states it best as, “a neurodevelopmental disorder that becomes evident in early childhood or adolescence. It is part of the spectrum of Tic Disorders and is characterized by motor and vocal tics.”
What are “tics”?
Tics are repetitive habits that are uncontrollable and can come in a variety of ways, whether it may be motor or vocal tics. Some tics stay the same and others come and ago, but tics are tics, they are simply habits that a person expresses more than others. The repetitiveness of a tic is similar to that of having hiccups, but the only difference is that these are hiccups that don’t go away. You can try to suppress it by holding your breath or drinking water and it may go away for a very short while but then it comes back into a different type of hiccup. For my son, it was like he had multiple different types of hiccups at the same time and his hiccups changed over time.
Motor Tics. Motor tics are muscle spasms that can happen anywhere on the body. Micah’s motor tics displayed mostly on his face which I like to call facial tics. The facial tics that Micah has displayed or are still displaying are the following:
- Throat clearing
- Eye rolling
- Eye blinking
- Nose twitching
- Loud exhaling through the mouth
- Nose clearing
There are other tics that he did with his body such as:
- Flicking his middle finger
- Walk with an ankle twist
- Wrist twists
Vocal Tics. The following were Micah’s vocal tics:
- High-pitch barking
Can tics be agitated?
Yes. Stress, lack of sleep, allergies, environmental factors, excessive screen time, and poor diet can cause an increase in tics.
Stress. Micah showed signs of stress when having to navigate his way through the social norms in school as he was bullied and also had behavioral issues with other students and teachers that tremendously caused his relationships to be detrimental. Micah is extremely extraverted and often finds himself playing easily with other children at first, but for some reason it was hard for Micah to keep friends as he would do things that were inappropriate to him and as a result reflect other children to not want to engage with him. 6th grade for Micah was middle school, which proved to be a much faster pace for him as it was hard for him to keep up with the change of classes and environment throughout the day. He would forget which class that he needed to go to. Forget which homework was assigned for which class. It’s not an ideal environment for someone who has ADHD.
Lack of sleep. Micah had a trouble sleeping simply because his tics would wake him up periodically throughout the night. It was hard to get him to wake up in the morning for school. The lack of sleep also reflected his behavior and performance at school consistently. I went from changing his bedtime from 9pm to an earlier time at 8pm, allowing him at least eleven hours of sleep, which was still hard for him to wake up in the mornings. Then finally I decided to get him a weighted blanket which greatly helped him get quality sleep. Micah still uses the weighted blanket to this day and now sleeps an average of twelve hours.
Allergies. I never associated Micah to having severe allergies. He had excessive bloody noses to the point I took him to go get his nose cauterized. The specialist said that Micah had very dry nose capillaries that were dry and torn which caused a lot of the nose bleeding. I often associated his allergy symptoms as tics that were waxing and waning over the years until I read Natural Treatments for Tics and Tourette’s: A Patient and Family Guide by Sheila Rogers Demare that mentioned that allergy symptoms may come off as tics. As a result I had Micah do allergy testing and found that he had severe seasonal allergies and highly allergic to ragweed. So now Micah takes over the counter allergy medication for his allergy and all the other symptoms that I associated as tics were really allergy reactions, for example:
- I use to associate the nose clearing as a tic but when really it was his nose that was clogged because of allergies.
- The excessive eye blinking as tics but when really were dry eyes due to allergies.
- The throat clearing as a tic but when really it was drainage in the back of his throat (had this checked out by a doctor when they were looking in the back of his throat) which was due to his allergies.
Micah still shows some signs of eye rolling but it’s minimal but all of the other symptoms have subsided. Who knew?
Do people with Tourette Syndrome have to go to a special education school?
No. Micah went to a Montessori public school from kindergarten until 1st grade. In 2nd grade he went to a regular public school and then granted admission to go to a gifted and talented school, which acceptance rate at the time was I believe was 10%, and attended from 3rd grade through 6th grade. He’s currently being homeschooled in the 7th grade. As you can imagine it was a very hard decision to make as the gifted and talented school provided such great support and guidance but it didn’t work for Micah.
I hope that these FAQ help answer any questions that you may have or help you form questions to ask or explain to people who are going to be involved in your child’s life. If you have any questions that you would like to ask that I didn’t answer, feel free to leave a question in the comments and I will be more than happy to address it.