I ask you. How do these words make you feel?
What is your physiological response? Do you shudder at the possibility of this affecting you? Your children?
Do you unconsciously align these words with a stigma that should be masked?
Minimized. Perhaps, undisclosed.
Maybe because it’s better that way. And more comfortable.
I ask because this is how I used to feel before our son was diagnosed with ADHD.
I assumed I knew everything I needed to know. ADHD was super common – even over-diagnosed, right? And man, these parents who medicate their kids to ‘fix’ it – how could they do that? I would never put a child on medication. And I knew who those kids were – they were always bouncing off the walls, misbehaving, and uncontrollable. Was it even ADHD? I mean, if this is so over-diagnosed, maybe it’s because of their parenting. I bet if they just lowered their sugar, it would help.
I know, it sounds so icky.
But that was my physiological response.
I never meant to be insensitive. And my intentions were never to be judgmental. But my inexperience and lack of exposure made me naïve. And it is now that those preconceived notions have changed.
My son is one of the most amazing little beings I have ever known. He is wicked smart and loves to read, play hockey, and play practical jokes (watch out, seriously). He is a loyal friend and negotiates any free time as an opportunity to play with friends. He never complains about going to school and valiantly secures his spot as class clown with every year. He is also an introvert and craves moments of solitude. He is sensitive and inquisitive. And desires perfection in everything he does.
His comedic disposition can light up a room, and I would argue that he has the best laugh in the world. He wants to understand everything about the world and I assure you, he is like no one you have ever met.
He also has ADHD.
And in the last three years, my husband and I have grown to understand what this truly means. And I will tell you – we are more educated. And this will not be stigmatized in our household.
I share this because there was a time when I was inexperienced. I was naïve. And I struggled – often navigating an unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and emotional process – to advocate for our son as best we knew how.
And I wish during these years that I knew someone who understood. Someone I could talk to. Someone who could tell me it was ok – and he would be ok. And that we were doing all the right things. For our family, this has been an evolving journey to be educated and open minded in making sure our child is set up for success. And we have learned a lot in the process.
What I have learned
- ADHD is common, yes. And maybe it is often over diagnosed. But true ADHD is not something everyone has. It takes shape in many different forms and every child is unique.
- As a parent, its normal to worry constantly if you are doing the right thing for your child. You will struggle between what is normal for a little boy and what needs more attention. It’s important to foster relationships with your support network – teachers, school administration, doctors, coaches, friends – to work together cultivating confidence and success for your child.
- Teachers will have varying degrees of education and levels of patience in working with kids with ADHD. I won’t lie – this can be one of the hardest parts. But you will find inner strength you didn’t know you had and continue to advocate for your child every day. Because that’s what we do.
- You will hear from your school’s teachers and principal regularly. At times, it feels daily. And parents will peg your child as the ‘trouble maker’. They may not want their child playing with yours. It’s ok – just remember, they may be inexperienced – and naïve. Find the parents who extend kindness. The others will come around. And if they don’t – it’s their loss.
- You will try everything. And I mean everything. Behavior charts, behavior therapy, social skills groups at school, classroom changes, consistent structures, essential oils, meditation, self-talk, enhanced exercise, no sugar, no artificial dyes, no gluten, no dairy, medication, and the list goes on. There is no silver bullet – but what you decide works best is the best choice for your child. And you should never feel ashamed for the decisions you make.
- Some people may not recognize the severity because they don’t witness it themselves and they aren’t there day in and day out. They don’t take the calls from the teachers or sit in meetings with the principle. And they don’t comfort your child when they come home from school feeling defeated. Again, it’s ok. They may not have the education and experience you have. Help them understand.
- It can be hard accepting ADHD; but the reality is that there are risks in not treating as children get older. They will continue to struggle academically and fall behind, develop poor self-esteem, have trouble interacting and being accepted by others, and be more at risk of alcohol and drug abuse later in life.
- Most importantly, having ADHD doesn’t mean anything less than exceptional. In fact, some of the most intelligent and successful people in the world have ADHD. Often times, those with ADHD are very smart. It just means they learn differently. And that mainstream school settings might not be structured in the best way to help your child learn. It means having open dialogue. It means partnering with your child’s teachers. And it means reinforcing that their learning style is just as important.
So, there you have it.
We’ve learned a lot and please know that our experience may not mirror yours. But I share this for no other reason than to increase awareness. For a condition that may seem common, I have come to learn its generally misunderstood. And all too often, stigmatized. Leaving parents feeling helpless. And children to feel less than.
So, this is my ask of you
Challenge your physiological response.
Encourage your child to extend kindness to kids who may get themselves into trouble more often. These small acts of kindness will pay dividends in nurturing their confidence and friendship skills.
And open your heart to other parents. We can never truly understand what people are experiencing. Whether its ADHD or something else, being a parent is hard and we do the best we can. Rather than judge, build each other up. Seek to understand and encourage the vulnerability to ask for help.
It takes a village, right?
For me, I take comfort in knowing that I am educated and empowered to help him chart his path forward. And in whatever shape that takes him, I know that he will be more than okay. Because God has a plan for this one.
He will make his mark.
And we will be right there by his side. To remind him of his strengths. Lift him up when he is sad and encourage him when he feels defeated. To help him learn from his mistakes and to understand that sometimes, life is not fair. To protect his heart and advocate for him like no one else will. To do everything our power to give him the tools to succeed. And we will love him to the moon and back.
Because we are his parents. And that’s what we do.