About Penny Williams

Award-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom. A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom's view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.
Jun 11

Go ahead, freak out

Let’s face it. You weren’t expecting ADHD, Autism, bipolar disorder, FASD, or any health issues classified as a neurobehavioral disorder. No one does. It comes at you suddenly, from behind, and with great force. It’s more than being blindsided; it’s like falling out of the boat, without a life-jacket, and without knowing how to swim. Oh, by the way, there are piranhas under that dark surface too. It’s unexpected and terrifying.

So what do you do when you’re not expecting a developmental or neurobehavioral diagnosis?

now_panic_and_freak_out__by_jweinstock-d3hvgozFreak out!

Go ahead. I’m not kidding. Freak out! Panic! Have a pity party.

Feel sorry for yourself, your child, and your family — it’s natural. Take some time to wallow in the fact that your in-utero plans for your child’s future have possibly changed altogether. I know that’s not the advice you expected, but you have to acknowledge and validate those feelings so you can move beyond the shock and grief and eventually reach a good place.

When you’ve cried until there are no more tears and taken in the “Why Me Monster” as though he is your new BFF, come back to the real world and start researching to discover your next steps to get on your way to successfully parenting a child with neurobehavioral special needs. Take as long as you need — there aren’t rules for this and the information will still be there when you’re ready.

First Things First

Okay, stop panicking now. While it feels like it initially, a behavioral disability diagnosis is nothing to panic about. In fact, I challenge you to celebrate the impending clarity that comes with diagnosis. There’s a certain amount of relief to finally knowing why your child is struggling.

There is one essential thing to remember when your child is first diagnosed. You are not alone. Say it with me, “I am not alone. I am not the only parent who struggles with this special brand of parenting.” You may even want to post it on your bathroom mirror and treat it like a personal affirmation for a while. It certainly won’t hurt. Parenting a child with special needs can be very isolating so you will need to consistently remind yourself that others know a similar journey.

Acceptance of your child, just the way they are, is crucial, now more than ever.

Grieve the Loss

I’m sure you visualized your child gloating about their latest “A,” or crossing the stage during college graduation at some point during your pregnancy or adoption process.  It’s an innate instinct to want the very best for our children and to visualize their life’s milestones very early.

A special needs diagnosis often initially feels like an abrupt end of many of your dreams for your child. Finding out your child has a disability establishes the possibility that all your dreams for them may not come true. But it doesn’t mean their dreams aren’t possible.

Let’s face it, receiving an ADHD, Autism, bi-polar, FASD, learning disability, etc. diagnosis for your child is tough. No, it’s not a terminal illness or a physical handicap, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel sorry and grieve. Your pain is valid, even if it isn’t as intense as someone else’s. You just found out your child has a neurological disorder — that something didn’t quite go right when their brain was developing — and that entitles you to a period of sorrow. If you weren’t upset about it, that would be something to worry about.

It’s natural to grieve when your child is diagnosed with any disability. Your world has changed — either your expectations have been shattered or you have come to the realization that the madness chaos is here to stay, at least somewhat. While it’s necessary to go through that period of grief, you also have to get beyond it. Feeling sorry long term doesn’t help the situation one bit.

Take a little time to be sad, angry, scared, heart-broken. Sit in a room alone for a couple days. Take a bubble bath until you shrivel. Cry. Scream. Recoil. It’s okay to be irrational for a few moments and let these feelings surface.  It’s even healthy, dare I say. Take a few days, maybe a week, to process and work through your feelings — then move on because wallowing is not going to help you or your child.

I sat in front of the T.V. alone in my bedroom and stared out the window for a couple days after my son’s ADHD diagnosis. I cried a lot and I have a faint memory of eating lots of ice cream. I tried not to think about ADHD, yet it was all I thought about for days. Years in fact, if I’m honest with myself.

Gratitude and positivity are the only roads to genuine happiness. For that is how we survive, and eventually thrive. It is easy to feel hopeless when parenting a special needs child. I decided wallowing in my sorrow wasn’t doing me, my son Ricochet, or anyone else any good. Denial and tears were not going to erase his ADHD and they weren’t going to teach us how to do the best for him either. So I chose to direct my compass toward the positive and I moved on to gathering knowledge, the next crucial step.

(Image from jweinstock on deviantart.com.)
You can find Penny Williams’ books on Amazon:

Apr 25

Happy Mama Conference & Retreat: Be surrounded by moms who understand your parenting experience

Are you a stressed-out, overwhelmed, overworked, tired and under-nurtured mother of a child with ADHD, ADD, OCD, SPD, PBD, FASD, Autism, PDD, or any number of other brain-based differences that lead other people to judge your parenting, make you second-guess yourself, challenge your marriage, and keep you up at night worrying incessantly about your child?

If so, then look no further for a soft place to land. The Happy Mama Conference and Retreat weekend getaway has been created especially for you!

The Happy Mama Conference and Retreat is a weekend away for moms of children with special needs, created by moms of children with special needs. Not just a spa weekend, not just an educational conference, not just a moms-only weekend away – it’s all three rolled into one. We want to help you gain community with other mothers who share your questions, concerns, worries, and fears. We want to provide education to help you advocate for your child and yourself, and to give you the tools to re-discover your own happiness. We want to nurture you with a beautiful setting, wonderful food, and fun, relaxing activities.  We want you to be happy, mama!

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May 25

two worlds collide

This post first appeared on {a mom’s view of ADHD} July 4, 2009.


I am an organized planner. I need to plan things. I need to see where the trail is taking me before I begin the journey.

I thrive on familiarity. I am a hopeless creature of habit. I hate vacations. I am anxious going anywhere I’ve never been before, yet I love to explore new places and their possibilities.

I feel nauseous when I talk to someone new, especially if I feel somehow inferior to them. I am anxious about the unknown.

I am uncomfortable with spontaneity even though I am in love with the idea of it.

ITSO organizational wall of storage

This is Luke's room after I spent days {and lots of $$$} organizing and cleaning it. A year later, the bins are pretty much empty and you can't see the floor.

I hate a mess. I have an emotional and even physical need for order. I am always drawn to architecture, interior design, artwork, and patterns with symmetry. Anything left out of it’s place sends me over the edge emotionally. Every object has it’s rightful home.


In stark contrast, my son, Luke, who has ADHD, and my daughter and husband (who I also believe have executive functioning challenges at a minimum but are undiagnosed) are the complete opposite of me in so many ways. Luke and his sister, Emma, will go up and talk to any child, anywhere, to make a friend. For them, approaching someone new isn’t upsetting. Being rejected by that someone is.

They all three, Luke, Emma, and Daddy, have a blind spot when it comes to disorder. Literally, they don’t see it. When I look around our home, I see complete chaos. The way we live in it is total chaos. When I walk into the kitchen and there are scissors on the counter, my radar goes off. This is not where the scissors belong. This is not their home. I experience a physical pull to go and pick them up and put them in their home in the pencil caddy in the cabinet. My subconscious rant goes something like this:

who left the scissors here? why can’t they put anything back where they picked it up from? they know where the scissors go, that’s where they got them from in the first place. if they would just put things back where they got them, they would be able to find them next time without having to ask me. it is so much more efficient to always know where to find something. is that so hard? i mean, how difficult is it to have the one more quick step of returning the scissors to the cabinet? am i the only one who sees the logic in this? why can’t they just do this one thing for me? oh, i’ll put them away. no one else will. ugh…who took all the markers out of the pencil caddy and set them on the shelf? that’s not where they go…

For a long time now I have tried to teach everyone how to be organized. How to keep the household order I am most comfortable in. I get upset, I yell, I place guilt each time I have to return order behind them. I increasingly feel like I spend my entire home life working to return order, to eliminate chaos, to find my happy place. For me, order is a priority because it creates peace and calm for me.

Are the health and happiness of my family a higher priority? Sure they are! That’s why I have tried for the last year or so to overlook the disorganization in the house. I tell myself it doesn’t matter if the sofa pillows are lined up in a neat row or piled in a lump and some thrown on the floor. I tell myself it doesn’t matter if the kid’s toys are strewn all over the dining table, sofa, floor, etc. If it’s not a safety or sanitary issue, it isn’t that important. Why should I make them miserable trying to create order for me? Organization shouldn’t be a top priority.

That resolve didn’t work though. I couldn’t get comfortable in a chaotic setting no matter how much I reasoned with myself. So I decided to just pick up after everyone and quit trying to change them. I would be comfortable and I wouldn’t make them miserable, everybody wins. But now I feel like a maid. I have lost my identity completely. I see myself as mom, nurturer, cook, maid, organizer, shuttle service. I feel like I spend my life doing for others. And I do. But the organizing, picking up part of doing for others is actually for me. That’s a revelation, but it doesn’t make it feel any different.

Despite all of these reincarnations of dealing with my need for order and trying to live comfortably in my own home, it struck me this morning that my family feels the same sort of misplacement and discomfort in my orderly world. It’s not that they are too lazy to put things back where they got them from. It is just not a priority for them. They know logically it will make it easier to find that item the next time but they can’t stay focused on the task long enough to follow all the way through to returning the item to its home. It is just the way their brains are wired. It is their nature. They are different, not damaged.

I cannot change the way any of us are wired. Therefore, I cannot change the way they don’t even see that the sofa pillows are a mess and the scissors are not in their rightful place. Nor can I change that I have a physical need for symmetry and order despite knowing logically it is not a top priority.

So how do we all stay sane when our starkly different worlds continue to collide abruptly? If neither of us can change, and neither of us can comply with the other, does someone just accept to be unhappy in the others’ world.

I am essentially a non-ADHD personality in an ADHD world. And some days I struggle to survive it. But for these crazy non-issues like a lack of order, not because I have a child with a disability. It’s the differences in the way we see and experience the world that are the greatest struggle.

Penny Williams is the creator and editor of {a mom’s view of ADHD}. She is also a freelance writer, real estate broker, wife, and mother of two living in Asheville, N.C. She has published several pieces in ADDitude Magazine, the #1 national publication dedicated to ADHD, and has also been quoted in Parenting.com’s Family Health Guide on ADHD and The High Desert Pulse article, When Ritalin Works. When not writing, she can usually be found behind a camera.

Feb 17

boy, oh boy!

Luke’s first day of school two years ago — the straw that broke the camel’s back

When you set out to have children, you wish for a healthy, happy baby. You may hope for a girl or hope for a boy, but you know either is great as long as it is healthy. While you may have fleeting fears of illness or disability during pregnancy, you plan for a “normal” child unless someone tells you otherwise.

I, of course, was no different. With my first pregnancy, I was desperate to have a girl, and fortunate that I did. Three years later, I found myself pregnant again. I wasn’t so desperate to have a girl this time, although I was still terrified of having a son. I still had no idea what to do with a boy. But I knew early that he was a boy. Definitely a boy! He was already turning my world upside down.

My pregnancy with my son was difficult. Aside from the acne and heartburn, I had a chronic cough, shortness of breath (he was residing in my rib cage), and I ballooned before I was two months along. I was completely miserable just about every moment.

At 39 weeks I convinced my doctor to induce me with a little old-fashioned begging. I was physically suffering and fearing delivering a 10+ pound baby.

I should have known.

I was admitted to the hospital the following morning and began pitocin to induce labor. I was a very happy camper. The hours passed but I didn’t feel like anything was happening — it was still very slow going. It took many, many more hours before I was finally ready to push. By that time I was on oxygen, running a fever, had significant full-body shakes, and two Labor & Delivery nurses had been trying to find his heartbeat for what seemed like an eternity. People were rushing around me frantically — total chaos.

Then, as fate would have it, I began to vomit, and Luke was born. I don’t think I pushed once. I was never so happy to be sick to my stomach. And with all of that, my son made his very dramatic entrance into the world.

Okay Dr. Hill, I concede. You were so right — he was not ready to come out! To this day, my son still doesn’t like to be rushed.

Or maybe not.

He was a high-maintenance infant. He cried a lot and nursed every two hours at the very least. By the time he was two months old, he was spitting up most of what he was drinking and then immediately wanting more. An Upper GI scan confirmed nothing but significant acid reflux.

His toddlerhood and pre-K years were pretty uneventful after that as far as his health was concerned. He reached his milestones — rolling over, sitting up, crawling — a couple months later than the norm but not significant enough to worry.

Luke was a very quiet baby and toddler (once we treated the reflux). He was easy-going and spoke more with gentle actions and expressions than with words. I had always been grateful that I got a quiet child to balance for his loud and talkative sister, but one day I realized I had two very loud, active children. I assumed he just finally reached the age that he was taking cues from his big sister. I had no idea it was a sign of something more.

Through his toddler years, we never noticed anything more than toddler independence, defiance, and tantrums. Nothing that was out of the ordinary for a child that age. Nothing that was a cause for any sort of concern.

You don’t always learn everything you need in kindergarten.

When Luke entered Kindergarten in 2007, I thought he was a regular pre-K kiddo. He was so intelligent I knew he would do great in school, despite starting at a very young age.

His teacher called me for a conference on day two and said I needed to teach him to be more in control of his body and focused on the task at hand. Sure I can see a bright red flag waving in front of my face now. Then? I just thought her expectations were too high and he was just a normal, nearly 5-year-old, inquisitive little boy. I felt certain she hadn’t given the newness of school enough time to settle. But it settles and it only got worse.

We chose a new school, with a new teacher, for first grade the following year – I was confident Luke would find his stride and everything would be great. But just a couple weeks in I noticed a pattern of bad behavior reports coming home. Finally, I saw the red flag. I felt it in the sinking feeling in my gut too. That proved that it wasn’t the loose charter school atmosphere and it wasn’t the kindergarten teacher. Something was going on with Luke.

The teacher began making accommodations in the classroom for some of his learning needs and I took him straight to the pediatrician to talk about having him evaluated. At the time, I was convinced learning disabilities were causing his behavior problems. I read some about ADHD in books about learning disabilities but never gave it any serious thought as a possible diagnosis for Luke.

Nothing is as you expect it.

Luke has ADHD.

The signs were everywhere. From the long, difficult labor, the extra hours on pitocin, the delay in baby milestones, the sudden talkativeness, the difficulty controlling his body, the lack of focus in a busy classroom full of new activities to explore, the bad behavior from a very sweet and kind kid, the school failure from a highly intelligent mind… The signs really were everywhere but I didn’t know enough about ADHD to connect the dots. Each instance by itself can be something entirely different. But, dots connected, it is a clear picture of ADHD. It’s a clear picture of my son.

We’ve been living with the ADHD diagnosis for just over two years now. Over the months I’ve discovered Luke’s different-abilities run a lot deeper than just ADHD {as if that weren’t enough}. He also has Sensory Processing Disorder, some anxiety, and Dysgraphia (a learning disability that affects written expression and handwriting), as well as Gifted intelligence. It took two years to really get a clear picture of Luke’s differences and how to help him, and I’m sure there’s much more for us to still uncover. We take it one day at a time, one moment at a time really, to create the best life we can for our differently-abled son.

Pass it on.

While there are often many signs of developmental/behavioral/mental disorders from a young age, parental denial and societal scorn seems to bury them. In the future it will be easier to accept these differently-abled children and see them for their many gifts when our communities are educated enough not to judge. We must continue the conversation about our children’s differences so we can change their experience.

Join our conversation about ADHD and Learning Disabilities at  {a mom’s view of ADHD}.

Penny Williams is the creator of {a mom’s view of ADHD}, where she writes candidly about the everyday experiences of parenting her young ADHD son and her neglected-feeling, neurotypical tween daughter. She is the author of Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She’s also a real estate broker, freelance writer, mother of two, and wife. Read more of her essays on ADHD in ADDitude Magazine and on her website.