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My Teen Daughter Accepts Her ADHD Challenges without Shame

Lee now accepts her executive function challenges and feels comfortable enough to reach out for help.

A few weeks ago, Lee and I were making gingerbread cookies for a holiday gift for her friends at school. She stared at the ingredients she’d already put in the bowl, oblivious to the dough that dripped off a spoon she held midair, while our dog lapped up splats on the floor.

“Mom, I forget what’s next…”

I pointed at the recipe to where she’d left off. Her iPad buzzed. A friend’s text popped up on the screen. The oven beeped-time to put the cookies in. I could see the panic in her eyes.

“Please, Mom, just tell me! What’s next?”

Recipes require organization, planning, and following multi-step directions. They are “executive functions,” those pesky mental skills we need to manage time and get things done. They are a major challenge for most people with ADHD.

Lee’s problems with executive functions didn’t stop in the kitchen. When the oven timer went off 20 minutes later, I headed back to her room to let her know the cookies were ready. I leaned against her door, taking in my 16-year-old daughter’s room. A damp towel sat on top of half-finished drawings and old homework pages. Cookie crumbs, water bottles, and an apple core dotted the floor. Bins overflowed with forgotten projects and clothes.

I wondered, for the hundredth time, how she would manage as an adult. My husband and I were looking into educational therapy to strengthen her executive functions, but, with the pressures of schoolwork and her resulting anxiety, we put it off until summer.

I knew Lee was starting to think about the future, too. When her cousin got a summer job waiting tables at a restaurant, Lee pointed out that she’d be better off bagging groceries. She said, “I don’t have an inner voice speaking to me like most people do, telling them what to do. I can’t make lists of things I should do or think of what plans to make. If I had to juggle six tables of customers, I’d seriously fail.”

In that moment, I knew she had something far more important, a strong self-awareness of her challenges. It was the beginning of understanding what steps she could take to improve her executive skills. Just yesterday, she’d asked a new friend, Joe, for help with an application she was filling out online for a volunteer position. She explained to him that her dyslexia made it hard to read the form. He was happy to give assistance, and we found out today she got the position.

I have sleepless nights when I toss and turn, thinking of her in the real world, a day coming sooner than I’d like. But I reassure myself that I have a daughter who is not ashamed of her ADHD, a strong young woman who is willing to accept her challenges and reach out for help. What more could I ask for?