I can still feel the hot tears filling my eyes and the tight ball in my stomach as I prepared for the words I knew our therapist was getting ready to say. She had in her hands, the results of my seven-year-old’s Connor’s Scale, the standard diagnostic tool for assessing ADHD and other sensory processing disorders, in her hands. What she was about to say wasn’t a revelation – it was simply confirmation of what we had probably suspected but been afraid to admit for some time. My sweet blue-eyed boy, my perfect and beautiful baby, had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, mixed with a touch of anxiety and some Oppositional Defiance Disorder. The words that came out of her mouth after that were a bit of a blur but the feelings of grief, hopelessness and fear that hit my heart remain etched in my memory. Contrary to what my husband and I had been trying to convince ourselves since he was three – that he was just having a delayed version of the terrible two’s and he would soon grow out of it – this was our child, suddenly labeled with, well, a brain disorder. All I could muster was a “What are our next steps?,” as I struggled to absorb the information. Those next steps would be a trip to our pediatrician, where the conversation would focus on what interventions would be best for our soon to be second-grader. I cried a lot in the days following his “diagnosis.” I cried, grieving for the perfect baby I always had. I cried in anger at myself for taking the news so hard. I cried in frustration at my complete lack of knowledge about the world of ADHD. I cried for the challenges I knew faced us as a family. And then I did what all Momma Bears do when our cubs need us the most. I dusted myself off and became a student of the new world that my family and I had been unwillingly immersed in. I researched the pros and cons of medication therapy, I researched cognitive behavior therapies and I researched all that I could about the “brain disorder” that my son apparently had. I reached out to my fellow moms for advice and insights. I’m still very much a student – and yes, I still cry on the challenging days – but as a woman of faith, I am realizing the blessing that my son’s ADHD diagnosis has brought our family.
- My son’s brain is wired differently. And that’s actually, well, amazing. His mind (and body) literally never stop. He never stops thinking of ways to turn the playroom into a fortress or ways to make a grand sea adventure out of his bath toys. He questions everything – and sometimes, frankly, I don’t have an answer for the perpetual “why’s” that he peppers every conversation with. That creativity, that drive, that energy, will fuel him long past his childhood days. Maybe that busy ADHD brain – that drives his father and I up the wall at bedtime each night – refuses to stop thinking and dreaming for something truly wonderful – like alternative energy sources or a cure for cancer. Me and my non-ADHD brain is already tired and ready for a nap just imagining the things he can do.
- I know my son better, even if I will never understand exactly how his brain works. Ever since he was four, I’ve struggled to really understand my son and why he can’t follow the rules the way other children seem to. Why he refuses to sit still in restaurants, even with his father and I using all our parenting tricks of the trade to reinforce or discourage his behavior – these have been sources of tension in our home since before he started preschool. My husband and I are fairly compliant, color inside the lines kind of people whose childhoods were filled with much of the same conformity. I wondered, is this a cry for attention because we work so much? Knowing that this isn’t a naughty kid but a little boy whose mind is wired differently has helped me get to know my amazing kid in a way that I never knew how to do before. He is funny, whip smart and quick with a jazzy comment – it’s that lack of impulse control to be sure – but on his best days, my son seems to turn that into some of the most compelling and interesting conversations I have ever had. As I read more about parenting an ADHD kid, I find myself saying to myself “Yep, that’s my son” to many of the passages of those books. And all of those seasons of tee ball where we begged him to just stand out in the field for one more inning? Its crystal clear why that was just about a nearly impossible thing to ask.
- The club my kid is now in is a really cool one – full of remarkable people. As I Googled everything I could about ADHD, I learned about everything from side effects of medicine to the long-term consequences of ADHD on criminal activity (that was not MY search but one of the not so fun articles my feverish research took me to!) You know what else I learned? Some pretty remarkable people have ADHD. That singer/songwriter/dancer/actor Justin Timberlake? Yep, he’s a vocal ADHD club member. That U.S. swimmer with 28 gold medals – Michael Phelps – yeah, him too. Sir Richard Branson – you know, the guy who founded his own company when he was 16 and is the owner of Virgin Airlines. There’s another one! While not formerly diagnosed as a child, the late Steve Jobs was well documented in sharing his own childhood challenges as a kid whose challenging and often defiant behavior led him to be one of the biggest innovators of our generation! Actor Jim Carry, gymnast Simone Biles, political strategist James Carville and former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw are all part of the ADHD club – and there are countless other really smart, successful, really significant people whose parents got the same ADHD news for their kiddos.
- The reminder that my Village has got my back. Whether you call them your village, your Mom Club or Wine Buddies, my Village is full of with fellow Moms I already know and love – and now that Nate’s dad and I know that our son has ADHD, we’ve discovered new and old fellow parents are going through the same journeys with their children. Those moms (and dads!) have reached out to me, given advice, shared the good, bad and the ugly of dealing with their own child’s ADD/ADHD successes and setbacks – and made me realize that regardless of whether your child has ADD, ADHD, autism, anxiety, – or is a perfectly carefree kid – this parenting thing is hard work and we need as much support from our fellow parent network to survive it. We forget just how amazing this support system is until it our path is at its darkest, when we need that lift from those that have walked our path and survived it – and I remain ever grateful for the reminder that my Village has got our backs as we take the next, often uncertain steps in our family’s own journey.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not sugar coating the challenges that lie ahead for my son. Do I wish he did not have one more pothole in the already difficult road of growing up? Do I wish that good behavior was something that came easier for him at school and at home? And that impulsivity, aka lack of filter, that causes him to blurt out exactly what he is thinking? Yeah, I wish I could say that it doesn’t cause that whole business of making new friends just a bit harder for him. And going to a restaurant without worrying that people aren’t applauding after we leave because my kid cannot sit still through the meal – someone tell me what its like, because I doubt I’ll experience it anytime soon. Challenges to be sure – but I hope and believe the positives we’ll can glean from going through this as a family will help us navigate them. My dreams for my boy haven’t changed one bit – but understanding now how his brain and body work tells me that perhaps my “normal” brain isn’t quite equipped to imagine the dreams already percolating in that sweet boy’s beautiful busy mind!