Neuroatypical Kids

Walking a Tightrope Between Parent of a Child with ADHD and Dance Mom

I always knew my daughter was different, right from the womb. Not better or worse, just different. People tried to normalize her activity level, her issues with socialization, and her fears as “all kids have fears” but I knew she was different right from the get go.

So now that we have a formal diagnosis of ADHD and anxiety, I am in the process of deciding whether to medicate for the ADHD symptoms, which is a dilemma in itself. ( I am convinced she is also gifted, and there may be other learning issues, but as we don’t have benefits there is no way I can afford a psycho-educational assessment right now.)

I am a single parent. I work three jobs and home school my daughter because attending normal school became untenable….she suffered bullying and difficulties through out her first three years into grade 1, so much so that her physical symptoms of school avoidance, tummy aches, nightmares, outbursts, and constipation were dominating our lives.


But, I did my best to manage the symptoms of anxiety, because through junior and senior kindergarten, she was described as a “rock star” by her teachers, so I saw that there was value from her attending school.

I should have known not to get complacent.

Within a month of starting grade 1, my amazingly brilliant child who I couldn’t keep up with at home in regards to her curiosity and thirst for knowledge was suddenly behind in everything when the education style moved from learner driven to curriculum driven in grade 1. Suddenly, over the course of one summer, she went from being a “rock star” to being behind in every subject.

It’s been a bumpy, ride, and I couldn’t love my daughter more. She is brilliant, and funny, and a true performer, and a caring and sweet little girl.

But, she is exhausting. And I feel guilty for feeling exhausted by her…it’s a never ending cycle…lol. ( I laugh because if I cry I will never stop, and laughing is better)

Today, I’d like to talk about my current dilemma in our neuroatypical saga.

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

My daughter is a competitive dancer, and here’s my concern. We have been been four years at the same dance studio. She has been competing on the performance group for 3 of those years. She has been a performer from birth and she shines when she is in the spotlight.

I have also found that she does better socializing in her dance group because they are all there for a common goal and they have constant direction in their lessons, so it is easier for her to read social cues and navigate the landscape.

Not to mention the outlet for her creativity and energy is a godsend.

But there are issues. My daughter is hypersensitive, and always has been. Things that would not bother other kids will bring her to tears and she will fixate on them for weeks.

Several of her instructors give feedback in ways that I do not deem appropriate.

Now, a little background on me. I am a national level figure skating coach with a degree in Kinesiology. I have been coaching for 30 years and my life’s work has been all about learning how to teach young students, and how to give feedback. I have lost count of the papers I have written and the other coaches I have mentored in terms of helping them learn how to coach young athletes, and I myself never stop learning and trying to better myself and how I teach my skaters.

So I know what I am talking about when I see feedback given in a manner that is not conducive to building self-esteem.

And I feel that these particular teachers need to be aware that some of their dancers are not good with always being told negative things with no positive to balance them, or being singled out publicly when they are corrected.

This is hard to handle for a neurotypical athlete, let alone an athlete with my daughters issues.

I have emailed constructive feedback, asking for some compromise in how feedback is given. I have also worked consistently with the studio in terms of sharing my daughters issues and her diagnosis. I have given them a wonderful website with a list of coaches strategies for working with athletes with ADHD and anxiety, and I have countless one on ones with the instructors. I have bought private lessons for my daughter to help her with the smaller details of dance and her focus (group lessons are hard for her due to so much going on).

The problem is, nothing is changing. She still feels singled out. She still struggles with the way the instructors teach, and the studio is extremely disorganized. I can never be sure the information I give to the owner/director is being passed down to the teachers. Her private lessons were discontinued due to scheduling on their end, and despite repeated attempts to re-book, because my daughter loves them and they help her tremendously, nothing has been done.

I know that this is likely to be an issue at most dance studios, because from my experience, most coaches are not well-versed on the differences between neurotypical and neuroatypical athletes. If we change studios, it becomes a 45 minute drive to find a new one, and I am already stretched to the limit.

Photo by Alexander Dummer

I’m at a loss. I feel like that parent that always has to advocate, and I catch myself wondering how much I have to help her to get accommodations for her issues and how much I should just tell her that there are always different kinds of coaches and you have to learn how to deal with criticism if you want to get better.

To add insult to injury, the issue of feedback is only one of the many problems I have had where the teachers and instructors fail to heed my concerns about things that cause my daughter excess hardship in practice; things such as playing the music so loud that she has to cover her ears and cringe during practice and, yet, they still. won’t. turn. it. down.

My daughter and I talk about the value of hard-work, goal setting, losing as an opportunity to get better and above all, enjoying the process and having fun ALL the time. I have gone to great lengths to show respect for the studio and all the teachers in front of her and use our conversations as a way to model good sportsmanship and coping skills, but secretly, I am fuming and feeling like the studio is utterly incapable of handling a special needs athlete.

I’m really having trouble finding the balance between mom, coach and dance parent, and worse, I feel singled out, blamed and shamed every time I try to advocate for her. To be fair, I don’t think that is anyone’s intent, they do their best, but that is how it comes across to me.

So I will continue to hold my arms out, and do my best to balance on the tightrope that is now my life, wavering back and forth between dance mom, coach, and parent of a special needs child.

Do you have any stories to share about your neuroatypical child and the obstacles you’ve faced? Feel free to share in the comments!

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