Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
My 7-year-old son has always been a little different than most kids his age. I first noticed there was something different about him during story time at our local library. While the other children delighted in the librarian’s sing-songy rhymes and colorful felt shapes on the easel, Grant would run around the room, playing with the window shades and garbage cans — and then eventually make a beeline for the door.
I’m the adult here and I’m in charge, I’d think to myself, wondering what else I could do to get him to stop being so disruptive.
Yet every attempt I made to fix the problem only worsened it. If I sat with him on my lap, he would squirm and run around the room as if it were a game. When I blocked the door with a wooden chair, he pushed it out of the way. The only thing that stopped him was physically sitting in the chair in front of the door until he started to cry, prompting glares from the other parents.
Still, I refused to give up on story time. Eventually, I removed the chair and spent the hour chasing my giggling toddler through the musty aisles and redirecting him to the room every few minutes.
At preschool, Grant ran away from the playground, ignoring prompts from his teachers to return back to them. This presented a safety concern for me, as it wasn’t fenced and sat adjacent to a busy parking lot. I switched him to a school with a safer setup after just two months.
“He’s just a boy,” my friends would tell me.
One friend in particular rolled her eyes when I followed Grant around her house during playdates. She had a giant staircase, and the steps presented a challenge for Grant, who frequently hurt himself due to his inability to pay attention when he got excited. I wasn’t a helicopter parent at all. I was just a frustrated mom protecting my boy from certain harm.
When I put up a baby gate, he climbed it. Or climbed around it, balancing his tiny feet precariously on the edge of the stairs that he somehow managed to scale. There were frequent bumps and bruises while learning to ride a scooter and bike, and he still can’t tie his shoes on his own.
Eventually, his behavioral disruptions in school prompted me to get him evaluated — and the diagnosis was ADHD.
“Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a neurological condition defined by a consistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactive impulsivity that interferes with daily functioning in at least two settings — for example, at school and at home,” according to ADDitude. “It impacts children and adults, boys and girls, and people of all backgrounds.”
As I sat in the neurologist’s office staring blankly at the checklist of symptoms, an uneasy feeling came over me.
I, too, had more than half the symptoms I checked off for my child. The revelation was both a comfort and a shock. I finally understood the reason I struggled so much through childhood, and I wished that I had been diagnosed back then.
Here are some of the things that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember:
It was always difficult to wait my turn when a teacher called on me. I would, at times, blurt out the answers. I also frequently interrupt people without meaning to.
I’m clumsy and could never catch a ball or climb that cool yellow rope in gym class.
Certain sounds have always startled me, especially the buzzing of bees. I’d hide out in the nurse’s office frequently in elementary school. Grant makes frequent trips to the nurse, too.
Slow walkers in a mall make me straight-up angry. Slow drivers are even worse. It almost feels like my mind moves faster than most people’s, so having to slow myself down all the time can be super frustrating.
I had “worries” before bed at night, and would repeat them to my mom before bedtime for reassurance. My son does the same thing with me.
I was bothered by tags on clothes and denim jeans, which I swore off until my teenage years because they weren’t comfortable. Luckily, leggings and wigwam socks were acceptable attire choices in the ’80s.
I was bullied relentlessly in school, often because I would react when other children were cruel. ADHD comes with difficulty regulating emotions, so I cried when the other kids took my doll on the playground and played “monkey in the middle.” I also cried when they chose me last in gym class or when they teased me during the awkward years. I spent the majority of my adolescence in tears, not understanding why I didn’t fit in.
As an adult, the symptoms manifest differently. I lose things constantly and the contents of my closets threaten to spill out when I open them. Drawers and cabinets are just too overwhelming for me to organize. It also takes me a long time to spot my can of seltzer in the shared workplace fridge, thanks to the clutter from everyone else’s food. It feels like I’m playing “Where’s Waldo?” every time I open it.
Since my brain works fast, I sometimes type or read too quickly, which leads to overlooking things. This is especially frustrating in my career, being a magazine editor who can be prone to typos.
However, ADHD is not all bad news. It’s a superpower of sorts.
When I’m focused, I can tap into a part of my brain that produces creative and innovative ideas. I “hyper-focus” and things just click, or flow.
I’m also terrific in a crisis. When something goes boom! — a disaster or even something thrilling — and most people’s brains overload, the ADHD brain can jump up to “normal.”
In fact, some of my best work is done when I’m under pressure. It’s like a switch turns on and wakes up the part of my brain that under-functions.
For Grant, his ADHD comes with a very high IQ and a photographic memory. He academically functions at least two grade levels above his peers when he’s able to focus.
The sooner I took charge of my ADHD by owning my weaknesses and realizing my strengths, a whole world of possibility opened up. I no longer feel weird or held back by my shortcomings. I now see a holistic doctor and take Pine Bark extract and CBD oil, which helps me focus at work. I also ask for help with the things I struggle with, like closet organization and setting boundaries. These new changes, along with my own acceptance, started making big improvements in many areas of my life, all thanks to my son’s diagnosis.
As I was researching the topic, I found that ADDitude revealed that “an estimated 75 to 80 percent of variation in the severity of ADD/ADHD traits is the result of genetic factors. Some studies place this figure at over 90 percent.”
So, if your child has been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, you or your partner also could share the disorder. That said, the sooner you know, the sooner you can receive treatment, which translates into a better quality of life for you both.
The best part of sharing an ADHD diagnosis with my son is that I know firsthand what he needs to thrive and how to best help him. My goal isn’t to change him, but rather, to help make his journey through life a little bit easier than mine was. I want him to know above all, that someone understands him — and now I can.