Positive Parenting

Why I Envy Neurotypical Families… Then Quickly Regret It

What would it be like to live one day — just one day — with a child who lost nothing, sat quietly, and played calmly? I wouldn’t know, but my guess is boring. Here are all the ways my children live and breathe ADHD, and why I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Happy student in classroom
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1. She Keeps Blurting Out

Every mother of a child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) goes through it. You’re standing around, watching your kid in class, or at Scouts, or during a sports practice. And your kid will not shut up. He — or she, because that little girl was me once upon a time — keeps blurting out answers to questions, sometimes before they’re asked. She keeps asking questions before they’re solicited, and then maybe answering them herself. She interjects with random facts no one needs to know, and with irrelevant (and often embarrassing) stories from her own life.

The other little ducklings all sit in a row, nodding patiently at the coach or teacher. You watch as that coach or teacher deals oh-so-patiently, and then not-so-patiently, with your child’s impulsive outbursts. You notice the way the other kids roll their eyes at each other, and your heart breaks.

Just once could your kid act freaking neurotypical, like all the other kids? Could he stand in line, keep his mouth shut, refrain from relating weird, twisting stories that go nowhere? Could the other moms stop looking at you with a mixture of annoyance and pity? Could you just blend in?

And then you remember: ADHD is part of your child’s core being. And you wouldn’t change her for anything.

Girl in classroom
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2. She Speaks Out of Turn

Yes, it’s annoying when she constantly interjects. It derails planned lessons and exercises. But your child makes connections other kids might not see. Out loud, she connects the lesson to her own real-world experience, so you know she’s soaking it in.

She’s engaged, unlike the kid picking daisies in the corner. She’s so excited she has to tell everyone about what she knows. She’s not self-conscious. Most kids are scared to raise their hands, but not your ADHD baby!

She thinks the world needs to hear what she has to say. That’s an admirable trait worth cultivating — not to the point of arrogance, or course, but an engaged child is much better than a shrinking violet. If she gets good feedback for her participation, that could protect her against anxiety and boost her future self-esteem.

Boy playing on monkey bars
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3. He Is Exuberant

Your kid is fun to the max. Your kid is a whirling dervish of energy. Your kid is always leaping, throwing, running, jumping, and catching. And the world? The world can get in the way of all that movement.

Other kids — ones who your kid might want as playmates — might prefer antics more gentle than hanging upside down from the monkey bars and dropping. Your kid loves murder-the-man-with-the-ball and throwing pinecones and stick-fighting like a ninja.

Other parents back away. They call their children over. Your child may accidentally play too rough, and they may cry. You apologize, but you see the recrimination in their eyes: Why can’t you freaking parent?

[Download: The Free Guide to Your Child’s Unique “ADHDisms”]

Girl playing with acorns
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4. She Plays Differently

It’s hard to see your child ostracized for her chosen means of play. But remember: she needs to be out in nature, and she has more steam to blow off than do other kids. She may use objects in her environment in new and creative ways -- sometimes that means making acorns into projectile weapons or pinecones into grenades. She’s seeing things differently — not in the ways that the playground was designed to be seen or used.

Your kid is coloring outside the lines. Her play may get rough, and she may get ostracized for that, but remember: She can learn self-regulation. You can make it into a learning experience, say, “Look, Lily doesn’t want to play because you threw a pinecone at him. Let’s go talk to Lily.”

It gives you a chance to help your child work on conflict resolution.

Upset boy sitting on staircase
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5. He Feels Things Very Strongly

Emotional dysregulation walks hand-in-hand with ADHD. That usually manifests as tantrums. Things that other children take in stride -- choices of breakfast cereal, or the word “no” when they ask to build a homemade zipline against the house -- provoke rages and tears and complete meltdowns.

Some people say you should coddle the tantrum. Some people say you should ignore it. Others love assigning time-outs. Whatever you decide, there will be screaming and that wears on the hearts and minds of all parties involved. Tantrums are one of the hardest things for parents to cope with — especially when your eight-year-old is acting like a three-year-old because he doesn’t have the executive functioning skills to do otherwise. Other parents left this stage behind long ago; we are stuck.

playing minecraft hyperfocus
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6. He Hyperfocuses

Your child sits on Minecraft for hours on end. He gets involved looking at something so he stays at an exhibit while the rest of the class moves on, and subsequently ends up lost. He keeps reading a novel under the desk when he should be doing handwriting practice. When you tell him to pick up, and 20 minutes later he’s still not picking up. He claims he didn’t hear you, and chances are he really didn’t — thanks to hyperfocus.

Hyperfocus is why he can watch TV until his eyeballs roll out of his head, no matter what garbage is on. But someday it also might make him an extraordinary surgeon or mechanic or author.

girl watching a toad
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7. She Has a Voracious Appetite for Information

Hyperfocus also means your kid can hang on like a bulldog when it comes to something that interests her. Your kid finds something captivating, and pursues it like no other. Maybe that interest is learning everything single thing about Minecraft. Maybe it’s learning every single thing about toads, or how to code a computer, or how to change the oil in the car. Whatever it is, if she wants to learn it, she’s going to learn it, no matter what stands in her way: time, dinner, summoning parents.

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girl playing with soap bubbles
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8. She CAN Find Solace

There isn’t really an upside to the tantrums. There may be, however, a better way to respond to them. You can help your child practice mindfulness, or the practice of "cognitive fitness training aimed at building real-time and compassionate awareness of our lives."

Innerkids.org has a special program just for kids to work on mindfulness, which can help with all kinds of ADHD symptoms, not just anger. You can help your child take deep breaths, pop "mad" bubbles, and more. People who practice mindful awareness or mindful meditation find they are less reactive -- something we definitely want for our kids.

Boy studying in classroom
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9. He CAN Make School Work for Him

Many kids with ADHD need help in school – and lots of it. The plans pile up: An IEP. A 504. Does your child need adaptive technology? A bouncy sea or strap to kick his feet against? Do you have to fight for more time during tests? Help taking notes? An accommodation that says he can walk around the classroom when other children are sitting in their seats? Whatever you fight for, you’re fighting hard to make sure that people know your kid isn’t a bad kid, he just needs extra help. And with that help, he can touch the stars.

Classroom self-advocacy
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10. She Is Learning to Advocate for Herself

You know every school administrator by name and by sight — and they each know you. You probably know people other parents don’t know exist, like special guidance counselors and the principal’s boss’s boss. You have the satisfaction, once the day is won and your child’s educational scaffolding’s in place, of knowing that your kid is getting the best education she possibly can.

There is no way the teacher doesn’t know how to respond to her: there is a plan in place for all contingencies, from blurting out answers to fidgeting to fighting. And there’s a comfort in that.

Boy walking in mud
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11. Embrace the Difference

So next time your child tracks in mud (and a baby bird) from the yard. Or makes the den leader practice his deep-breathing exercises. Or zaps a playmate with her Harry Potter stick too briskly. And you think, Why can’t you act like the rest of them? Remember this: Your kid doesn’t need to be like the other kids. They’re different. They’re special. And yes, while their differences can be a pain for the neurotypical world, those differences are what makes them -- and life with them -- so precious. So unique.

And you wouldn’t change them, not for anything.

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