Sometimes funny, sometimes devastating — my ADHD daughter can't help saying what's on her mind. Helping her curb her blurting is an ongoing challenge.
by Jennifer Gay Summers
“I love the words to this song. Don’t you, Mom?”
I listened, thinking I did like Sara Bareilles’ song, “Brave,” but I’d never paid much attention to the lyrics before. Lee sang along, “Say what you wanna say / And let the words fall out / Honestly, I want to see you be brave.”
As I watched Lee pour her heart into the words, they struck home. Of course she loved this song. One of Lee’s ADHD symptoms was her inability to keep her inner thoughts to herself. How brave it would feel to watch the words fall out without consequence.
Lee said anything that popped into her mind, ranging from rude to hilarious. Inner thoughts that others know to keep to themselves appeared unannounced like a cartoon bubble floating above a cartoon character. For years, my husband and I reminded her to think before she spoke. But we learned that her impulsive speech was part of her ADHD, and it is a constant challenge for her to rein it in. When the words “fell out,” she often suffered the consequences.
Blurting out happened a lot when Lee was frustrated or told to sit still, something her ADHD didn’t let her do. In fourth grade, when the playground monitor demanded that she “Sit!” during lunch, Lee replied, “I’m not a dog!” She was lucky that she didn’t end up in the principal’s doghouse.
After that, we coached her on her responses to school authority, letting her know there could be harsh consequences for all those flippant blurts. Sometimes, though, the blurt made us laugh, like the time her tutor made her finish a grueling math assignment and Lee said, “I can’t believe I don’t get paid for this!”
Sometimes her blurts were embarrassing. One time we passed a cigarette smoker on the sidewalk and she told him, “That’s gross! You’re going to get cancer and die!”
The smoker flinched and I apologized to him, and whispered to Lee, “It’s his body, his choice.”
She also voiced random thoughts that unintentionally stung. “Mom, you have more wrinkles than my friends’ moms.”
“Well, yeah,” I said, “I’m a little older than they are.” Ouch.
When she turned a teenager, she told me, “Mom, you’re insignificant to me now. You’re just here to feed me and drive me around.” That one was like a punch to the gut. I turned around and glared.
“What?” she said. “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. I’m just telling the truth.”
“Lee, how would you feel if I reacted to that by calling you a selfish little girl?”
Her eyes grew wide and she swallowed hard, “I’m not selfish. I love you, but I just don’t need you as much as I used to.”
“And I wouldn’t use those words because they’d hurt your feelings. Now I understand what you’re trying to say. But your first words were selfish. They hurt. Some truth needs to stay inside until you figure out a nice way to say it.” I told her that words aren’t forgotten and can never be taken back.
I wish I could say that Lee stopped blurting. She didn’t, but she is more sensitive to others’ feelings and less prone to blurt the awful, politically incorrect truth that is better left unspoken.
Come to think of it, some wrinkle cream might help.