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My Bright Son Is Ready to Shine

He has a high IQ, but my son was feeling stupid. Now, a taste of success at school is letting his confidence shine. A

My son, Ricochet — who has attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), anxiety, dysgraphia, executive functioning deficits, and a gifted IQ — has struggled in school since the first day of kindergarten. It’s no secret; I’ve had to be the squeaky wheel dozens of times.

There are two core issues at the root of Ricochet’s school struggles and his refusal to go to school that I can put my finger on:

  • A pattern of failure has taught him that there’s no use trying and school is going to “suck,” no matter what.
  • The fact that most teachers and school staff do not adjust their expectations and use a different yardstick to measure the appropriateness of behavior from a student with ADHD.

Both of these challenges are tough for a parent to meet. I don’t control the assignments my son has to complete and the method in which he proves his understanding of concepts. I also can’t force others to accurately see my son and his many needs. I have tried, but I’ve been told, “It’s obvious you love him,” or, my least favorite one, “You need to accept that life is hard for him and he will always struggle.” My fierce advocacy for my son at school is often misinterpreted as love, coddling, and/or unrealistic expectations.

[[Self-Test] Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

Ricochet’s school struggles reached a boiling point on many occasions over the last three years. Not surprisingly, he has refused to go to school countless times (three so far in the last month). Every morning as we approach the school, my arms tingle, my brow sweats, and my stomach twists into knots: “Will he go in today? Please, please go in!” I felt the most despair I’ve ever felt, in the nearly six years since his ADHD diagnosis, a couple weeks ago when I realized we hadn’t resolved the school avoidance issue as I thought we had. I felt hopeless.

Then, Ricochet had an epiphany yesterday, and it all seemed to click for him. My eyes filled with tears of relief and joy. My son’s going to be OK, I thought.

I walked up to Ricochet after school and, like any other day, I was about to ask him how his day was. Before I could get the words out, I noticed a spring in his step and a jovial tone in his voice. I was struck by how happy he seemed.

Instead of asking, “How was your day?” I said, “Wow, Buddy, you must have had a great day. You seem super happy.”

[[Screener] Dysgraphia in Children]

“I did!” he said, as he jumped high and pumped his fist toward the sky. “I rocked social studies class today. And math, too. I even earned two party points for our math class!” His excitement was palpable and infectious.

Ricochet climbed in the car and he, his sister, and I headed toward his therapy appointment, stopping for a celebratory Starbucks treat along the way. His therapist would be thrilled to see him so happy and to hear that he had gone to school on time and without complaint for the last nine school days in a row — especially since I had been crying in her office about the last school refusal incident only two weeks before.

We sat down together in her tiny office, surrounded by stacks of board games and art supplies. As usual, she started with a check-in, asking Ricochet how things are going. He sat up tall in his chair, his smile widened, and said “Great!”

Ms. K, his therapist, quickly looked up from her notepad, a bit of surprise in her bright eyes. “That’s fantastic, Ricochet! Tell me what is going so well for you.”

“I rocked social studies and math today,” he answered seriously.

Ms. K probed further. “What changed that has made it easier for you to go to school and have great days like today?”

Ricochet’s little professor emerged, “I’ve been participating more and raising my hand to answer questions in class. The more I did that, the more I realized ‘I can do this,’ and my confidence grew. I’m starting to see that I really am smart.”

That’s the moment when I cried. This sweet, kind boy with a gifted intelligence has been calling himself “dumb” and “stupid” for years. No matter how much people in his life (like his Momma) told him he is smart — and the tests prove it — he still felt stupid.

Yesterday, he finally got to feel smart and capable. He was shining, and I got to see his bright light. At last, he had some self-confidence to carry him (and his Momma) forward.

[Free Resource: What Not to Say to a Child with ADHD]