“When Teen ADHD Transforms Into Adult Confidence Before Your Eyes”
Teen ADHD has defined my son in high school, in relationships, in his understanding of himself. Now as my boy crosses the threshold into adulthood, I watch the rest of world begin to see clearly the amazing man he will become.
You can see my son’s neurons firing, and the excitement in his voice is palpable, as we walk through the American Museum of Natural History. Miles is taller than I am now, but in his 14-year-old body, there’s still a wildly curious little boy. This duality is not unique to teenagers with ADHD — there’s a kid inside of everyone. But the excitement of teen ADHD, when triggered by something that is loved — like a visit to the museum — is a reminder of the kid inside.
Miles ushers his grandmother and me past the bones of the prehistoric whale to those of a prehistoric bird. He rattles off its scientific name. I see the toddler who carried a book about dinosaurs everywhere he went. I’m not listening to the facts he’s teaching us; I’m too busy watching him.
This is the boy I wish his teachers saw. This is the whip-smart, focused kid I want to break out from the rocky exterior that many people see, so I can display it with the pride of a curator.
There are heartbreaking days when Miles comes home from school carrying the burden of expectations he can’t meet, when getting through to him feels like digging through solid rock. The moments when he feels smart are gifts. There’s an excited kid in every teenager, but the passions teens with ADHD hold on to from childhood are connections to their core selves, the ones that, over the years, can be covered by self-doubt.
My mother and I smile at each other over the curled fossil of a centipede. The boy we adore is flourishing, his passion uncovered. His past is the blueprint of his true self, always there. We just need to help him dust it off and glory in it.
Three years have passed, and it is mid-autumn: sunny and crisp. I’m on the porch, sweeping fallen leaves. School has been dismissed, and clusters of parents and children pass. In my peripheral vision, I see a man and a small boy. I look again, and there he is, my son Miles, now almost 18. He’s wearing man-sized jeans and an XL Captain America T-shirt.
A boy is walking with him. He’s a new neighbor. He is wearing the same shirt, only smaller. He looks up at Miles as they walk. Miles is talking intently, the boy is listening, rapt. The boy’s mother trails behind, holding a toddler’s hand and struggling with grocery bags and a cardboard box diorama. When they reach our walkway, they pause. Miles leans over to the boy and makes a fist. They fist bump. “That’s a cool shirt,” Miles says to the boy, and then he lopes up the porch steps. “Hey, Mom,” he says, disappearing into the house.
Sometimes, when I see Miles unexpectedly, I don’t recognize him. He’s tall and wide-shouldered now. Rough stubble replaces the fluff that used to outline his jaw. When he was younger, I thought we’d never move past the damage his ADHD caused — angry outbursts, directed inward and outward, failing grades.
After feeling out of step, even wrong, for years, my son’s shoulders still slope a little, his back hunches. He’s almost a man, but there’s a hesitancy, a lack of confidence.
I don’t know this new family yet. They don’t know us. The boy’s mother turns to me, and says, “Your son has a groupie!” I look at Miles, and I remember the complexity of our relationship. I see the baby I raised, and I see a man I don’t quite know yet.
When Miles sees himself, I suspect he sees less than he really is. But this new family? They see a superhero. I’m grateful — because I think that finally, they’re the ones who can see him clearly.
Updated on May 26, 2020