The popular wisdom is that puppies can greatly enhance a family with special needs members. Children learn valuable lessons in responsibility and become better well-rounded people.
Fact: Dogs poop.
The latest and greatest experts advise that extra-ordinary children can connect with animals in an incredibly deep way, well beyond their bonding capabilities with fellow humans. Various after-school specials and television dramas demonstrate this accepted fact, usually via a Lassie-Timmy kind of scene where the extra-ordinary child who of course can’t resolve 2+2, nevertheless advises a resident veterinarian that the dog is really trying to tell them all about an impending tornado that will strike at exactly midnight. Which will precede a nasty alien invasion.
Fact: If you fill your kennel with well-crafted rubber toys, the dog will prefer dirty underwear.
Adding a spaz puppy to an ADHD home exacerbates symptoms. I couldn’t find this bit of advice on the internet, but now that it’s happened to us it seems glaringly obvious. Routine, order and tranquility are the treasured jewels of an extra-ordinary home. Insert a puppy, and you have new things to scream about, new messes to clean up, new fights to break up.
Dogs also drive you to distraction, literally. While I was incredibly stressed these past few weeks from all of the chaos, third daughter figured out that I probably wouldn’t have time to find out that she has secretly been bringing a baggie filled with sugar and a plastic spoon for lunch each day. To be fair, the other children did try to warn me about this, but I chalked it up to name-calling and tattling. The secret has exploded all over the cheap faux-leather couch and broken tiled floor. Which will mean ants. It’s a good thing that dogs are great vacuum cleaners, but the excess of sugar is probably going to result in vomit later in the day.
First daughter, meanwhile has decided to make a schedule, of who deals with the dog and when. She’s not the kind of ADHD’er who has trouble with organization, nor has she ever had trouble forgetting responsibilities. She’s the kind of ADHD’er who has lists about lists, underlined, checked and marked with highlighter pens. Stacks of this-n-that (and heaven help whoever moves her this-n-that). Items are stored in drawers, wrapped in plastic baggies inside bigger plastic bags and pencils are meticulously counted. She even has fixed her doorway with an alarm system: Should her sisters dare and tiptoe across the line, blood-curdling sirens erupt from First Daughter’s throat. Amazingly effective, even the dog is cautious about entering. Unless she spots underwear on the floor.
So, all this brings me to an amazing book that I just read, which all ADHD families should read. It’s called “The Explosive Child.” One of the commentators on this site, Cara, first recommended this to me several months ago. It’s amazing, did I say that already? I don’t love it because it contains secret wisdoms to resolve our issues, I love it because it’s just such a comfort to pick up a parenting book, and recognize your own family experiences. That doesn’t happen often to ADHD families. By the first few pages, with the waffle episode, I knew this book was meant for us.
Jennifer, age eleven, wakes up, makes her bed, looks around her room to make sure everything is in its place, and heads into the kitchen to make herself breakfast. She peers into the freezer, removes the container of frozen waffles, and counts six waffles. Thinking to herself, “I’ll have three waffles this morning and three tomorrow morning,” Jennifer toasts her three waffles and sits down to eat.
Moments later, her mother and five-year old brother, Adam, enter the kitchen, and the mother asks Adam what he’d like to eat for breakfast. Adam responds, “Waffles,” and the mother reaches into the freezer for the waffles. Jennifer, who has been listening intently, explodes.
“He can’t have the frozen waffles!” Jennifer screams, her face suddenly reddening.
“Why not?” asks the mother, her voice and pulse rising, at a loss for an explanation of Jennifer’s behavior.
“I was going to have those waffles tomorrow morning!” Jennifer screams, jumping out of her chair.
“I’m not telling your brother he can’t have waffles!” the mother yells back.
“He can’t have them!” screams Jennifer, now face-to-face with her mother.
The mother, wary of the physical and verbal aggression of which her daughter is capable during these moments, desperately asks Adam if there’s something else he would consider eating.
“I want waffles,” whimpers Adam, cowering behind his mother.
Jennifer, her frustration and agitation at a peak, pushes her mother out of the way, seizes the container of frozen waffles, then slams the freezer door shut, pushes over a kitchen chair, grabs her plate of toasted waffles, and stalks to her room. Her brother and mother begin to cry.
If you are an ADHD with the hyper-organized type, you’ll notice a few things about this story that ordinary crowd doesn’t. The child made her bed. She then looked around the room to make sure everything was in order. The waffles were counted to be six, and therefore were divided evenly in half, and days were allocated for each segment. The ordinary crowd probably read the above and thought that Jennifer doesn’t know how to listen to her mother, and should be taught a-thing-or-two. But extra-ordinary families get it: The special child with overwhelming days has crafted a routine as beautiful and fragile as a spun glass bauble, and it was almost destroyed when the waffles ran out.
And the rest of the family is swept along for the ride, fearful of the fall-out from shattered routines. In our house now, not only is the dog not being walked regularly, but schedule violators are reprimanded at frequent intervals. A little ironic actually, though I’m hopeful that we can reverse the situation so that eventually the dog’s bowel movements will be scheduled, and the violations reduced.
It will get better. It’s just difficult right now, because the situation is new. Plans are being written and re-written, and eventually, we will settle on a coping mechanism that works for all of us. The children are loved, the parents are loved, the parrot is loved and even the dog is loved – though the parrot seems to have her own plans about that last bit.