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OMG! I Finally Had “The (ADHD) Talk” with My Son

Now that I explained ADHD to Blaise, I have to keep reminding myself not to fly off the handle when it rears its head.

None of this was a shock. We always thought that our son Blaise had a good chance of having ADHD.

It came down to genetics. Both his daddy and I have the inattentive kind to varying degrees. We forget dates and times. Names are slippery things, easy to hear and hard to recall. I lose my phone. He loses his keys. We regularly misplace crucial pieces of household equipment: a computer cable, a bolt stripper, the remote control. The dogs eat rice for breakfast, because we forgot to buy Purina. Basic household tasks go undone, like raking the yard and washing dishes and scrubbing bathroom walls. We work hard, my husband and I. We try. Sometimes our ADHD wins.

When Blaise started showing signs of the disorder, I didn’t think of all this. I was parenting like most of us do-on the fly. Blaise wouldn’t listen. He honestly didn’t hear my three requests to stop leaping off the couch. So I started touching him when I talked.

Blaise threw massive tantrums about half the time he was asked to clean up. After months, I noticed the tantrums came only when he was “in the zone”: fiddling with LEGOs, drawing, playing dinosaurs. I was asking him to quit that beautiful flow and pick up papers. I started timing my requests. He jumped off beds, couches, tables, chairs; he climbed doorjambs and hung from towel racks. We installed a mini-playground in the spare bedroom, complete with a slide, that he could use to climb and jump and hang.

He wouldn’t hear us if he was watching TV or playing Angry Birds. To stay quiet in restaurants, he needed to fiddle with something, like a phone or a straw. Church meant books and cuddling, because otherwise he’d crawl under the pews. He didn’t know what to call anyone. He played with the same kids at the homeschool co-op every week, but he didn’t know their names. He couldn’t tell me his teacher’s name, four months into class.

[Take This Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

One morning, I arrived early for co-op pickup. Through the window, I saw Blaise, legs swinging, seated at a table with a teacher. The other kids lined up in neat rows. They were singing. I asked the teacher about it. “He was bothering other kids,” she said sheepishly, as if it were her fault. “Oh, and he didn’t want to make cards for veterans today, so he just drew. Then he drew some more instead of coloring.”

It was classic textbook ADHD. I knew the time to talk to him was coming. My husband disagreed.

“I used to draw dinosaurs instead of doing stuff I didn’t want to,” he said.

“Yeah, and you have ADHD,” I reminded him.

He furrowed his brow and harrumphed.

The talk didn’t come until a few weeks later. My husband had given Blaise our old digital camera. He’d emphasized that he needed to learn to use it, and he was in charge of it. Not his brothers, but him. The word “responsibility” got thrown around a lot.

[Click to Read: How to Explain ADHD to Your Child]

Blaise got it. For a few weeks, he seemed to keep track of the camera. Then, the inevitable happened – he couldn’t find it. “It’s your responsibility,” my husband said, and left it there. We heard no more about it. Until three weeks later, when a friend sent over a bag of stuff we’d left at their house. The camera sat on top. Blaise hung his head. “Now you’ll be mad at me for losing it,” he said.

“Nope,” I said. “You know how mama loses her cell phone and Daddy loses his keys and we always lose the Roku remote?” He nodded. “That’s because we have ADHD. That makes it hard to remember where we put things. We might be thinking about something else. Where most people remember, ‘I set the remote on the table,’ we might be thinking about what to read or watch or cook for dinner. Other times, we just plain don’t remember stuff. It doesn’t stick in our brains.”

“I have ADHD. Daddy has ADHD. And you have ADHD, too.”

Blaise had heard the word “ADHD” before. He knew it applied to him. But he didn’t understand what it meant. “So that’s why I lost the camera?” he asked.

“Partly,” I said. “ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t be responsible for things. But ADHD makes it much harder. It means we should have made a special place for your camera, or reminded you about it a lot, because it’s too much to ask you, right now, to remember it every single time.”

“So you’re not mad?”

“No. I’m not happy you left the camera at Michael and Michelle’s, but I’m not mad. It was partly your ADHD.”

“ADHD is why you don’t hear me sometimes when I tell you to do something. You know how you jump on the bed, and I tell you not to jump on the bed, and you say ‘OK’ and get off it, and two minutes later you’re back jumping on the bed? Like you can’t remember, or it’s too tempting to control yourself? That’s ADHD. It doesn’t mean you can jump on the bed. But it can help us understand why you jump on the bed, and give us a place to begin working on it.”

Blaise nodded. I tried to muster some parental I’m OK-You’re OK, but I wasn’t quick enough. He wandered off to snap photos. I don’t know how well I did. I don’t want Blaise to think that ADHD is an excuse for all negative behavior. I want him to understand why it’s hard to remember things, why he can’t keep track of toys, and why it takes him longer to “hear” me.

Not only does he have to remember he has ADHD. So do I. I can’t get angry when he doesn’t hear me tell him to clean. I can’t lose my temper when he jumps on the bed for the sixth time. I have to help him keep track of drawings and papers and library books. I have to work with his disorder, the same way he has to work with it.

The same way I have to work with mine.

[Read This Next: “When ADHD Is All in the Family”]