Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
“Yes, Lucas has ADHD.”
It’s been five years since our doctor spoke those words. We’d suspected it since Lucas was in preschool, but the official diagnosis at age 7 changed the conversation. No more wondering. Now there were decisions to make. A future to consider. A truckload of panic to work through.
It didn’t matter that deep down, I already knew — the diagnosis still thrust me into a whirlwind of grief, guilt, and fear.
Grief, because an ADHD mama can’t help but note the unfairness of her child having to work so much harder than everyone else to complete a simple word search. A mama can’t help but mourn the loss of Little League, at least for a while, because her kid’s ADHD doesn’t allow the attention required to coordinate with others. A mama can’t help but grieve when she must acknowledge that no amount of nurturing can fix this.
Guilt, because even though a mother knows on a cognitive level that she did not cause her child’s ADHD, she can’t help but wonder: Was it those few alcoholic drinks I had before I knew I was pregnant? Was it the stress I experienced during my pregnancy? I put him in preschool at age 2. Did I sever our attachment and trigger his ADHD?
We wonder, What if ADHD isn’t a disorder at all, but rather a different way of seeing and interacting with the world, and my interference is causing more harm?
Since preschool, our child has been an obvious outlier, always wiggling and spinning on the periphery; he has been called out by every teacher who ever taught him and driven us as parents to the brink of distraction. But we still wonder if we’re being unfair — if we should just let him be. There are so many layers of guilt.
And fear. What does the future hold for a child so distracted that he doesn’t notice when he walks out the door without shoes on his feet? Will the world tolerate the incessant noises he makes? Will he be able to keep friends? Will he be able to handle high school? Will he even make it to college? Will he be able to keep a job? If he gets married, will his spouse accept his quirks? Will they roll their eyes and make him feel small because he can’t remember to close drawers or put the toothpaste cap back on?
These worries weighed heavily on me in the early days of Lucas’s ADHD diagnosis, even as I was reading and highlighting stacks of books about ADHD and love languages and parenting strong-willed children. They haunted me as I set up meetings with teachers and counselors so we could create a plan to accommodate Lucas’s learning needs.
We didn’t medicate Lucas right away. For a year, we tried dietary changes and behavioral interventions. They helped a little, but not enough to make Lucas’s school experience tolerable for him and his classmates and teachers. We began a low dose of Focalin and saw a huge difference for Lucas. He went from mostly Ds to getting As and Bs. We stopped receiving disciplinary notes from his teachers.
Lucas is in sixth grade now. He is still on meds and we have maintained the dietary changes. Thanks to the many books I read, my husband and I have adapted our parenting style to better suit a child with ADHD. Lucas has also discovered music in the form of electric guitar. For some reason, this instrument enables him to focus. He’s good at it — really good. He loves to read. He excels at art and is uncannily good at math.
Don’t let me give you the idea that ADHD no longer impacts our lives. It absolutely does, but not in the same way as before. My grief and guilt are nearly nonexistent, and my fears for Lucas have muted to the same dull roar as those I have for my neurotypical daughter. These days, ADHD is just another cog in the machinery of our lives. It’s a part of Lucas, a frustration, and an endearment at the same time. We are old pros at modifying our lives to accommodate ADHD, and we are not afraid.
So this is what I want to tell parents of a child with a new ADHD diagnosis: It gets better. Yes, there will be hurdles, stumbling blocks, tears, and frustration — but I promise you will find your way. If you are already reading articles and books, communicating with your child’s teachers and doctors, you are already halfway there. You might shake and stammer your way through those first 504 meetings like I did, but one day you will be showing up with a thick file folder in one hand and a red pen in the other. You will be ready to go to bat for your kid, your fear smashed under a mountain of love.
You will always worry about your child’s future, because that’s what parents do. But once those initial anxieties settle, you will be able to look past the ADHD and into the heart of what makes your child amazing. If you’re like me, you will redefine success. You’ll look at your kid and think, He’s not going to be the kind of adult who wears a suit and works in a cubicle making money for someone else. He’ll do his own thing. He’ll blaze his own path and carve out his own brand of happiness, and he will be okay. And so will I.