I am so excited to bring you another ADHD Mama Story! There is so much to be learned from other mamas who are on a similar journey – parenting kids with ADHD.
I wanted my blog to be a place where moms raising complicated kids could come and see themselves and feel a kinship – even across the internet.
One of my favorite things is when I get to share someone else’s story, too! love when I find another ADHD mama who is willing to open up and share.
We all benefit so much from hearing one another’s story.
I met Hillary Jarrard through my blog at the very most perfect time – just as I was starting the IEP process for my oldest son, a freshman in high school.
Hillary Jarrard is an advocacy & clean-eating coach, wife of an entrepreneur, and mom of 3 boys. She helps parents of exceptional kids find hope. Hillary teaches an easy to follow path to advocacy and clean eating to best support your child so you can find joy and peace along the way.
I love this interview because Hillary is so relatable and has great – go do it today – advice. Be sure to check the links at the end of this post – you’ll want to check out her Youtube videos, for sure!
Life as an ADHD Mama
Tell us a little about your life as an ADHD Mama:
Hillary: Two of my three boys have been identified as dyslexic and ADHD, while all three of my boys are in the gifted program at school. My house is rarely quiet when my boys are awake.
My two boys with ADHD love climbing, exploring, and shooting nerf guns until our Australian Shepherd Ginger comes to me in the nerf-gun-free-kitchen zone to get away from the noise. Our best family time together is when we are outside hiking and enjoying nature.
Sometimes the ADHD climbing is walking on our living room furniture, which I have finally accepted as normal when my boys are little. (Good thing I bought the Ikea EKTORP couches with washable covers!) I wanted to embrace the whole white couch, modern farmhouse look, but with 3 boys and a dog, I decided to go for the practical gray couch with white accent pillows.
One of my ADHD boys is a mountain goat. He can climb anything and feels alive when he is climbing up a slippery waterfall or rocky mountainside, while the rest of us are enjoying taking pictures from the trail below. As an ADHD mama, I often yell from beneath, “BE CAREFUL!” On one vacation in the Wyoming mountains, I remembered to take a deep breath and laugh in the middle of my normal declaration to be safe and shouted, “BE CAREFUL… AND HAVE FUN!”
My ADHD boys are passionate, determined, inclusive of others, and love to be the center of attention, whether playing Pink Panther on the piano or getting a touchdown in football.
As an extroverted introvert, I carve out 30 minutes of required “rest time” after lunch to be myself and recharge. Rest time for an introvert means a room all to yourself with the door closed to take a nap or read a book. My husband doesn’t require the down time that I desperately need to get through the day. Rest time to my extroverted ADHD boys means working out with weights, playing basketball with a brother, or petting Ginger’s soft fur. Not exactly what rest time means to me, but thankfully we all get our emotional needs met.
Difficulties in the Early Years
What were some of your earliest difficult experiences with your kids?
Hillary : I loved the library growing up and thought it might be a place of refuge for my son. But I found out that even at a young age, my son didn’t love the library. My 18-month-old son was kicked out of children’s story time at the library for “screeching” while the older kids were singing. That was embarrassing!
Growing up with two sisters, I assumed that it was a normal part of being a boy for my son to run back and forth from wall to wall and couch to couch to get his energy out.
By the time my first ADHD son was 3 years old, I was embarrassed to take my boys to playdates with a mom of girls unless we met outside at a park because my son would never sit still or talk with an indoor voice.
At one playdate at our house, my son slammed his truck into his friend’s truck within 15 minutes of the friend being at our house. Since a normal playdate lasted an hour, I had to decide how to escort the friend and his mom out the front door quickly. It took another 15 minutes to find the friend’s shoes and drink cup, while my son was continuing to meltdown.
When my son was four, he would have 24 to 48 hours periods of raging with angry screams. I was at a loss to answer the questions my extended family asked me about why he was emotionally falling apart.
I had no idea that clean eating was the key for him to leave behind these angry rages and over-stimulated meltdowns for good.
By 1st grade, we had gone gluten-free and dairy-free as a family. When we took cow dairy out of our home, my son finally stopped jumping from couch to couch in our living room. He was still an active energetic boy, but he was no longer hyperactive and bouncing off the walls.
His energy was seen as positive by his 1st-grade teacher. His teacher saw his reading struggles in the fall and helped my son get identified as dyslexic and ADHD by the end of 1st grade.
In 3rd grade, his teacher was keeping him in at recess to redo minor quizzes because he was having a hard time sitting still in class. When this came to my attention, I realized that he needed every minute of his recess to get his energy out and that his normal energy at home was not translating well into the classroom.
By 4th grade, we had changed schools to go to a charter school with two recesses! It was a school that focused on creative thinking, not just finding the right answer, and they had no homework until middle school. This school was a much better fit for my son than the public school. I received feedback that my ADHD son loved to share what he was learning in class even while the teacher was talking. This was distracting for the teacher and his classmates.
About this time, one of my other sons was old enough for me to recognize that he had ADHD symptoms as well. My younger ADHD son talked constantly, even before he had words, and hid in the clothes rack at Target, not answering when I called him.
Grocery Store Trips:
I didn’t like taking my boys to Target because of sneering looks from the old lady shoppers and store clerks. One boy was inside my cart, one ADHD boy was lying flat underneath my cart, and one ADHD boy was riding standing up on the side of my cart.
I was just trying to survive.
I remember taking all 3 boys to the grocery store and thinking it would help if we each pushed our own cart. There was even a store with tiny carts for kids. Yay.
That was a disaster! One son was running behind the cart and coasting on it, while another son was going in a different direction.
ADHD Mama Tip: In a rare emergency situation where I have to bring all 3 boys to the grocery store, I don’t grab a cart or a basket. I only stay in the store long enough to buy the things that the boys and I can carry. That way I get in and get out of the store quickly. Giving their hands something to carry helps them to stay out of mischief.
ADHD Natural Remedies
What got you started on your clean eating journey?
Hillary: Our clean eating journey started ten years ago when my three-year-old son had eczema from his allergy to egg whites. As we started the overwhelming journey of cooking without eggs and using egg replacements in baking, I was referred from our pediatrician’s office to a nutritionist who taught me how to cook with just the egg yolks. The nutritionist said to avoid gluten and processed sugar since my son already had a food allergy.
Sometimes, you can be sensitive to more than one thing.
Avoiding gluten and processed sugar became the first piece of the puzzle to help improve my son’s ADHD brain function. (This was great for us, too!)
By maintaining gluten-free and dairy-free and starting a vitamin and supplement routine recommended by a brain doctor, we found my son surviving school, but just barely. We were still missing a piece of his puzzle for his brain to process efficiently. He was working so hard and struggling to focus.
At the end of 3rd grade for my ADHD son, I heard about an eating plan called the Feingold Diet from my friend, who had been raised on this ADHD natural solution. She called the Feingold diet the “better fuel for your brain.”
After changing one food a week for 6 months, we had implemented the Feingold eating plan. We found that bananas cause brain fog because of the gas that is used to ripen all bananas, even organic bananas.
Around six months into the Feingold Diet, my son came to me and said, “Mom, it doesn’t hurt my brain to read anymore! Mom, I can remember things better.”
Read more about how my son’s ADHD was helped through clean eating in my article How to be Successful with Clean Eating: 3 Easy Steps
ADHD Diet for Kids and Families
What kind of a diet do you follow as a family?
Hillary: In The Jarrard house, we have nicknamed it the “Better Fuel for Your Brain Eating Plan.” It is similar to Paleo. We are gluten-free, dairy-free, and processed sugar-free. We avoid food dyes and foods that keep the brain from processing easily per the Feingold Diet.
What is the Feingold Diet?
Hillary: My simple explanation of the Feingold Diet is to avoid foods that interrupt brain function like food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives, and salicylates. Think of organic vs. non-organic foods. Certain foods grow their own natural pesticides that keep bugs from eating them. These natural pesticides called salicylates interrupt brain function. You can eat food with low or medium salicylates, but avoid food with high salicylates.
This magnet created by All Natural Mom makes the Feingold Diet easy to understand. (Yes Hillary! I own 2 of these!!)
We have been able to add back a few foods from the Feingold Diet that are not problems.
If we are traveling or have gone out to eat, my boys can have the problem foods on a non-school day or summer break. But I have to be ready for the 24 to 48 hours of ADHD behavior that will result from those foods.
We still eat cane sugar, coconut sugar, and maple syrup. We avoid agave and brown rice syrup that have proven to not be the best fuel for my boys’ brains.
Some people have said that sounds too hard to keep up with. For us, the Better Fuel for Your Brain Eating Plan is easier than managing the ADHD and aggressive behaviors that my boys show when they eat off the plan.
ADHD School Interventions
What school interventions have been most helpful to your kids?
Hillary: These accommodations for ADHD that have helped my boys the most.
- Sit near the teacher
- Allow for movement breaks
- Give step-by-step directions and read written instructions out loud
- Simplify directions using a single keyword for the most important ideas
- Check in frequently to make sure the student understands and can repeat the directions
- Help the student break assignments into smaller steps & provide feedback as the student completes each step
- Provide extended time for taking tests and writing assignments
- Have an additional teacher present if the teacher needs to correct my son for a behavior situation
You talk a lot about advocacy on your blog. How can parents be better advocates for their children?
Hillary: The biggest lesson that I have learned is to pay attention to my child’s struggles at home and at school. Online school during COVID really helped me to see my ADHD boys’ struggles more than ever before.
My two ADHD boys learn better in the classroom than they do at home. They don’t do well sitting at a computer all day long. For my youngest with ADHD, online school showed me how much anxiety he was experiencing from handwriting. We talked with his teacher about handwriting once a week and doing dictation for writing assignments the rest of the week.
If you could sit down on my IKEA couches while I offer you a cup of Trader Joe’s peppermint tea, I would tell you the following:
YOU REALLY ARE YOUR CHILD’S BEST ADVOCATE
Find out if your child is struggling at school with focus/attention, handwriting, anxiety, or reading.
If your child is bored in class that they excel in, they may be gifted. A parent can request a child to be tested for the gifted and talented test as early as kindergarten. You don’t have to wait for a teacher recommendation.
Our school uses the CogAT test for the gifted test. You can practice with your child for the gifted test that your school uses if it is provided through this invaluable website.
Ask for your child’s current reading level every quarter in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. After 3rd grade, check your child’s reading level yearly. Compare your child’s reading level with a grade level conversion chart.
The common misconception is that a struggling reader will just figure out how to read by 2nd or 3rd grade. The problem with waiting to get help from a dyslexia specialist is that your child’s self-esteem can plummet from as early as kindergarten, when they realize they are in the lowest reading group level. Their self-esteem can continue to nose dive, when they are in 1st and 2nd grade when other kids are reading chapter books.
Then as we finish our peppermint tea in front of the cozy fireplace, if you say that you are noticing your child struggling at school, I would tell you these 4 steps helped me:
- Step 1: Email the teacher about your child’s struggles.
- Step 2: Keep copies of your child’s standardized tests. Keep copies of any class work/homework that show your child is struggling.
- Step 3: Speak up for your child if you are seeing anxiety, lack of desire to go to school, or handwriting struggles at home, even if the teacher is not seeing it in the classroom.
- Step 4: Ask in writing for a full individual evaluation (FIE) testing.
Some parents notice their child is struggling and ask the administration to test their child. The parents hear back that unless their child is failing or behind grade level in reading, there is nothing the school can do. This is not true. There are laws providing testing for children even if they are not failing. The parent needs to ask for the testing in writing by mentioning learning struggles or anxiety at home that affect their child in the classroom. Once you have requested testing, you will have a school meeting, probably a virtual meeting because of COVID, to review the testing.
Prepare for your school meeting using what I learned over 7 years condensed into 10 Things Not To Do in a 504 or ARD Meeting.
More Natural Remedies for ADHD
Tell us some other ways you have helped your children thrive.
Hillary: When my first ADHD son was in 3rd grade, I read a book about limiting screen time and encouraging more time outside. We started limiting electronic time to only non-school days to help my boys’ brains focus.
We bought a trampoline.
We biked to our neighborhood public school.
I tried essential oils, which I love and use daily but haven’t found to help with ADHD yet.
I got my son help from a vitamin brain doctor and found which vitamins he had deficiency in from a blood and stool test.
When my first ADHD son was in 4th grade, he was climbing the fence in the backyard for something new to do. By his 5th grade year, we chose to move to 3 acres of land with a cul de sac. We have trees to climb (instead of an alley fence,) a treehouse, and a pond to put our kayak in. We love our charter school. We drive 30 minutes each day to the charter school. We don’t love the drive. But we are thankful for an outdoor retreat to explore even on the normal day of the week.
What do you love most about your ADHD children?
My two boys with ADHD have a passion for life that challenges me and inspires me. Their overflowing joy for life keeps my days full of adventure with shouts of, “Mom, watch me!” They dance to the music at our favorite Mexican restaurant like no one is watching. Their happy perspective of life is contagious. They have big dreams about what they want to be when they grow up, like being a DJ or an artist/ninja. I love that they think outside the box.
How do you cope with the stress of being an ADHD mama?
I try to do yoga a few minutes daily and 60 minutes once a week. Taking our dog for a walk in the wooded walking paths near our house encourages me to soak in the sunshine. Living on our land really helps to give me a place to step outside to hear the fountain in our pond, sit in a hammock, or sit in our stock tank swimming pool reading a book over the summer.
We love having dinner on our back patio. Eating dinner together as a family outside helps me to relax from the busy day.
Find Hillary on the Web
Where can people find you on the web?
You can get monthly updates from me by signing up for my monthly newsletter at thepeacefuladvocate.com
I’m following her on all three! Hillary, you are such a wealth of information!
Want more ADHD Parenting Relief?
Learn why a Neuropsyche Evaluation is THE TEST to get your ADHD Kiddo HERE.
Great ideas for fueling your ADHD Kiddo for success HERE.