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“My Child’s ADHD Was Obscured by My Own Stifling Mask”

“An autistic mom to an ADHD son, I left my evaluation with a new perception of myself and my child. Like a true autist, I dove into the research to understand just how fundamentally overlapping ADHD and autism can be. Now I look at my son and can say: I see you. I see you because I know what you are experiencing from the inside out.”

Young boy riding on mother's shoulders outdoors
Credit: MoMo Productions/Getty Images

My first child, Owen, had a big personality from the start — smiley, engaging, and hilarious. He was also incredibly precocious and intelligent, speaking in complete sentences before he could walk. As a toddler, he loved to command control of the room, directing the minute actions of every adult like a tiny, blonde drill sergeant. I was smitten.

I also recognized early on that my boy was off-the-charts sensitive — physically, emotionally, intellectually, and sensorially. The world around him was always too much. Because of that, Owen had exacting standards, which required exacting parenting. Everything had to be exact to avoid a meltdown. I heated his towels in the dryer for exactly 5 minutes, or else he’d refuse to get out of the bath. I adjusted his shoes endlessly until they were exactly right. I read him the same books, rocked him in my arms in a pitch-black room, and quietly walked out of his room at 7 p.m. on the dot.

As Owen grew, his vast energy and wild behavior became his defining features. My mother, who has ADHD, accurately identified his brain type before he was officially diagnosed. “He’s one of us,” she declared.

I was confused. I saw so much of myself – the ultra-sensitivity, unbridled fits of rage, and a desire to control – in Owen. And I couldn’t have ADHD myself. Surely there was something else that explained our shared lens on the world.

The Truth Comes Out

Over time, as I tried to make sense of my son’s familiar quirks, I realized that I couldn’t hide from myself any longer. The truth was that I had always felt different. I was either too much, too little, or just wrong. At a young age, I had crafted an elaborate mask to hide my differences from the world, but the older I got, the more ill-fitting that mask became. I was also in denial over my differences. Like a child with a blanket over their head, I believed that my differences would disappear if I didn’t acknowledge them. And yet, I saw myself in Owen.

[Get This Free Download: The Guide to Autism in Adults]

Three days before my 38th birthday, I was diagnosed with autism. Sitting before the gentle, understanding gaze of the diagnosing psychologist, herself an autistic person with ADHD, I finally released all my truths. And as I talked, I kept going back to Owen. How watching him grow up brought up memories of my own childhood. How his rightness eased a lifelong pain that I was somehow wrong. I was being reborn through my loving, unconditional acceptance of my children.

New Ways of Seeing

An autistic mom to an ADHD son, I left my evaluation with a new perception of myself and my child. Like a true autist, I dove into the research to understand just how fundamentally overlapping ADHD and autism can be. Now I look at my son and can say: I see you. I see you because I know what you are experiencing from the inside out.

I see your sensory sensitivity that erupts into meltdowns over itchy hairs no one can see, pants that “jiggle,” and socks that shift imperceptibly in your shoes.

I see your shoddy memory that can lose key details, yet helps you recall specific, random facts.

[Read: Is It ADHD or Autism? Or Both?]

I see your discomfort with eye contact and your urge to wiggle, bounce, and tap your fingers. I see you stimming to calm down or find focus.

I see your giant passions that overshadow everything else in your life, and how you’ll lose yourself in thought, blind to the passage of time.

Make no mistake that ADHD and autism are distinct conditions. And yet, though we are not the same, we are deeply aligned. Until I learned to see my neurodivergent, autistic self, I lacked the key to unlock our sameness. Blind to my own truth, I could not see you fully. But now, I see you, my marvelously-wired child. I see you, and I love what I see.

Autistic Mom, ADHD Child: Next Steps


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