I recently had an opportunity to attend an enlightening seminar led by an adult with ADHD, who told an encouraging story about his success in life, despite his affliction. He has a loving wife, two beautiful children, and a successful career in which he finds fulfillment. He started off the discussion by asking the group whether we consider ADHD to be a good thing or a bad thing. It seemed like an odd question at first, who would wish for the struggles that come along with this disorder? But it wasn’t long before I understood where he was going with this, and my answer was that it is definitely a good thing! My son is wildly imaginative, his stories and ideas amaze and astound me every day. And although he struggles greatly with ADHD and has trouble focusing, he becomes incredibly focused on subjects of interest and has a hunger for knowledge and a deep curiosity for the world around him. He is the life of the party, he will be your friend instantly before even learning your name, and he is the most loving and affectionate kid I’ve ever known. If ADHD is part of what makes him special, then I love every bit of him. But this was not always the case…
The day my son started junior kindergarten should have been a proud and happy occasion, but it was instead riddled with anxiety. I knew that my little guy was a handful, I was already feeling overwhelmed by his chaotic energy. So I feared that he would not adjust well to a structured environment, but wanting the best for him, I brought him along to school, and photographed him walking ahead of me with his big backpack. He was so excited, he was not scared or sad at all. Being born late in the year, he was not even four years old yet. I sobbed after he went in, I was terrified for him.
When I collected him two and half hours later from the half-day program he was in, the teacher was wide-eyed and frantic. Apparently my little guy ran around the class the entire time and refused to sit still on the carpet. He was unmanageable, she said. Perhaps he was not ready for school, she said. We should consult our paediatrician about possible attention problems, she said. I was heartbroken. I had failed him as a mother. I had caused this behaviour somehow, I hadn’t supported him enough, or provided enough structure or discipline. Attention problems? Was something wrong with my special little guy? I couldn’t bear the thought. I didn’t tell very many friends or family about what we were going through for fear of judgement. But shame and embarrasment led me to pull him from school that year as the teacher suggested.
At the time, I was fighting my own battle with anxiety and major depression, and was already filled with guilt about my ability to parent effectively. I watched my child on the playground. He was so happy, but his energy was overwhelming to other kids. He would run around and roar like a lion in peoples faces almost constantly, he would impulsively snatch toys from other children, or he would randomly tag other kids and run away shrieking “Come and get me!”, and most kids were not interested in playing what he was playing. I saw the disapproving looks of other moms, and I felt their scrutiny in my bones. Why wouldn’t my kid just kick around a soccer ball like the other kids his age? Why was he always being so wild and crazy? I began to avoid the playground at busy times. I began to feel ashamed of my little boy.
We brought him to a specialist and spent well over a year assessing him for ADHD. He started his senior year of kindergarten with a much more supportive teacher who assisted in his diagnosis by providing feedback during the year. As we learned more about ADHD, we were able to understand our child a little better. But the kids at school were also intimidated by his energy. The day my son was formally diagnosed with ADHD, I sat with him in the doctor’s office discussing his progress (or lack thereof) at school, when my son spoke up. What he said next broke my heart…“The kids at school don’t want to play with me!” Even the doctor was saddened by his words and began discussing our options. My husband sometimes wonders in retrospect if as a child he went undiagnosed because he recalls running around the kindergarten class on most days. There was only one quiet child that befriended him then, who understood his wild energy. That child became a lifelong friend to my husband and is now the godfather to our children. So I hoped that my son would find friends who supported him, who understood him.
And then it hit me… I had not been supportive of him! I had not loved him for who he was, and encouraged him to express himself freely. I had allowed the judgement of strangers to affect my opinion of him, and the harsh words from even family members to cloud my love. I had been ashamed of him. Now I am only ashamed of myself for ever feeling that way.
I am his biggest fan now, his biggest supporter. I will advocate for him. I will fight for his rights, and defend him with every ounce of my being. I will celebrate his strengths and help him build up areas of weakness. I will search out resources in the community and I will speak openly about his ADHD because creating awareness is an important part of supporting him in the world. I will not be afraid or intimidated by the ignorant and hurtful words of those who do not understand him. He is a beautiful and amazing child and his ADHD is absolutely a good thing because it is part of who he is, and it brings out the parts of him that I love best.
At the end of the seminar, we had opportunities to ask questions about what it is like to live with ADHD as an adult. One person asked the gentleman leading the discussion whether he felt his parents were supportive of him, and if there was anything he would change growing up. He said that his father was rather hard on him, and he wishes he had been more patient and understanding. While I hope my son finds success in his life, my only true wish is that he finds happiness, friendship, and love. I hope that as an adult, he will reflect on his childhood and remember the unconditional love and support he received from his parents. I hope he will remember the love we have for him, every little piece of him.
I’m not ashamed of my son. Not anymore.