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As my son’s 10th birthday nears, it’s hard to not reflect on each moment that shaped our ADHD journey, marked by tears and smiles. We have come so far, and I’m proud of us.
There was a lot that I didn’t understand or realize in the early stages of my son’s development. If I had, it could have spared us some anguish—or perhaps not, as it led us to where we are today. Each moment was a stepping-stone, leading to a greater understanding of ADHD, and how to better deal with issues that arose. Without those moments, we would not have the foundation on which we stand right now.
My biggest frustration early on was calling my son’s name, knowing that he heard me, only to receive a delayed response. Which often led to me yelling his name on the fourth or fifth attempt to elicit a reaction. To which he would calmly answer me, and look at me puzzled, wondering why I was so upset. It was then that I began to wonder if maybe something was off.
Other times it would appear as if he didn’t hear me at all, as he was not looking in my direction, and he’d answer me without a delay.
There were also red flags in terms of his level of intensity. I watched him interact with other children his age, and noticed that he was immature in comparison. Whereas they handled a dispute by compromising, he would storm off or hurl something their way. Play dates early on were often challenging and caused a great deal of anxiety. I tried to pull him aside, and point out a better solution, but most of the time it did not alleviate anything. He didn’t know how to channel his feelings. Everything he seemed to attempt was a source of frustration. I didn’t know how to help him.
Preschool posed another level of troubles. I received daily feedback from his teachers: “Jack has problems paying attention, following directions, and waiting his turn.” I was concerned, but a big part of me also felt as if this was my son just being rambunctious, and that this behavior was typical for his age. His teachers disagreed with me, and so each year Jack got evaluated in preschool. He often qualified for extra services, such as a Special Education Itinerant Teacher, who would attend class with him and offer support and redirection to the task at hand. Still, I didn’t want to admit that there were challenges worth exploring.
Begrudgingly, at age five, we took him to a neurologist, who asked him a few questions, and sent us for an EEG (electroencephalography). The test is used to look into brain activity, waves, and patterns. Brain scans, however, don’t provide sufficient evidence to diagnose ADHD. At the time, this was a victory. “See, my child is fine, the test showed nothing, and the neurologist said so!” He just learns at a different pace than his peers do, but he will get there.
However, things did not go smoother from that point on. We held him back from kindergarten, or “redshirted” him, as it’s called. The neurologist, as well as his preschool teacher, advised us to do so. It would help him mature, “give him the gift of a year,” they said. So we did. Redshirting estimates in the U.S. range between 3.5-5.5 percent of children eligible to enroll in kindergarten based on their age. Over 70 percent of redshirted children have summer birthdays, and it is twice as common among boys as girls, according to U.S. News & World Report. We were putting our son at an advantage, as his maturity and cognitive development would be more advanced entering kindergarten at age six. This benefited our son, but it didn’t alleviate the underlying issues.
The older he got, the more unacceptable and noticeable these temper tantrums and constant movements became. By second grade, I had the same conversation with another teacher. I told her I had already been to a neurologist, and all was OK. She recommended getting a second opinion from a different neurologist. She, too, had a child with ADHD, and was familiar with the signs. This was too close to home for her.
With some coaxing, I made an appointment for six months later (as that was the earliest I could get). I sat with yet another doctor, and described all of the issues Jack was having, as well as my inability to properly deal with situations that arose. He examined my son separately, and we met after to discuss his thoughts. He recommended medicine, and officially diagnosed him with ADHD. He was respectful of my hesitation to medicate right away. He suggested alternatives — behavior therapy, vitamin supplements, omega-3s. We decided to take the latter route.
The rest of the school year did not improve, despite all the measures we were taking. Things changed when my son came home from school one day, and said, “Mom, there were kids looking at me in class today, because I was moving around in my seat and humming to myself. They were pointing and laughing. But I can’t help it, Mom; I really try to stop doing those things. I’m trying to be more focused, but it’s really hard for me.”
That conversation is etched in my mind. I never want him to feel insecure about who he is, or to doubt how special he is. I want him to feel capable, confident, strong, and I needed to do whatever it took to get him there. He was essentially pleading with me. That week, I filled the script.
It took various medications and dosages over the course of a few months to find the one best suited for him. But, once we got to that point, it was euphoric. The difference in him was monumental. It was as if he was able to appreciate all that was around him for the first time because he wasn’t in perpetual motion. He seemed happier with himself, less frustrated, and able to focus on tasks such as homework. He was more willing to take on new things, such as a new sport.
One particular afternoon, he came up to me, unprompted, and hugged me tightly. No words were necessary. We both stayed in that position for a few minutes, and I knew that he was thanking me. Little does he know that I would go to any length for him. There will never be any boundaries when it comes to him, and no thanks are warranted. I want his happiness above all else, and will do whatever it takes to get him to believe in himself as much as I do, and to explore his full potential. I’m just along for the ride.
So on this, your 10th birthday, my son, please know that my love for you is never-ending. Thank you for making me a mom, and allowing me to see, through your eyes, how much good is in the world. You have made me proud, and given me so much hope in your short 10 years. I can’t wait to witness what life still has in store for you. You are many things, but don’t let any one of them define you: Aim high and know that I will forever be your champion.