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The Beauty of ADD

My son has ADD.  I'm confident we didn't rush to this diagnosis.  We started noticing some behaviors in 1st grade and so he started therapy.  We waited patiently and tried a lot of different strategies to try and help his time management and organization skills.  Some worked, some did not; it was hit or miss.  Finally, in the spring of his 5th grade year, his psychologist recommended getting him tested.  We did and he was diagnosed with ADD. In concert with his pediatrician and his therapist, we decided to start him on some low dose medication when he started 6th grade.

That's the briefest, most sterile overview of our journey with Henry.  For me the reality of trying to raise a child with ADD is that it's a road fraught with frustration, questions, worry, and fear.  Sometimes I feel like I'm a pioneer in ADD, trying to discover a new strategy or coping skill that will work for both Henry and me.  Because if there is one thing ADD is not, it's not one-size-fits-all.  There's so much trial and error.  I've had to take into account Henry's individuality and quirkiness, and try and figure out what internally motivates Henry.  And then I've had to work on accepting Henry for who he is, accept his way of processing and his internal time clock.

But there is a beautiful side to ADD too.  I think kids with ADD are so empathetic and compassionate.  Maybe because they know what it feels like to be different and misunderstood.  Most of the time, Henry is really laid back and goofy.  But at his core, Henry is such a kind soul.  He has a tender heart, and he's sensitive.  I don't think I'll ever fully understand what goes on in that head of his, but every once in a while he'll read a situation and say something so introspective and genuine.  It's as if he has this ability to cut through all the fluff and see things for what they truly are.  I think that's really a cool gift.

Henry makes friends with the misfits.  Maybe because he connects with them on some level, but he is kind to them and he is patient and respects their own quirks.  "Oh Mom" he'd say, "that's just my friend.  He can get really angry sometimes and you just have to wait and let it pass." Or, "He talks that way because he can't keep up with his thoughts.  It's getting better though."  And he's loyal to them.  It doesn't seem to matter to him what others think about those kids or even himself.

Henry marches to the beat of his own instrument that he's created - it's like one step beyond marching to his own drum.  He is such an outside-of-the-box kind of thinker and refuses to fit into any mold. But not in a defensive or rebellious way, he just kind of lives in his own world, governed by his own priorities and seemingly obliviously walks through this world of convention that surrounds him.  I am Type A and I really can't connect with that on any level - at all.  I am so driven by rules and order and check lists, I thrive on predictability and structure.

I really do try - I try so hard to understand, accept and respect Henry and his way of being, but sometimes I fall short.  We check his grades weekly and Henry's biggest problem is missing assignments.  He does them, he just loses track of them and doesn't turn them in.  Honestly, this drives me nuts!  How can he not care?  How can he put in the work and not want the credit??  Such a foreign thought to me.  But for better or for worse, he's just not driven by grades.  If he's passionate about it, he throws himself into it, 110%.  That's his internal motivation.  But taking social studies just because he has to?  Meh...

Inevitably, we end up arguing when I see these missing assignments piling up.  These worries and fears for Henry creep into my thinking and I start extrapolating to the future.  How is he going to handle high school (mind you, he's finishing up his 8th grade year, high school is just around the corner)?  What about college, when he's on his own?  And, oh my gosh, jobs are full of convention and rules, how will he survive that construct?  And my fears get projected on to him.  And he's told me over and over again, that's too much for his 14 year old shoulders to bear.  Henry lives in the moment, he'll face the future when the future comes.

The other day, yet another argument about missing assignments ensued.  He had been doing so well all semester, but then after Winter Break, the wheels came off and the assignments started piling up.  And I tried so hard to impress upon him the importance of turning his work in on time and getting credit for his work.  I told him that it would be so much easier if he was giving it his all and getting mediocre grades - I wouldn't even care.  But he's so smart, he carries A averages on his tests, but his overall grade suffers because of missing homework.  My frustration was born out of fear for the future, but also a feeling that he wasn't living up to his potential.

And he felt it.  He felt it so deeply.  We both took some time to calm down and I found him crying on his bed.  I asked him why he was so upset this time, I mean, this is a conversation we've had a million times.  And he said to me, in his shoot-straight-from-the-hip Henry kind of way, "When you say these things, I feel like a failure."

I felt like I had been sucker punched in the gut.

I tried to tell him that wasn't the message I was trying to send.  I was trying to tell him that I believed in him.  I was trying to tell him that I see his intelligence and I know that we can figure out how to help him succeed.  He looked at me and he said, "That's not what I hear.  I hear that I'm a failure.  I know I need to do better, but it just doesn't seem like it's enough."

Ouch.  Clearly there was no back-tracking on my part.  He had seen through the veneer of my parenting mumbo-jumbo and had felt the root of my frustration.  He felt that in that moment, I had a lack of confidence in him.  And it wasn't about the assignments anymore, it had become about him and who he was.  And he was right.

Kids with ADD know they're different.  Henry may act oblivious, but it's more that he knows who he is and likes who he is.  He has no problem accepting who he is.  What a gift.  And he wants to feel that same respect for his individuality from me - not pressure to be something he's not just because that's what the world dictates.  What about all the beautiful things about Henry?  Why should that light fade in the shadow of societal expectations and construct?

I don't ever want Henry to feel like a failure, or that he's not enough, or needs to be someone else to make it in this world.  He'll get enough of those messages from society and those of us (like myself) who enter the rat race of suburban idealism.  I want him to know and feel that I love him for who he is, that I love all the parts of him - the quirky, the bird-brained, and the brilliant.

The other day I had coffee with a friend and the conversation turned to Henry and my worries about him as he gets ready for high school and (even worse) driver's training.  She shared with me a story about someone who had similar struggles and just needed some time to figure things out.  Now at 40 years old, he's just fine.  Living life on his own terms, having some really cool experiences and doing just fine.  So I tried to convince her that, no, Henry was different.  I regaled her with some of his more absent-minded and misfit stories.  She just laughed and said, "He'll find his way, he'll be just fine."  She wasn't diminishing what I was going through, she was just able to see the bigger picture and sharing her wisdom.

It was a good word to hear.  After all why should I let missing Vocab sheet #14 define Henry's destiny?  Why shouldn't his future be dictated by his creativity, ingenuity, sincerity, and passion?  He's got what it takes, and so much more.  He will find his way, and he will be just fine - better than fine... and that, is a beautiful thing.

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