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What Kind of Momma Wishes for Disabilities?

To get my son’s school to take his challenges seriously, I sought out an additional diagnosis, one with overlapping symptoms that commands more respect than attention deficit: autism.

Mom of child with ADHD is researching school accommodations
Mom of child with ADHD is researching school accommodations

My 11-year-old son, Ricochet, has already accumulated an alphabet soup of diagnoses: ADHD, SPD, EFD, Dysgraphia, Written Expression Disorder, and giftedness. Sadly, I was hoping for one more, HFA or high-functioning autism, also once diagnosed as Asperger’s. I know it sounds like I’m a heinous momma for wishing any sort of disability on my son, but I have good reason.

First of all, I would never wish that my child had a disability. He already has one. Several in fact. And the labels he’s accumulated so far just aren’t doing my remarkable boy justice. With his constellation of neurodevelopmental weaknesses, you’d think the school would have a good handle on what to reasonably expect from Ricochet and how to support him. However, the gifted label seems to negate everything else, and we all know ADHD is just bad parenting, right? {NOT!}

“Your son is very smart, Ms. Williams. I know he’s capable of completing his work.”

“He was able to complete his math worksheet legibly and on time yesterday, so I know he can do what I ask of him.”

“Ms. Williams, Ricochet needs to pay attention more. He has to want to do the work.”


Oh, this is my favorite school rebuttal ever: “I guess I have more faith in your son than his own mom.” (Ricochet was transferred out of that teacher’s classroom a couple days later.)

Listen, you and I both know that our kids with ADHD want to do what their peers can. They want to please their elders. They want to be praised instead of chastised. As my special needs hero Dr. Ross Greene says in his book The Explosive Child, “Kids do well if they can.” Furthermore, some kids can do well one day and not the next, and that has nothing to do with willfulness or motivation. My kid wants to do well. I just want the school to recognize that there are obstacles to that for Ricochet.

In addition, this past school year, I kept being told that Ricochet doesn’t really have social problems like he comes home from school and tells me. I was repeatedly told that he was blowing things out of proportion and being too emotional. Yeah. Hello! He has ADHD, and emotional dysregulation is part of that baggage. It also sometimes comes with social awkwardness. Both of these issues are also traits of autism.

So, believing that my son has high functioning autism, and knowing that the school would treat the autism diagnosis with a lot more respect, I sought out the additional diagnosis. I asked for an autism evaluation, not because I thought that would offer different treatment necessarily, but purely to put a name on some lingering issues that don’t quite fit in his current diagnoses, and to squelch the constant disability rebuttals from school. I perched high on that dangerous precipice of hope once again and waited the eight months to finally get the evaluation at the autism center.

I was so hopeful when evaluation day finally came, that I was trembling with anxious energy on the drive over. My stomach flip-flopped. My heart pounded. I didn’t want my son to have autism, but I wanted him to qualify for the label, the label that tends to command more understanding and respect.

The evaluation was quite interesting. We watched him complete the ADOS evaluation with the interviewer behind a two-way mirror. With every response from Ricochet my mind wondered, Does that answer point toward autism or away? I definitively heard high functioning autism; however, the evaluation team did not. In the end, they said Ricochet is “better served by his current diagnoses.” They conceded he has some traits of autism, but felt he has more traits of ADHD, I guess. Rather than give the dual diagnosis that would have helped Ricochet, they wanted to stick with the one main diagnosis they felt was most fitting.

I was crushed. I felt my neck get splotchy and red, the first sign of emotional distress for me, as I sat on the edge of the sofa cushion in that nondescript consultation room. I took some deep breaths to hold back the tears I knew were inevitable. I want to help Ricochet in school so badly that I was really pulling for this additional disability. I wanted to hear them say, “Yes, he has autism,” and that hope was squelched.

By considering a possible autism diagnosis, I allowed myself to imagine a life where my son got more understanding and respect than ADHD gets. I was already envisioning sitting in IEP meetings and not having to explain all the nuances of ADHD over and over. In my mind I had already moved in – that makes the disappointment even greater.

Don’t get me wrong, though. My toes are dug deep in our ADHD community and I’m here to stay, high functioning autism or not. I simply hoped for a way to sidestep the judgment of ADHD.