As my son grows and develops, certain challenges become a barrier to his happiness and success and other challenges fade or diminish. How much his responses result from learning and maturity, and how much is the result of professionally provided interventions, who can really tell? One thing has been constant for Andrew—most new situations cause significant anxiety.
Here I am speaking about clinically significant anxiety that gets in the way of normal life functioning. All of us face anxious moments. But Andrew’s anxiety is ongoing; it ebbs and flows and gets in the way of his enjoying and succeeding in life.
Statistically, the overwhelming majority of children with AD/HD have co-occurring disorders. When Andrew was a little guy, one summer he was afraid to leave the house because he feared bugs and bees flying around. A structured, consistent multi-intervention program helped him overcome these fears. But he can still get a little anxious when flying insects are buzzing by. For a young man approaching age eighteen, anxiety has social consequences. Social situations are probably the biggest anxiety-producing situations for Andrew. He can get really uptight.
Andrew has been blessed with a good sense of humor and we have built a variety of family, church, community, and professional supports for him. These reduce anxiety and allow him to grow and mature. Parents need to be on the lookout for symptoms of severe or chronic anxiety, and obtain a professional assessment if necessary. As with any health and developmental challenge, act quickly to avoid longer term consequences. Andrew’s transition to ninth grade was extremely difficult, and nothing worked for him during that period. He began developing other symptoms, such as depression and hostility. When we changed his environment (which took an entire school year), the depression and hostility disappeared and his normal good humor and gentle nature returned. But changing the environment meant change, and change increased anxiety. He hated the change at first. But it was very helpful in the long run and Andrew now recognizes this.
Andrew still is not great at recognizing his anxiety and taking positive steps to deal with it, but he is learning. Situations that enhance his self-esteem help his ability to deal with anxiety. Situations that reduce his self-esteem make his anxiety worse. Getting his teachers and other professionals to recognize this and consistently act is always a challenge.
The last few weeks have brought a great deal of anxiety about the financial markets for all of us. I hope you are okay in dealing with these uncertain economic times. I hope you will continue to think of supporting CHADD when you can. I hope you will attend CHADD’s upcoming conference, which will offer research-based information to help you deal with the challenges AD/HD and mental and learning disorders can present. And I hope you will take quick action if you see yourself or your loved ones having anxiety so severe that it is interfering with success and happiness. Try to look at the bright things in life.