Guest Blogs

From Denial to Hope: My Son’s ADHD Diagnosis Journey

The stages of ADHD diagnosis and understanding are different for everyone. On the path to my son’s diagnosis, I moved from denial to guilt to shame to anxiety to resolve to hope — for us and for other families with the odds stacked against them.

Mother and young son holding hands while walking

March 8, 2019, is a day burned in my memory. On that day, my son — the most charismatic, jovial, and inquisitive 7-year-old boy I know – was finally diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). I like to call it our “ADHD-versary,” but the anniversary is not cause for festivities, but instead reflection on our journey and all that we’ve learned since.

The Stages of ADHD Diagnosis: Denial

I first really noticed my son’s never-ending energy, along with his impulsiveness and lack of focus, just as he started preschool. Looking back, these were clearly signs of ADHD, but at the time I dismissed his behaviors saying, “boys will be boys.” It was only when these behaviors affected his academic progress that I realized, reluctantly, that something could be up. That started us on a path that, to my dismay, would not be easy. As a single mother trying to finish college at the time, I grew frustrated as our journey was sidetracked for many, many reasons.

The Stages of ADHD Diagnosis: Guilt

My denial quickly gave way to the next stage in our ADHD journey: guilt. I began to wonder if I was to blame for my son’s problems. You see, before the age of 4 my son was cared for by family members or friends while I worked. I wondered, What if I had placed him in a structured educational environment earlier? Would he have had such a hard time adjusting if I could have afforded early childhood education?

He was literally getting pulled out of every activity and learning environment he joined. If the school was not calling me at work because of his behavior, the after-school program was writing him up for something. I could not understand any of these complaints; he actually enjoys learning! But I quickly understood that his troubles in school had nothing to do with his academic capabilities.

The Stages of ADHD Diagnosis: Shame

That’s when shame started to really fester. I became anxious whenever my phone rang or buzzed, worried that it would be bad news from school about my son and his behaviors. I knew his teachers were doing the very best they could, but they told me it was becoming more and more difficult to manage his behavior. At his school’s recommendation, and without really understanding the gravity of such a decision, I placed him in another school designated for children with social skills deficits and emotional regulation issues. I thought this would be a breath of fresh air for him, but the calls from school just kept coming and he received several suspensions, his first one at only 5 years of age.

[Does My Child Have ADHD? A Parent’s Guide to Symptom Diagnosis & Treatment]

The Stages of ADHD Diagnosis: Anxiety

Through all of this, my own anxiety was so high that it was affecting my work performance. My son and I were getting “write-ups” and lectures from our own “bosses” at the same time! I started to work two jobs, which quickly drained me — physically and mentally. I was unable to focus on my extra responsibilities and keep up with everything going on with my son in school. Still, I knew he needed help, and that the change in school environment did not help him as we’d hoped it would.

The Stages of ADHD Diagnosis: Resolve

I had cried enough tears. I was exhausted from beating myself up about what I did do and what I didn’t do. I was eager for answers and support. I was resolved to find ways to show up fully for him in the fight for access to a quality education.

The Stages of ADHD Diagnosis: Hope

Eighteen months passed between the time of my formal request for an initial evaluation and my son’s ADHD diagnosis. I was not a bad mother. He was not a bad son. I didn’t do anything wrong or cause his ADHD. A sudden rush of feelings consumed me but the most prevalent was hope. We finally had the key to the lock clamped across my son’s potential.

Today, my hope is that other parents of children with ADHD show themselves more patience and grace. If I had given up on my search or let red tape get in the way, who knows where my son would be today. You might be on a different stage in your journey than others; and that is completely expected. This is not a linear path, and some days will still be harder than others. The unconditional love and support that you have for your child will always be enough to keep you moving forward on those days. Just keep going.

The Stages of ADHD: Next Steps

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.