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My Son Has Friends—Finally!

“It’s really nice to finally have friends, Momma,” said my son. “I bet that feels great, Buddy.” His heartwarming smile said it all.

Individuals with ADHD often struggle with social skills and personal relationships. The symptoms of ADHD — hyperactivity, lack of focus, immaturity — get in the way of a quality give-and-take relationship. Add to that, the negative perception of being different from your peers, and it’s a wonder our kids with ADHD have any positive social interactions. It’s through no fault of their own, of course.

When my son, Ricochet, was very young, he had one friend — a boy who had some delays of his own. They ended up in different schools after kindergarten, and didn’t see each other very often. At school, Ricochet was bullied relentlessly. He was the youngest in his class, and two or three years less mature than his chronological age. He stuck out like a sore thumb, but there’s no excuse, ever, for bullying.

He felt the intense pain of being different. His time on the playground at recess was spent alone, or being tormented by bullies. His friend from kindergarten was the only one to show up to his birthday parties, despite the whole class being invited. He was very aware that he wasn’t accepted by others. This momma’s heart took a beating repeatedly.

We slogged through his social struggles the best we could. I tried to mitigate hurtful interactions for him, by essentially being his personal advisor and referee — hovering in the background and interjecting as needed. I may have been able to help him avert some painful situations, but he continued to struggle socially.

At the lowest point, when he was a pre-teen, the boys he spent time with teased each other in usual boyhood camaraderie, but Ricochet didn’t see it that way and felt like he was being attacked. I began to realize there was more to his struggle than simply ADHD, and he got the additional diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder shortly after.

The diagnosis gave us the insight to work on his social skills. The work, coupled with a growing maturity and self-awareness, began to make a positive difference in Ricochet. This and the commitment we made as a family to let him be himself, and to support his interests.

Last year, as he entered seventh grade, Ricochet started making connections with other kids with similar interests. He joined the robotics club and met several kids who are as interested in technology and science (yes, and gaming) as he is.

Recently, about a year later, he and I were alone in the car, headed to an appointment. I asked him how school was going, hoping he’d open up while we were held captive in traffic. He said,“It’s really nice to finally have friends, Momma. I mean real friends. You know, friends that want to be around you. My friends come up to me in the hallway and say ‘Hi’ when I didn’t know they were coming. They approach me. They want to talk to me and be around me.”

My eyes began to fill with tears, but I offered a simple response: “I bet that feels great, Buddy. Really great.”

He turned to me and acknowledged it with the most heartwarming smile.