I Searched So Hard for ADHD That I Missed All the Signs
“I was that super vigilant mom on the alert for any sign, any inkling of the ADHD I knew my husband could pass down to our daughter. But I still missed it.”
My husband was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) shortly after the birth of our first child. And like flicking a switch, his stories of adolescent pyromania, daredevil antics, and sibling roughhousing went from charming anecdotes to extremely serious warning signals. If ADHD is indeed hereditary, I thought, I needed to be on the alert for red flags: Lighting things on fire, jumping off dangerously high objects, and playing roughly all the time… Got it.
My husband also hated reading and did poorly in school, but squeaked by with passing grades because of his smile and irresistible sense of humor. So I added those to my list of ADHD traits: hates books, narrowly passes… OK. On the lookout.
Our little girl grew up and, much to my surprise, never lit a single thing on fire. She was the opposite of daring, fearing even the slide at the playground.
At 3, she started asking me about the sounds of combined letters — and suddenly she was reading picture books on her own. She loved nothing more than sitting down with a box of materials and creating something new, or working her way through a school workbook in an afternoon.
Sitting firmly at the top of her kindergarten class, she was frustratingly unchallenged in school. The librarian wouldn’t even let her check out chapter books because, “Kindergartners can’t read chapter books.” (I straightened the librarian out right away.)
She was exceptionally smart for her age, well-behaved (at school and church, anyway), and loved reading. So there was no way she could have ADHD, right?
You’ve never met someone more on the paranoid lookout for ADHD than I was, terrified of mothering a child who might repeat the stories from my husband’s youth. And yet… I missed it.
Her tantrums and laser focus on punishments were extremely difficult, but I never imagined they were ADHD. Trying to calm her down was a monstrous effort that rarely succeeded, yet I assumed she was simply a difficult child. Even her rapid learning never looked like ADHD to me. Rather, it “proved” ADHD wasn’t a part of her — because people with ADHD always have problems in school… right? That’s what I thought, anyway.
I was looking for a wild child who scares Sunday School teachers. And in all the searching, I missed what was right in front of me: inattentive ADHD.
It wasn’t until I started following ADDitude, in an attempt to understand my husband, that I began to connect the dots. I soaked up the articles on marriage, careers, and motivation, largely ignoring anything about parenting. And then an article about childhood fibbing caught my eye. Then something about extreme tantrums felt too close to home to pass by. Finally, I saw an article about what ADHD looks like in girls, and I apprehensively clicked it.
It was my daughter.
I was shocked. Apparently, ADHD doesn’t always mean hyperactivity. Apparently, kids with ADHD (girls, especially) can often sit still in school – but daydream or discreetly tap their feet. Apparently, girls with ADHD are often socialized to behave appropriately, but still their minds race at the speed of light and their emotional outbursts are extreme.
Apparently, kids with ADHD can LOVE reading and writing.
Apparently, ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all condition. It’s complex, and manifests itself in different ways — even within the same family. Had I not found ADDitude, how long would I have gone on convincing myself my daughter couldn’t possibly have ADHD because she reads so voraciously?
It’s obvious that we need better education about ADHD. We need to shatter the stereotypes and end the stigma so we can talk about it more openly. It will take time to get there, but until then, I’ll keep reading ADDitude and sending out my experiences from my own little corner of the internet. This information is too important to keep to myself.
Updated on March 31, 2020