Accepting My Son’s ADHD Diagnosis

Something about seeing your small child running up ahead of you, over a hill, a flowering field, a long beach…

Something about that picturesque view of their small body surrounded by a vast gorgeous nature and their sweet/innocent laughter getting fainter as they run on ahead…looking over their shoulder and giggling at you… “catch up mommy!!”

Just takes your breath away.

Another notable recurring memory is holding that five-year-old’s tiny hand as you cross a parking lot; you do that little “squeeze”, and they do it right back; their palm and fingers precariously gripping on to your hand through a busy parking lot likens them to the dream every parent has for their child; a very basic dream: happy, healthy, normal…and you in total control of their care.

Flash forward to a second-grade classroom. You’re supposed to be a fly on the wall (yeah right) during an observation assessment subsequent to that of a pediatric psychologist and an attentive principal popping head in.

For the third year in a row, you’ve been told that your child is “different” than the others; overly active, can’t sit still, intermittently disruptive and even times obnoxious/inappropriate.

You’re not sure what that means. “Oh they must say that to all the parents.” could exemplify some likely untrue head-talk you’ve been shushing lately because you know something needs to be acknowledged; “he’s just a boy! A busy/excited boy!”, you say; head talk that’s been circling in your brain for years.

Do they see his wonderful/sweet side? Am I the mom who isn’t owning up to my child’s behavior? Maybe you know/love/trust his teacher (I did!) but still feel that it’s all wrong. You have nothing to compare it to, and his school desk has been moved again; this time to an isolated spot, and that rips your heart out.

So there you sit in the classroom.

We need not break down the arduous dynamics of what is happening to all parties (child/parent/teacher) during that observation. I may have even repressed it too far to provide a fair regurgitation.

But the diagnosis? Well, for ADHD, a diagnosis is never black and white. They don’t say: “he has been diagnosed with ADHD.” The language from the psychologist sounds more like this: “I continue to believe Andrew would probably derive benefit from a stimulant trial.”

More head-talk: “What does this mean? Does he have it? Do we really know? As a parent, how am I to make a decision about medicine? How long was the doctor in the classroom? I need to remember to make a list of these questions for the Dr. appointment! Is a drug trial going to zombify him? Can he get addicted? What’s IN the drug? Does the medicine build on itself over time? What ‘benefit’ will it provide? What does that even mean? Could all of this be due to his diet? Could it be the fact that I’m a single mom and he goes back and forth to different homes? Is he too smart, and he’s just bored??”

A mom’s thoughts go on forever; and ever and ever and ever and ev.errr.

You have to eventually calm down and start somewhere. So let’s look at the ‘diagnosis statement’ or the bottom line from the psychologist (being mindful that this was taken from a much longer write-up):

“I continue to believe Andrew would probably derive benefit from a stimulant trial.”

That succinct statement reflects an array of important facts:

1. The words “I continue to believe…” This communicates that the doctor has been watching the child for a while now. The diagnosis wasn’t made over one classroom observation. Nor was the assessment made by observation alone. As a parent, it’s your job to make sure that first, you have a doctor you know/trust and second, that he/she is taking time to get to know your child. It’s not the doctor’s job to determine WHEN the diagnosis is made. It’s your job to provide your parental hopes/expectations to that psychologist. I was in my mid-20’s. I wasn’t married. This was a learning curve for me.

2. The word “trial”: This isn’t a contract written in blood. It provides some room to breathe. “Relax, Courtney!…this whole situation is pliable.”

3. The word probably in “he would probably derive benefit”. Get used to this word in the world of ADHD and Tourette. It’s just real. We don’t know what is going to happen with medicine. I would constantly hear other moms chattering “I’m not going to turn my kid into a science project.” It always made me feel badly for trying medicine for Andrew.

I regret carrying any guilt from that. I regret accepting someone else’s chatter as part of my own identity as a mom. And about that science project statement…It absolutely IS a science experiment. Does there have to be guilt and negativity wrapped around that? NO. Medicine is science. All medicine; everything about medicine is based on science. The very essence of science is trial and error.

If your child’s life has been repeatedly and negatively impacted by their daily behaviors and actions, they deserve your earnest attention. How that manifests in your family is up to you as the parent, but never feel guilt for not excluding a drug trial. Ignore negative trash-talk.

In my experience, what I can tell you is that there is no silver bullet.

I don’t have thee solution.

Drug therapy? Gluten-free diet? “Eliminate red dye! Let boys be boys! Don’t turn them into zombies! We need to fix our education system! It’s the teachers lack of empathy.”

I mean we could go on all day with the constant rhetoric; rhetoric indigenous to the ADHD labels and conversations taking place not only in the coffee lounge at work, but deep in your own head at night when you can’t sleep; wondering if you’re making the right decision to put your child on medicine. You toss and turn, toss and turn…

This whole thing can become overwhelming and exhausting. I found ways to mentally wrap it up into a box at the end of the conversation or before bed or whenever I found myself going down paths of anxiety, and tabling it ; Just setting it down right there and walking away. It was safe, and I could pick it up later.

ADHD is real. That, I’ll sign my life on.

It sucks. As a child and as a parent. Coping with it on a daily basis is a moving target. Try to lean in. Try keeping an open mind that therapy and/or medicine, eating better, reducing chemicals/dyes, and respecting both our children and teachers all could be working together to provide relief/comfort/support. And not just to the child, but to the entire family.

As we are improving our education system and our diets and our toxin exposure, life is happening right before us. Sometimes we need to get help right there in the moment. We want our kids to have the ability to learn in the best possible capacity.

Am I suggesting that medicine is the answer? No. And looking back, I’m not even sure continuing medicine as long as we did was the best solution for Andrew. What I do know is that it was an ongoing assessment over time.

But don’t get too wrapped up in it all.

Remember that little one running up over the hill or into the horizon of the ocean. Remember holding his hand across that busy street and that little *squeeze* of his hand.

Take a step back, and put all of this in that box for awhile, and walk away from the table.

Grab a worn-out old baseball glove and go play catch with your boy.