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“The Little Things Show How Far My Daughter Has Come”

My daughter’s small victories since her high school graduation are milestones many of my friends with typical kids take for granted. For me, they illuminate my hopes for her future.

“Wait, Lee, you forgot your lunch…” But she was gone, her car visible only for a second before disappearing down the hill.  Here we go again.  In the rush to make it out the door and get to her college class on time, lunch was a regular casualty—even when she took the trouble to make it the night before. Typical ADHD, I reminded myself as I set the lunch back in the fridge—best intentions, difficulty following through.

I made my way down the hall and into Lee’s room. Just the sight of it reassured me that, despite the inevitable slips, she was making progress. Her room had always been a classic disorganized ADHD mess: jumbled piles of clothing, old toys, stuffed animals, books, and papers littering every spare corner. Every now and then, I’d made her dumpster dive under her bed, but organization was one of her greatest challenges.

In August, two weeks before college started, Lee moved into action. Without prompting, she hauled everything out of her room and threw away the remains of her childhood. With determination, she took the time to organize what was left.  I still couldn’t believe I was looking at a young adult’s room with just a few clothes on the floor, a tea mug on the table, and a freshly made bed.

[Free Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?]

I sat down on her bed, reaching for Sammy, her little red teddy bear. This was more progress, no denying. When her anxiety was severe, Lee had taken Sammy to high school with her, tucked into her backpack for support. Now, she was coping in college without him, although he occasionally sat through a difficult day in her car.

I gave him a hug, thinking that Lee had been lucky. She could have been among the one-third of high school students with ADHD who drop out, possibly turning to substance abuse or worse. Instead, when her anxiety kept her from school during her senior year, her doctor recommended that she study at home. For six months, a teacher came to our house and helped her finish the last classes so she could graduate.

After high school was over, Lee summoned the courage to take her driver’s test and passed. This was no small feat. For 14 months and through two permits, she’d battled her anxiety to stay behind the wheel. Every time she made a mistake, it took her several weeks to get back on the road.  But, throughout the year, her driving skills improved as she faced down her fears. When she got out of the examiner’s car and gave me the thumbs up, you could hear my cheer throughout the DMV.

With new self-confidence, she signed up for three classes at the community college. Lee did her best from August to October, but the work load was overwhelming. She dropped two classes and kept one. I stood up, reminding myself that at the beginning of this year, my daughter couldn’t get out of bed to go to school. Now, she was setting three alarms to make it to her class on time. That showed motivation, and that was good enough for me right now.

I tucked Sammy into his pillow, his black button eyes twinkling back at me as I turned to leave Lee’s room. She might have a long road ahead of her, but I needed to keep looking at how far she’s come. These small independent steps she’s made since graduation are milestones many of my friends with typical kids took for granted. For me, they illuminated my hopes for her future.

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