ADHD Acceptance: I Hope the World Won't Judge My Son

A family celebration makes me wonder if the world will ever accept and appreciate my ADHD son the way I do.

Michelle Novotni's son, Jarryd, a college student with ADHD MICHELE NOVOTNI

You never stop being a parent, especially if your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). I was reminded of that fact recently, when my husband and I threw a party to celebrate the marriage of our oldest son, Duane. We invited a hundred of our friends and relatives who live in the Philadelphia area, most of whom were not able to attend the wedding in Atlanta. We decided to fly our son, Jarryd, 23, home from school to join the celebration.

I'm Proud of Him, but I Worry

Jarryd is working toward a master’s degree in computer science at the University of North Carolina, where he is a Division I track and field athlete. He competes in three events: the hammer throw, the weight throw, and the shot put. As an extremely hyperactive child, he was often punished with time-outs for throwing things. Now he has a partial college scholarship and wins medals for doing what comes naturally to him. My husband and I attend many of his meets and cheer him on as he hurls hunks of metal across a green field.

I frequently use Jarryd’s story as an example to parents: Recognize your child’s strengths and find creative ways for him to use them. I’m proud of Jarryd's academic accomplishments. However, his trip home for the party raised questions for both of us.

Would He Remember It All?

Before Jarryd left campus, he needed to do the following: Pack, bring his photo ID and itinerary to the airport, and arrive on time. As a mom who is a specialist in ADD/ADHD, and who has been parenting Jarryd for 23 years, I didn’t know whether he could meet all of those challenges. I worried -- as moms of children with ADD/ADHD do -- that he wouldn’t get it all right. He looked fabulous as best man in his brother’s wedding, but that’s because everything he needed to wear came in the bag from the tuxedo shop. He didn’t have to worry about transportation either: We picked him up at college and drove to Atlanta together.

Jarryd assured me he had everything under control. Before getting on the plane, he called to let us know he’d arrived at the airport on time, and that he made it through security without a hitch. He called when he took off, and he called when he landed. All was well.

The next day, Jarryd helped us prepare for the wedding party. He has a great sense of humor, and we enjoyed our time together while getting ready for the event. Then we rushed to get dressed and drove to the hall in separate cars, in time to greet guests. I glanced over to see Jarryd still in his jeans -- the ones with ragged strings on the bottom.

“Jarryd, hurry up and put on your dress pants.”

“I am dressed,” he said. “Mom, I remembered everything else, but I forgot my dress pants. Four out of five isn’t too bad, right?” He flashed that grin that melts my heart. His jeans would have to do.

He Isn’t Bad, He Has ADHD

As the guests arrived -- dressed in suits and jackets -- some didn’t notice Jarryd’s attire and enjoyed his company. Others wondered why they hadn’t been allowed to dress down. A few admonished him: “How could you embarrass us like this?” “Don’t you have respect for your brother?”

Jarryd reeled from the criticism, and he retreated to a corner of the hall. When I checked up on him, he told me he was hurt. Forgetting his dress pants seemed minor to him.

My heart broke for my son. He had gotten himself to the airport and remembered everything but his dress pants. Some people attributed his sartorial misstep to a moral deficiency, when it was nothing more than an ADD/ADHD-related mistake.

I work with children and adults with ADD/ADHD every day, and I watch them make great strides. I also see them get slammed by friends and family for making honest mistakes. Too often their successes seem to be overshadowed by their missteps.

Four out of five is much better than Jarryd did in the past. But the question haunts me, “Will that ever be good enough?”

Read More About Parenting ADD/ADHD Young Adults

The College Try: Helping ADD/ADHD Teens Succeed in College

14 Tips for Parenting ADD/ADHD Teens


This article appears in the Summer 2010 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, buy the back issue.


 

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