Guest Blogs

“The Curse of Good Behavior and Stellar Grades”

Our son was too respectful of adults, too smart, too socially adept for those behaviors to be ADHD symptoms. That is what the first two doctors told us, but we saw his hidden struggles all too clearly and refused to ignore our eyes — and our hearts.

“I just don’t think he has ADHD,” his pediatrician told us.

Laurie and I walked out of the doctor’s office frustrated. It seemed every other eight-year-old boy in the country had a diagnosis, yet our son was struggling and we felt powerless. On the way to the meeting, Laurie and Isaac went to Target, where she turned her back on him for a second and he promptly annihilated an endcap of shoes.

I mean, seriously. Anyone who’s spent five minutes with our family can see the boy has ants in his pants. He has textbook ADHD with emphasis on hyperactivity. Everywhere we go, he’s the Tasmanian devil. “Quit bumping into everything and everyone!” we tell him. He smiles at us and says, “Ok.” Then runs into a lady in a motorized wheelchair.

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And let me tell you, this is not a case of laissez faire parenting. Laurie and I are hardcore. No nonsense. We put up with nothing. The way we see it: ADHD or not, these behaviors aren’t acceptable. Running in the grocery store? Nope. Manically laughing during the pastor’s sermon? Nope. Singing “All the Single Ladies” in the library? Nope. We let go of very little.

The result, to put it humbly, is that he’s a good boy. He has good relations with adults and peers. He never intentionally defies his mother or me. He completes all his school work and makes good grades. We report all of this to his pediatrician and are told he doesn’t see the symptoms.

“He’s very well-behaved and well-adjusted,” he says.

“What about the other ADHD symptoms? The inattentiveness, restlessness, disorganization, chronic forgetfulness, inability to finish tasks, difficulty regulating behavior and complete lack of impulse control? The boy is physically incapable of getting dressed without putting something on backwards.”

“I’d be concerned if he were failing classes,” the doc responds. “Let me know if his grades start to suffer. Otherwise, I’ll see him again next year.”

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“Why does it have to come to that?” Laurie and I say to each other in the parking lot on the way out.

So we get a second opinion.

“He’s a character,” we’re told, “and so smart. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

We leave the office and hop in the elevator, where Isaac hits all the buttons.

At every parent/teacher conference, we discuss these things with his teachers and guidance counselors. “He’s doing well,” they tell us. “Sure he’s rambunctious, but he’s not a behavior problem.”

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Though relieved he does well in school and is well-liked, we have come to realize that these specific teachers either met his needs with a perfect blend of toughness and fairness — or were too distracted by other kids with bigger behavior problems.

Then Isaac started fourth-grade. Ms. London was neither tough nor fair, and was not amused by Isaac’s eccentricities. He consistently came home with red marks on his behavior charts. I began to expect daily calls at 3:20pm from Laurie.

“What happened today?” I ask.

“Same thing as yesterday,” she says. “Same crap he’s been doing since he was two. He has more red days than green this month.”

“Good,” I say. “This is necessary if we’re going to get the diagnosis.”

Unfortunately, I was right. It all came to a head in the spring, during that soul-crushing time between spring break and the end of May when there is no rest. No day off to look forward to. Just twelve weeks of uninterrupted school. It was then that Isaac received three days of in-school suspension.

“He argued with his teacher about a grade,” the guidance counselor told us. The timing couldn’t have been worse because the ISS was during the end-of-the-year field trip. We appealed to the teacher and guidance counselor that we accepted the ISS but missing the field trip was too harsh. We got nowhere, and finally escalated to the principal who told us, “I would have given him more than three days.”

“I feel so bad for him,” Laurie told me.

“Call the pediatrician immediately,” I said. “This might be exactly what we need to get some help.”

Unfortunately, again, I was right. The pediatrician gave us a referral for a neurologist who listened patiently to our story. He kindly dismissed Isaac’s accomplishments and good character traits, saying, “I can see he’s struggling. So let’s see what we can do to set him up for success.”

That fall, Isaac began the fifth grade with medications for ADHD and anxiety. He never had a single behavior incident with any of his teachers, and he made honor roll. Laurie and I continue to treat his behavior with a blend of steady parenting and closely-monitored medication. And we reflect on the years of struggling often as our younger kids begin their own journeys through hyperactivity.