This past weekend Kay Marner and I went to the 2011 National CHADD conference in Orlando. Our book, Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories was selected as an Innovative Program by the powers-that-be. We were fortunate enough to have a display in the main vendor hall, although we didn’t have to pay the vendor fee (yay!) and we also had enough free time to attend several sessions each.
Here’s what I learned:
1. If you go to a conference about ADHD you will be surrounded by people with ADHD. Many of whom are very high-functioning and successful, especially if said folks are there to do a presentation or are somehow an ‘expert’ in the field, but nevertheless, they have ADHD. As a parent of a child with ADHD being at a conference filled with similar folks was no vacation! It got to be immensely overwhelming for me after a while. Seeing so many highly successful ADHD people was very inspiring, however, and seeing people who were getting so much joy out of life despite, or maybe because of, their attention issues was really great. Just not for 7 hours in a row.
2. Parents are struggling. Really, really struggling. Our display was in the vendor area but we were probably the least slick table on the floor – for good reason, because we were there to talk to folks about how parents of kids with invisible disabilities all had the same kinds of feelings, which meant we didn’t create a fancy marketing display. So we seemed to be a magnet for bewildered parents wandering the product- and service-laden aisles. Kay and I talked to LOTS of parents. LOTS. Within the first hour 2 moms started crying when they read some of the statements we had posted (“The experience of parenting this child is nothing like I thought it would be,” or “I expected standard discipline tactics to work, but they just don’t. I seek out new parenting strategies, but they don’t work either.”) and I was reduced to tears when talking to a super nice guy named Larry about how important it was for his daughter-in-law to acknowledge the grief involved in “losing” that perfect (or at least neurotypical) child that most of us expect when we become parents. As much as we could we invited people to be part of the Facebook communities of A Mom’s View of ADHD and Easy to Love but Hard to Raise, as I feel like those two groups are MY single most important source of support. People feel so isolated and lonely in their parenting journey, and support is crucial!
3. I only went to a couple of sessions as I was manning the booth, and there were two that stood out.
- In the session on ADHD and complimentary/alternative treatments I learned that there are only a few complimentary/alternative treatments that meet the triple standard of a)support through promising research, b)safe, c)not cumbersome (i.e. overly expensive, time-consuming, only available in a few places). They are: fish oil supplementation, melatonin for sleep, and progressive muscle relaxation to teach calming techniques. The presenters felt that certain other treatments, like neurofeedback and memory training, were promising, but because they’re so expensive and there evidence is still largely anecdotal (or sponsored by the companies that provide the service), they couldn’t recommend it for most people right now.
- The other session that was helpful was the one presented by Dr. Mark Bertin, author of The Family ADHD Solution: A Scientific Approach to Maximizing Your Child’s Attention and Minimizing Parental Stress. Basically, he summarized his book, which is all about how if mama (and papa) ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. The less stressed and reactive, and more able to be in-the-moment that parents are, the more effective they can be at parenting a child with ADHD (or any other ‘invisible’ special needs, I’d wager to guess). He talked a lot about mindfulness and meditation for calming down – and not just for the child. For parent AND child.
4. And finally, ADHD is big business, and it’s not just the drug companies who have a stake in helping (or selling to) parents, children, and adults impacted by ADHD. Look, I’m all for promising therapies and I know people have to pay their bills, but after 3 days of listening to constant marketing spiels it started to feel like the business end was taking advantage of people who are seeking answers. And yes, I know I have something to sell (our book), but what I saw at the CHADD conference was on an entirely different level as what I, as a writer, do and want to do. Like 10 more levels. It gave me a lot to think about both personally (as a parent to which all of these products, coaching, expertizaton, etc. were being hawked to) and professionally (like, do I want to market myself as an ‘expert’? What would that mean? Do I want to be a part of this industry – because it *is* an industry – as a salesperson or as a parent advocate? In order to be most effective as a parent advocate do I need to amp up the marketing?)
So – would I suggest you go to one of these conferences if one comes to a city near you? Yes. Absolutely. I’m sure if I were there simply as a conference-goer I would have learned even more about ADHD and I think as parents of children with this medical condition we need to learn as much as we can and take advantage of the doctors, therapists, “experts,” and yes, even product vendors, who serve our community.