Someone to Play With: Finding Friendship for My Child with ADHD

My son is not socially gifted. Friends don't come easily to him - or to me. But together we're figuring it out.

My Son, Myself

Finally - a friend

In fourth grade, James finally made a friend - or so I thought. He chose a great boy - funny, generous, affectionate. The boy's mother worked two jobs, and I quickly offered to fill in as babysitter. The boys had a couple of sleepovers and they made up a rock 'n' roll band.

Ecstatic, my husband and I invited James's friend to come for a week at the beach that summer. A few days before our scheduled departure, I took the boys to a local park for a swim. I sat reading the paper, warmed by the thought that my lonely only child had finally come out of the cold.

At one point the boys asked me for paper and pen, and I obliged, surprised, perhaps, but incurious. That night, I got a call from the park warden. Two boys had dumped campfire ashes inside a truck parked by the lake. The boys had scrawled obscenities on a piece of paper and placed it atop the ashes.

My first reaction, I now realize, was typical for a grownup with ADD. It couldn't have been James, I calmly told the warden, because James was a good speller; he would never misspell "damn you." Alas, the miscreants confessed. (Maybe the friend had done the writing.) I felt obliged to tell the friend's mother what had happened. She told her son not to play with James, ever, ever again.

How loose is too loose?

My son's tenth birthday is coming up, and I'm wondering what to do about a party. At his party last year, James lost another friend, a boy with Asperger syndrome. The boys were driving go-karts. The friend pulled ahead and - as he does whenever his position is challenged - James flew into a rage. After the race ended, the other boy curled so tightly into the fetal position that I had a hard time getting him into the car for the ride home.

After that, I called several times to invite the boy over to play, but his mother never called back. When I saw her in the pick-up circle at school, she said life for her son was hard enough without James.

Any parent of a child with ADD probably has similar heartaches. And since ADD runs in families, a parent's distress is compounded by the realization that he or she is, genetically speaking, to blame. Coming, as I do, from the undiagnosed generation, it was galling to realize that that my parenting style, however loving, revealed my own ADD traits: I have trouble anticipating what will happen, and I don't read social cues well. My son praises me for being "a loose mom," and it's true that I am. But I'm afraid I may be too laissez-faire for him.

One benefit of having me for a mother is that I truly understand what my son is up against. If it took me this long to learn never to leave his side - not for a nanosecond - whenever he's around other children, imagine how hard it must be for him to learn all the secret rules and rites of friendship.

Savoring success when we can

So we struggle along, my son and I, trying to behave appropriately and "make good choices." We savor success when we can. Last spring James hit a baseball, with the bases loaded, and I practically lost my voice from screaming. Never mind that it wasn't an organized team, or that he had already struck out in three previous at-bats. He was incredibly brave to give it another try, and it was grand beyond words to see him succeed.

No, James is not socially gifted. But like many other special-needs kids, he has strengths that could bring him strong friendships later in life. True to the profile, he's bright, creative, and strong-willed. He doesn't automatically respect authority, and, in part because he isn't slavishly attuned to what other people think, he has a wonderful sense of humor. I figure if he can make it through childhood and adolescence, he'll make a good (if bossy) adult friend.

Having spotted yet another example of what he calls "fake happiness" promoted by the self-worth industry, my son came home from school one day recently, scoffing. "Guess what we learned in 'character ed.' today," he said dryly. Then, in a perfect, singsong schoolteacher voice, he mimicked: "Every day is a gift."

We both burst out laughing. Then I said, "You know the funniest thing about that, James? It's true."

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