I can still feel the 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 7-year-old’s Conners Scale, the standard diagnostic tool for assessing ADHD and other 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 beautiful baby, had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, as well as anxiety and oppositional defiance disorder.
The words that came out of her mouth after that were a bit of a blur, but the feelings of sadness, hopelessness and fear that hit my heart remain etched in my memory. 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 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 my family and I had been immersed in.
I researched the pros and cons of medication therapy, I researched cognitive behavior therapies and I researched all that I could about my son’s diagnosis. 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 I am realizing more about my son’s ADHD diagnosis and the beauty of a brain that’s different.
1. My son’s brain is wired differently. And that’s actually, well, amazing. His mind (and body) 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 “whys” he peppers every conversation with. That creativity, that drive, that energy, will fuel him long past his childhood days. Maybe that busy brain refuses to stop thinking and dreaming for something truly wonderful — like alternative energy sources or a cure for cancer. My own brain is already tired and ready for a nap just imagining the things he can do.
2. I know my son better, even if I will never understand exactly how his brain works. Ever since he was 4, I’ve struggled to really understand my son and why he can’t follow the rules the way other children seem to. Why he can’t sit still in restaurants, even with his father and I using all our parenting tricks of the trade to reinforce or discourage his behavior. 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 I never knew how to do before. He is funny, whip smart and quick with a jazzy comment. It might be a lack of impulse control, 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 kid with ADHD, I find myself saying, “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.
3. 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 some pretty remarkable people have ADHD. That U.S. swimmer with 28 gold medals – Michael Phelps – is an ADHD club member. yeah, Sir Richard Branson – you know, the guy who started a magazine when he was 16 and is the owner of Virgin Airlines. There’s another one! Gymnast Simone Biles and other famous people are all part of the ADHD club – and there are countless other really smart, successful people whose parents got the same ADHD news for their kiddos.
4. 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 my son’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 about parenting successes and setbacks — and made me realize that regardless of whether your child has a diagnosis or not, 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 we need that lift from those who have walked our path — 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 sugarcoating the challenges that might lie ahead for my son. Do I wish he did not have one more potential challenge 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? There are challenges to be sure, but I hope and believe the positives we 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 own brain isn’t quite equipped to imagine the dreams already percolating in that sweet boy’s beautiful, busy mind.
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