Bless his heart, or, Meet my ADHD/ODD/PDD/SID/WTHRK (who the heck really knows) boy!


At the Piggly Wiggly yesterday I was talking to my favorite cashier, Elaine, about my 8 year old son, LittleJ. “He’s been doing his homework so far this year,” I said as she was ringing up my spaghetti squash, “But he just writes whatever. I don’t know if that really counts.”
“He doesn’t understand it?” Elaine asked. Elaine, in addition to being a fine cashier, is also a mother and was an elementary school teacher’s assistant before she retired and became my therapist a grocery store clerk.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “He doesn’t read the directions or the problems and I don’t know if he can read it and is choosing not to, or if it’s because he’s off in space” here, I make a motion with my hands to indicate my child shooting off to the moon, ”or if he actually can’t read it.” Indeed, my children’s teachers so far have told me that they think he’s capable of doing the work…but he just doesn’t. At home we see glimpses of ability, but only if we sit with him, and when we do that it’s less likely that he’ll actually focus and do the work and more likely that he’ll take the opportunity to push my many buttons, say mean things, cry, or pick his nose.
“He usually just chooses some random number from the word problem and plugs them in to answer spaces. He doesn’t even bother to try.”“He wants to get it done,” Elaine suggested.
“Yes, and he doesn’t care if it’s right or wrong. So I honestly don’t know if it’s a can’t do situation, or a won’t do. Maybe some of both.”
“Well, bless his heart, then,” Elaine said, and the woman standing behind me in line nods in agreement. “That’s all you can really say about that.”
Yes, bless his heart. In North Carolina, where I live with LittleJ, 8, his brother, BigJ, 11, and my husband, “Bless your heart” isn’t as sweet as it sounds. “Bless your heart” is a phrase you use when you’re talking about someone for whom you are feeling both sympathy and snark. Like: “Bless her heart, that Judy, her rear end has gotten broad as a beam.” Or, “Bless his heart, Uncle Jones. He was passed-out drunk at Thanksgiving again.”
It’s appropriate to the LittleJ situation because being with, parenting, teaching, hearing about a child like him makes you feel two main emotions: loving sympathy, because he’s so cute, can be so sweet, and has so many issues; and complete and utter frustration, because he’s so hard to figure out, can be sooooooooooooo annoying, and often acts more like a 2-year old than the 8-year-old he is. The homework being one example. The nightly refusal and screaming fit to eat the dinner he ate with gusto the night before (and which he eventually does eat, once he’s been in time-out for a while). The name-calling and swearing, followed by the apologetic, over-the-top flurry of kisses and hugs. Never knowing if a simple request will be followed by compliance or a fist-clenching, red-faced refusal. The seeming inability to write, but the astonishing ability to draw.
I could go on and on with examples of the love him/hate him mess that’s LittleJ, but I’ll save it for other posts. In the meantime, here’s the lowdown on my kid: he is adopted. He was probably exposed to alcohol in utero. His birthparents may have had emotional problems. Hard to know since it was a closed adoption from Russia. Since we’ve been taking him to specialists, starting at about 24 months, he’s been diagnosed with severe anemia and Pica (eating non-food items), SID (Sensory Integration Dysfunction), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), Depression, Mood Disorder, PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not to be confused with PDD-NOS, which is on the autism spectrum and which we’ve been told doesn’t apply to LittleJ although apparently there is not such thing as non-autistic spectrum PDD), lack of coordination and trunk strength, and although the doctors have been vague with us about what this means, he also takes a medication typically given to people with bipolar (and it’s been very, very helpful. Interpret that however you want.) He also has poor Executive Functioning and has scored low on IQ tests, but if you met and spoke with him you’d think the psychologist administering the tests had to be out to lunch the day she gave them to him, which wasn’t the case at all.
We’ve tried every single ADHD medication on the market to help him with his attention issues – and most worked…for about 2 hours at a time (they’re supposed to last a lot longer than that.) We’ve tried all the mood stabilizers and a fair number of anti-depressants, too. We’ve tried medications to help him sleep (because did I forget to mention the KID WILL NOT SLEEP?) and vitamins and herbal remedies up the yin yang. We’ve tried therapy and therapies and special diets. Some things don’t work. Some things do, kind of. But then they stop.
Hmm.

All of these diagnoses fit my child, or have fit him at one time or another. He is a puzzle. Everyone says so – his doctors, his therapist, his teachers.

And especially his parents, who will never stop trying to figure out this particular puzzle.

So really, sometimes there’s not that much to say. Except, perhaps, “bless his heart.” And bless ours, too.

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

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Related posts:

attention/focus, CO-MORBIDITIES, General ADHD, ODD, parenting/FAMILY, SID ·

About the author

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

13 Comments

  1. Yea! Now our reader's have met each of our ADHD Momma collaborators! I am so proud to have all of you join me on this ADHD Awareness & Parenting Crusade!

    Adrienne, I am ecstatic you wrote a post about the phrase “bless your heart.” When Kay first told me it would be the title of the anthology, my husband and I had a long moment of rampant adult giggle. Yes, we also live in North Carolina. I had never heard this snarky “meaning” for the phrase before moving to NC. Now I giggle every time someone uses it (so many people don't know of this snide correlation but it always seems to fit regardless). Now, the person I learned it from, a Real Estate Trainer who conducts hundreds of continuing education classes every year, so she has to be funny, equates it more to a stupidity quotient. She says saying “bless his heart” about someone really means “he's so NOT smart.” I like your definition better, it's a bit more kind.

    I just love your correlation to our special children though. It's true, it can certainly be a love-hate relationship (although hate, even in the worst of times, is too strong for me). I really hope you keep that title for the anthology, by the way.

    LittleJ is quite the alphabet soup — that must be so frustrating. We too struggle with Luke having the desire to do good work rather than just get something over with. Alternatively though, he loves math and usually tries to give good answers… usually.

    So good to have you here! Can't wait to read more. Thanks for sharing a piece of yourself with {a mom's view of ADHD} readers! (and thanks for a good laugh!)

    Reply
  2. Oh lady. From one North Carolinian to another – bless your heart really sums it up. However, I have to also be so thankful that Little J has an amazing and resilient set of parents in y'all.

    We had several homework battles and have developed quite a few strategies that might help (though you've likely tried them), such as allowing Javi to use a highlighter on every word he reads aloud (this was especially helpful for math problems), etc.

    Let me know if you're interested in our slush pile!

    Reply
  3. Thank you for the welcome, and the support of Bless Your Heart for the title of our anthology. The verdict is still out. I like it, but I worry that people in the rest of the country won't get it. You are both my neighbors, so to speak, so you know where I'm coming from with this.
    @Penny: I completely understand what you mean about the strength of the word “hate,” but this is how I feel a lot of the time. I love my son, but I truly hate some of his behaviors. One example: this morning I informed LittleJ that he needed to pick up his room before he could watch TV. This is the Saturday rule and has been for, oh, the last 80 Saturdays. For that I was called a b*tch and a total a$$hole.
    Did I mention he's 8?
    Anyway, I really, really hated that he called me those names. And I really hate that we haven't found a way to stop him swearing at us (and please believe me when I say we've tried everything). But I still love him, the little monster. Bless his heart.
    @Kelly: I welcome any and all homework suggestions. Our #1 problem, however, is that if I interact with him during homework, 9 times out of 10 it will become an occasion for him to try to provoke me. He's very provocative (big word for a little guy, it's true). Last year homework was the epic battle, and this year I've vowed to present an attitude of complete nonchalance. I announce it's time to do it, create a good, quiet space for him to work, and tell him if he needs help to ask me. If he refuses I tell him I'll just write a note to the teacher to that effect. Then I go about my business, completely calm. Being in the moment. Biting my tongue!
    This is working pretty well so far – especially since his teacher has backed me up 100% with the note-to-her thing.
    So, sadly, we're kind of far away from instituting any real strategy towards approaching text or reading directions or anything like that. Although that highlighter thing sounds like something I can *nonchalantly* suggest. And it involves markers, which is always a plus!

    Reply
  4. @Adrienne, I just meant that, while the “Love/Hate relationship” cliche is appropriate, no one would make a literal translation of it, hating your child. I am totally with you on hating their behaviors at times though. 100%.

    I think the “Bless Your Heart” title works even if others don't get the hidden meaning. I think it's also saying “you have my sympathies.” While we don't feel others need to pity us because we have special kids (well, maybe sometimes, during that love/hate thing), many who don't live it feel sympathetic. ANYHOW, no one asked me and it's not my project, so I'm going to mind my own business now. 🙂 I'm just so excited about the book, and, for whatever it's worth, I was over the moon about that title.

    Oh, I too love the highlighter idea for homework! I wish Luke could do it in his library books — he loses his spot when reading all the time. We will definitely try it. @Kelly, make sure you post that tip if/when you write about accommodations for classroom or homework. You definitely have some tricks I haven't heard of!

    Reply
  5. Donna R says:

    Wow! I couldn't have said this as beautifully or eloquently.

    The frustrations of living with ADHD are equalled to the unique love these children give…on the good days. Other days aren't so bright.

    LOL! I think I'll borrow the “Bless your heart!” phrase and see if it will stall the spiralling nastiness from the defiant behaviours.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  6. Thank you Donna.
    We are having A DAY at my house, so kind, supportive comments really help.

    Reply
  7. Mrs. M says:

    Oh you momma's of these puzzle boys/kids….thanks so much for sharing because it warms my heart that I'm not alone, that we are all surviving some how and the Bless his heart instantly made me smile…it's like the Kentucky version of Well, ain't that precious?!
    Hugs to all of you!

    Reply
  8. @ Mrs. M, I was from Kentucky before moving to NC. You are so, right! In KY, they'd say, “Well, ain't that precious?” I had forgotten. I guess every region has it's own version of “Bless your heart.” Hugs right back to you! Glad you are here. Penny

    Reply
  9. Sunny says:

    “Bless his heart” is Utah parlance, too! My father-in-law (a wonderful guy who I love to bits) uses it in the condescending way you describe: “Bless her heart, she can hardly see over that dashboard.” You cracked me up with that. You are an entertaining writer and spot on with the human insights.

    My daughter is ADHD, PDD-NOS, and has anxiety. I really relate to never knowing how she will react. She could be sweet and soft-spoken or yell in your face (or in the neighbor's face if that's the case).

    Also, I was away from my kids last weekend. Everyone else was saying, “Oh, I miss my kids after one day.” I said, “I love my kids, but I sure don't miss them after one day. I need a good break so that I can go back and remain calm in the face of verbal onslaughts and frenzied tantrums.”

    Reply
  10. screamin says:

    I have a son exactly like that. He was also adopted but thru the foster/adopt program in Cincinnati. He is ADHD, ODD, and possibly others. He lies like there's no tomorrow and usually only feels bad when and or if he gets caught. He wasn't as bad as he is now before I met my wife a few years ago. Since then, hit attitude has gone straight down the tubes and it doesn't help that he's full fledged puberty stricken. The Noman is as smart as you could imagine, could get straight A's if he really gave 100% but for some reason, he wants to be a 5 year old dressed in a 13 year old boys body.
    Thanks for sharing and allowing me to share. BTW, the picture looks like me when I was a crazed 8 year old boy. LOL

    Reply
  11. @screamin: I am *not* looking forward to adolescence. Really. From everything I hear it is just going to get worse. But I suppose that's what wine is for…just kidding. Maybe.
    @Sunny: thanks so much. The inconsistency really is the hard part, isn't it?

    Reply
  12. MA Martin says:

    Adrienne, loved your blog. I know exactly what you mean by the love the child/hate the behaviour thing. After working ALL SUMMER with my son (ADHD Summer Camp – KaChing$, Summer Family trip – Major KaChing$, etc, etc) he had a really bad day with my mom. He was hateful to her. Something broke loose in my head and I really laid into him about the sacrifices we had made for him and the lack of respect he displayed for our family. I let him know I expected him to work just as hard as we were ALL working. I was angry with him for DAYS! You know what? He changed during those few days! He is still ADHD boy…bless his heart (I live in the South, too), but he actually grew up a little over those days. It is still tough and he has his challenges. And I know the calls from school will start back up, but I really think drawing the line with him helped. The challenge for us Mommies (and Daddies) is to know when to draw it, and how to draw it. It's not easy; the last 8 years have aged me terribly. Love the boy, hate the hard times. But the good times are a blast! ;^)

    Reply

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