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“When Strangers Notice Your Child’s ADHD First”

We were frazzled beyond belief. None of our parenting strategies were working. And our son’s doctor appointment was on the calendar. The server at the diner that morning didn’t know any of this, but she did seem to know our son — and our struggle — in a remarkable way.

We were six hours west of home on a family camping trip when we decided to go out for breakfast. We found the closest diner and settled in to a booth. Our son was wiggly and impatient. He could barely stay seated and he interrupted our server constantly. His reactions to waiting and to minor inconveniences made it appear as if he had zero emotional control — and actually he didn’t.

Still, our server maintained a wide smile and a warm demeanor toward him the entire time we spent with her. He was five years old and it took every bit of my mental energy to keep him engaged at restaurants in this season of our lives. It was almost always more work to eat out, and this breakfast outing was no exception.

After our server again refilled our coffees, my husband and I spoke quietly about how kind she was to our son. Through our games of “I Spy” and the stacking of creamer tubs, I worried she may grow exasperated by the amount of energy this tiny child both exuded and demanded. As we were about to leave, she smiled at me. It felt personal. It was a deep, understanding smile. And then she spoke directly to my mom heart.

[Self-Test: Could My Child Have ADHD?]

“I get it. My son has ADHD, too.” I didn’t have a response. I was puzzled by how she knew. How could she tell, when I had missed it for so long?

You see, in the chaos of our life, we had gotten so lost in what was next that we had to ask a professional what was different about our child. Nothing we were doing was working, yet we had no idea why. Our server saw it in an hour.

At this time, we were having nightly debriefs — parenting pep-talks, in a way. Yet, this stranger saw the good in our boy and noted his differences with so much understanding. His teachers had missed it. We had missed it. Yet a stranger spoke it so warmly and matter-of-factly.

I look back on this memory fondly. Our son hadn’t yet been diagnosed with ADHD, but we were in the midst of the appointments and teacher evaluation forms. That woman in that diner understood our journey, but most importantly, she understood our son. She knew him, and I am thankful that she took the risk to say something that could have been offensive to us. It wasn’t.

[The Ultimate ADHD Toolkit for Parents and Teachers]

Our server that day didn’t know it, but she brought us comfort, a smile, and hope that our son would grow up to be a healthy, headstrong teenager, just like she said her son had. I hope to bring that same hope to frazzled parents someday. And when that time comes, with a warm, comforting smile I will say, “My son has ADHD, too. I get it.”

Updated on November 14, 2019

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