My Teen Daughter Finds Her People
As with birds of a feather, ADHDers flock together.
I glanced at the clock next to the bathroom mirror, then at my daughter who was quietly studying her reflection. It was time for us to go to a reunion that was held every two years with my favorite moms, the ones I’d met when Lee was in pre-school, and our kids, who’d grown up playing together.
“Hey, Mom, I’m looking forward to the reunion this year. I feel like I’m in a better place to deal with old friends than the last time.”
I took the necklace she handed me, a slender, tiny sword dangling from a silver chain, and placed it around her neck. She squared her shoulders and gave me a brave smile back in the mirror, like a princess who was ready for battle.
Lee had struggled with her fear of being negatively judged by other people for her differences. By the beginning of ninth grade, she had developed painful social anxiety and had fallen into the pattern of avoiding school events, parties, or hanging out with her friends.
But 17 trumped 15 in more ways than one. I could see she’d come to accept her differences over the last year, and even started to appreciate them. Although it still wasn’t easy to leave the house, she was ready to be with old friends today, without an exit plan.
As I drove to the party, I said, “You know, Travis has been dealing with anxiety, too, this year. If you get a chance today, could you…”
“I’m on it,” she said.
I watched Lee finger her sword, every muscle taut in her neck. What was I thinking? This was hard enough for her to go, let alone asking her to reach out to Travis, a childhood friend she hadn’t seen in two years.
As we walked into the party, I gave Lee a thumbs up. “You can do this,” I whispered in her ear. She took a breath, then wandered off in search of the other kids. An hour later, I was sitting outside when Travis and Lee ran by.
So far, so good. When I went to find Lee for dinner, the two of them were sitting on a couch, heads together, pouring out their hearts and starting a relationship that they would call “best friends” from that night to this day.
“We’re so much alike!” Lee told me. “I finally have someone who understands me, who gets what makes me crazy and why it’s so hard to fit in at school.”
I realized what was missing in Lee’s life. She needed to feel that bond with others who have ADHD and anxiety, that safe commonality that so many typical teens in high school take for granted. Otherwise, as had happened before, the crushing weight of isolation could worsen anxiety and lead to depression.
A few days later, I got an e-mail announcing a workshop for young adults with social differences related to ADHD or autism, and mentioned it to Lee. To my surprise, she readily agreed to go, if she could take Travis.
When I picked them up at the end of the workshop, Lee got into the car and said, “Best day, ever!”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they’re all crazy…just like us,” Lee said laughing. “We could be ourselves.”
Travis jumped in the car after her, and they sat close together, tales of their day spilling out until they grew quiet, exhaustion overtaking excitement. I looked back in the rear-view mirror. Travis had fallen asleep on Lee’s shoulder as she fingered the little sword around her neck.
I thought about what one of Lee’s art teachers had told me when she was struggling to make friends so long ago: “She’ll be OK, she just needs to find her people.”
It seemed she had.