When J was first diagnosed with ADHD I was relieved. Finally, something to sink our teeth into. I believed with knowledge came power and we would now have the power to give him the tools to help him “fit” into the traditional school model. As I began to read and learn more about the way my son’s brain worked, the more I realized that the perception of an ADHDer and the reality of what an ADHDer struggles with are oceans apart.
His brain works differently, it’s impulsive and creative. It zings around like a ping pong off of ideas and random thoughts. It allows him to jump across crevices on an Arizona mountain without much thought to the fall below, it leads him to climb buildings and scale trees and makes it nearly impossible for him to stop making noises. It also allows him to create beautiful art, writing I am envious of and provides him the ability to listen to a song on the radio and then play it on his guitar. His lack of fear makes it easy for him to play a game where balls whiz past his head at 80+ miles an hour and the opposing team is chasing him down.
The more I learned and the more I understood the more I realized that most people don’t understand ADHD: not his teachers, not the administrators, not school counselors or friends. They understood that it makes it hard for him to focus or turn work in, hard to complete tasks and sit in a seat but they don’t understand the effort it takes for him to spend eight hours in a building that is not big enough for his energy, his spirit, his brain. They don’t understand that his brain, his actual brain, works differently. It’s wired in a way that what they are asking of him borders on ridiculous.
I have heard plenty of times from friends and family alike: he needs to gain those skills, to learn how to sit still, be on time, stop blurting out and be quiet. He will learn ways to coerce his brain into accommodating the world’s expectations, he already has. But there’s so much to be learned by the way he thinks, so much to gain by living the way he does that I can’t help but resent, just a little bit, the box I am forced to push him into every day.
Don’t get me wrong, this game isn’t all positive and fun. There are days of utterly exhausting frustration on our part, his part, school’s part. There are days of anger and discontent and days where he wishes his brain worked differently. On those days, when he says that to me, that he wishes he was different, my only answer is brutal honesty. I would not change him, change his brain, change the way he thinks for anything in the world. He was given this challenge for a reason and he will rise. Wishing it away hurts me, makes me sad. There are so many things I would have missed out on if he were neurotypical, if he thought like everyone else, if his beautiful brain were wired “correctly”.
ADHD teaches me to laugh. I can be frustrated, absolutely irritated with my day, my life, my work, the washing machine, the snow, the vacuum …. anything and everything … and he will make me laugh. J will bust in the door from school, bursting at the seams with energy from having to contain his thoughts, his energy and his body for so long. He will be singing a song, far too loudly, with an Australian accent and with made up words and will stop, look up and say, “Hi, Momma!” Who doesn’t laugh at that?
ADHD teaches me to reach outside my own box, to see things in different ways, to provide empathy where empathy is due for those who don’t think like me. Pretty powerful, if you ask me.
ADHD teaches me that shame, frustration, guilt and regret are heavy weights to bear and if you continually make someone believe they are not enough, the weight will become so heavy that it will be difficult to climb out from under. No one should have to live as if they are less than someone else or that who they are is less than good. Everyone has strengths. Find them. Nurture them. Even if they aren’t what you expect them to be.
ADHD teaches me to say fuck it to the rules. (At least sometimes.) I am, by nature, a rule follower. I follow the rules and the path set in front of me. This last weekend we got J’s senior pictures taken. I wanted him to get a hair cut. He didn’t want one. I wanted him to shave. He didn’t want to. I wanted him to wear nicer clothes. Yeah. He didn’t want to. So I didn’t argue, I quit fighting what I thought the pictures needed to be like and I have the most amazing, most Jackson like pictures I could imagine.
ADHD teaches me there is more than one path to success. He chooses the harder road, no doubt. He chooses the road that would give me hives and make me so uncomfortable I would wilt. He rises. He falls, he always falls, and he falls harder. But he gets up stronger and with more fight than I see out of most 18 year olds.
ADHD teaches me failure is a part of life. It just is. I have spent the larger part of my 46 years trying to avoid it, specifically not doing things that might challenge me so that I don’t fail. There’s no way around failure, no way to excuse it and no way to pretend it didn’t happen. Accept it. Sit with it for a minute. Learn from it. And get back up.
ADHD teaches me to love him where he’s at, not where I want him to be. Because frankly, where I “want” him to be is my path, not his. Because frankly, where I “think” he should be isn’t his desire. If he were to follow my lead I would miss out on the brilliance that is my son because I would be too busy casting my shadow over his light.
ADHD teaches me that there will always be those who don’t buy in, don’t believe and don’t understand. There are those who believe that more recess “cures” the attention and focus issues, that less screen time and more family meals and increased structure will change him. There are those that believe ADHD is a lack of parenting, lack of discipline, lack of leadership. Don’t you think we would have tried those tactics already? Don’t you think I would have fought with all I have to make that a reality if all that really worked? Seriously. Sit with him for five minutes. It won’t even take that long to make you a believer. And frankly, I don’t give a fuck if you aren’t. (Something else I learned from ADHD)
ADHD teaches me that for every struggle there is an equal benefit. His rapid fire lack of attention provides him with song lyrics that fly off the tip of his tongue at the drop of a hat. His impulsivity has broken his bones, but has lead him to find lacrosse and build a life and future around it. The trick is to balance the two, and while that’s hard, incredibly hard, it’s not impossible. It’s just impossible to do it in a box that won’t accommodate both the struggle and the success.
ADHD has taught me that kids do well if they can. No kid wants to forget things, be the kid who can’t sit still or forget his homework. Remembering that he has a lag in that skill, and that he needs different constructs to be successful has us working together to solve problems. Because if my answer were right, if it was going to work, it would have already.
ADHD taught me to be more patient, to not exert my will (because frankly that’s futile), to ask for collaboration to solve problems and to be sure to value my son’s opinion. It has made me a better parent, a more honest human being and a more resilient woman. Not bad for something with such a bad rap.
(This post was Jacko Approved ;))