I stood on the edge of an indoor YMCA pool, every muscle tense, waiting for the whistle. It came shrill and loud, and I crossed my fingers. My daughter, Lee, was hanging on to the edge with one hand at the end of the pool. She glanced up at the clouds rolling overhead.
“Go, Lee, go!” the coach barked through his bullhorn. And my child went, seconds late, causing her team to come in last.
Trying not to let my disappointment show, I reached out an arm and helped her out of the pool. She peeled off her goggles and pointed up.
By now, Lee was in third grade and had taken occupational therapy, with sensory exercises, along with medication for ADHD. She had better focus and could sit still longer in a classroom. But it didn’t mean she wouldn’t get distracted. After a few months of swim team, she wanted out.
“I just want to swim by myself, without that stupid whistle.”
Frustrated, I dug into articles on the Internet about children with ADHD participating in a sport. Most experts said individual sports were the best way to lower hyperactivity, help with self-discipline, and make friends. So, I turned to karate, which was also reputed to build self-confidence. Thanks to keeping her body in motion with the kicks, yells, and race to get belts, Lee hung in there for nine months. But the last month, I found myself chasing her before practice around the parking lot and into the bushes that held lizards outside the karate studio.
“Lee, we’re going to be late!”
“This is more fun!”
First swim, then karate was fitting a pattern of initial enthusiasm, followed by boredom and distraction. Not only was I wasting money, but her complaints were wearing me down. Her impulsivity, difficulty with following directions, and paying attention was making it impossible for her to take part in a sport.
Much to my surprise when Lee was in sixth grade, she showed an interest in the surf team. The coach gave directions, and the kids took their boards into the ocean. They all sat in a group waiting for a wave, except Lee who drifted away, headed down the coast. I took off running, doing my best to keep up and waving my arms. Lee spotted me and paddled in.
“It’s taking too long to find a wave,” she said, ditching her board. She plopped down on the wet sand and dug a gigantic hole, looking for sand crabs.
As I look back now, I realize the signs were already there. Whether she was watching the clouds roll by, or chasing lizards into bushes, or digging for sand crabs, Lee was already choosing her own form of activity. She was happy playing at her own pace without any rules or directions. It wasn’t until she went to nature camp, a summer month spent exploring the Santa Monica Mountains, that Lee found her favorite activity.
If you, too, have a child with ADHD who is having trouble fitting into sports or activities, take note of what she loves to do. What distracts her, causes her to hyperfocus with intensity, and brings a smile to her face? Lee is now a young adult with a job outdoors, surrounded by plants, butterflies, and plenty of lizards. Some things never change.