What My Son with ADHD Would Like Grown-Ups to Know
One mom shares all of the things her son with ADHD hears adults say, and how it inspired her to advocate, and help others understand the challenges it brings.
I was talking with my 12-year-old son the other day about a girl he likes in school.
“She’s a very popular girl, but some people say really mean things about her.”
“What do they say that’s mean?” I asked.
“They call her fat and say she’s ugly without any makeup.”
Kids can be mean. I asked him how he felt when he heard people say things like that. “It makes me feel bad for her, because I know how I feel when people say mean things about me.”
My mom radar went off. My son always seems happy; nothing seems to get him down. He did not seem happy right now.
“What do you think people say?” I asked, expecting him to shrug and say, “I don’t know.” He said the following instead:
“I hear them say everything they think I can’t hear. Like the sigh when I tell them I forgot my homework again. I hear them mutter things under their breath when I am fidgeting in class. I hear frustration in their voices. I’d like them to understand I am not trying to make them mad.”
“I see things too, like how you smile less with me than with other kids. I see how Daddy’s forehead gets all creased when he is yelling at me. I see people roll their eyes when I show them a new toy and how they sound all mad when they ask me to stop singing.”
“I want Daddy to know I am not stupid and it hurts my feelings when he asks, ‘Are you dumb?‘ I want you to know I don’t like it when you yell. I hate when I ask someone a question and he says, ‘It’s none of your business. Stop interrupting.'”
“I just want it to stop. The yelling and comparing me to other kids who are ‘normal.’ How people tense up sometimes when I just walk into the room. I want people to say I am nice and funny and good at drawing. And not follow it with, ‘If only he could focus like that in other areas.’ I just want to feel like it’s OK to be me.”
That was not what I expected to hear, and it took all of my strength not to crumble under the weight of my shame. Maybe my happy kid was a little less happy than I’d thought. And I’d been so frustrated with him for not being “normal,” I’d missed it.
I took a deep breath and hugged him. My heart hurt. “That was so beautifully said. I’ll make you a promise right now to work to make things different for you. I believe in you, I see your goodness, and I don’t want you to hurt.” And I meant this with all of my being.
He hugged me back and looked shy now, like a typical 12-year-old boy.
I am sticking to my promise. I want to help people understand ADHD and the struggles these wonderful people go through just to fit in this world. They’re square pegs in a round-hole world. Let’s find ways to make more square holes for them to fit into.