Maybe your kid’s a toddler. Maybe your kid’s a teen. Maybe your kid’s somewhere smack in the middle. But regardless, they’ve got something in common with 11% of kids 4–17: they’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, according to ADDItude Magazine. And there are truths every ADHD parent knows. We hold some things in common, we caretakers to these children both wonderful and infuriating, both brilliant and maddening. We have common experiences. We hear common phrases. We have common people we fantasize about punching.
But we’re all in this together. And by together, I mean, this crap happens to all of us.
1. People insist your child doesn’t have ADHD — they just need a good spanking.
Why is it always a spanking? Why not a time-out or a chance to make reparations? Nope, only a good ol’ fashioned whoppin’ will set our baby back in line because that ADHD nonsense is pure crap. This person may go out of their way to point out times our child does focus: like on video games, or books, or art. We explain the concept of hyperfocusing, or according to ADDitude Magazine, the ability to zero in on one thing, avoiding all distractions, for hours at a time. Don’t bother. The nuances of the disorder are lost on these people.
2. People insist that drugs are bad, m’kay? You are drugging your child!
If your child needs ADHD medication — and some need it quite early on in order to perform basic societal functions, like not pouring glue on the floor and playing Nancy Kerrigan on it — you will hear all kinds of shit. Stimulants will wreck their brain, distort their growth. Have you tried essential oils instead?
Dear people who think ADHD drugs aren’t necessary: Try living with a child who needs ADHD drugs and doesn’t have them for a day. We’ll pick your sobbing, huddled mass up from the corner as you throw your hands in the air and say that you just didn’t know what to do. Uh huh. How’d your lavender oil work?
3. People will punish your kid for being non-neurotypical in ways they never would if they had another brain disorder.
True story: Homeschool co-op, which is like classes for homeschoolers, decided to implement a policy that children who blurted out answers without raising their hands would be warned once, then sent into the hallway the second time as punishment. Another true story: My son can’t fucking control when he blurts out answers. And yes, we are consistently working on it. Stuff like this is common for ADHD kids. They’re punished for things they literally can’t control rather than redirected or coached through their difficulties. Their behavior is stigmatized as “bad” rather than related to their disorder. This is where their IEP comes in.
4. You had to get them an IEP, and it was a long and hellish journey.
You knew your kid had a right to an Individualized Education Plan, but you had to figure out who to talk to, who to meet with, who to get into that meeting, and when to hold it so all needed parties could be there, what to demand (no being banished to the hallway for blurting out answers, for example) — basically, what your kid needs in order to function in an environment that you’re not present for. This is not simple. Yes, everyone wants them to succeed. Yes, everyone wants them to do their best. But they don’t make it easy.
5. This was probably nothing compared to getting them diagnosed.
You likely suspected ADHD from the time your kid was quite small. We knew two of mine had it from the time they were toddlers — and they have the mostly inattentive version, not the hyperactive kind (the kind that people tend to notice). But you have to go to their doctor. The doctor will have you fill out forms and ask you to have their teacher fill out forms. (If you homeschool, they will be baffled and ask you to have some disinterested third party fill out a form.)
You will return to the doctor, who will examine the forms. Then the doctor will refer your kid to a child psychologist, which just may ensure that your insurance will pick up the cost, if the psychologist happens to accept your insurance, which they probably won’t. Then you have to wait and wait and wait for the appointment, go to the appointment, go back for a follow-up appointment, and all the time your kid is losing their shit because to them (doctor = shot). Only then can you get an actual diagnosis in hand. Fist-bump to those who have been there. Double fist-bump to those who had it even harder. It’s chaotic and often a long, drawn out, exhausting process.
6. You probably have to severely limit screen time, which causes familial wars.
Your child would likely sit in front of the TV or video game system or computer until their eyes fell out of their head and rolled underneath the couch. So you have to say things like, “Ten minutes and your game is over,” then “Eight minutes and your game is over,” and so on down, ’til you’re counting down the last 10 seconds and your kid is still a screeching mess when you forcibly pull the plug on Ages of Empire XII or Angry Birds or whatever. You may have contemplated throwing out all electronic devices and going off the grid.
7. You have to say your child’s name six times, and then they still don’t notice you until you touch them on the shoulder.
At which point they yell, “What?! Oh my gosh you scared me!”
8. It’s so hard to remember that stuff like this is part of their non-neurotypical functioning, not a conscious behavior choice — and you fuck up. Regularly.
It’s hard to admit it, but we’re like those teachers who threatened to send my son out into the hallway. We’re not immune to our societal conditioning, which tells us that some behavior is good, and some behavior is bad, and all of it is a conscious choice. So when our kids ignore us, or melt down over screen time, or exhibit other antisocial behavior, we sometimes forget that they are not choosing to be “bad.” They are reacting in the way their brain is wired to react. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t face consequences or make reparations — which helps them learn — but it does mean that they shouldn’t be actively punished for things they can’t help. We know that. And yet we do it. And then we feel like total assholes for forgetting.
9. In the end, for all the alphabet soups of ADHDs and IEPs they’ve dragged you into, you wouldn’t change them one single bit.
Not at all. You love them exactly the way they are, ADHD and all, because that’s who they are and how they are. They will teach you how big your heart can be. They will teach you that you never knew you could love someone and be so angry at them at the same damn time. They will teach you everything a child teaches a parent and more. “And more”: which should be the slogan for every ADHD child — and more busy, and more hyper, and more daydream-y, and more prone to losing everything. But most of of all, you will learn they are everything you ever wanted. And more.