When my son was diagnosed with ADHD at age 6, I was almost relieved. It confirmed what my husband and I had suspected all along, and pushed us to finally address his issues.
My son had the opposite reaction when I told him. He burst into tears and cried, “I don’t want that! I don’t want that!” I was heartbroken.
But that was the first and last time during his childhood that he ever shared his feelings about having ADHD. He started medication early on, which made a huge difference for him. He still had struggles, however. With ADHD, focusing on schoolwork and navigating social settings were tough throughout his school years and even into college.
Still, my son was always a persistent and resilient kid. With things that really mattered to him, like playing sports and working after school, he put himself out there time and again, even at the risk of failing.
He worked at forging close friendships, even though he was insecure about it. In high school, he found a part-time job at a busy sandwich shop that required quickly filling customer orders—not easy for a kid with working memory issues.
After a week on the job, he messed up an order. When the boss asked him why he suddenly seemed to forget the proper steps to take, my son told him the truth. He shared that he had ADHD and had forgotten to take his meds. The boss looked at him and said, “Well, remember to take them from now on.”
My knee-jerk response when I heard this story that night probably wasn’t the best. “You told your new boss that?!” But a minute later, I thought how great it was that my son didn’t hide his challenges or retreat because they’d caused a problem. He owned his mistake and moved on.
It seemed like he’d decided that ADHD was just a fact of life for him, and he wasn’t going to let it get in the way. Good for him, I thought.
So it caught me by surprise when he was 21 and something happened that took us back 15 years to the night he found out there was a name for his difficulties.
He was in community college, getting so-so grades and struggling to figure out what direction to take. He still had a part-time job that he loved and a close group of friends. But he couldn’t find a career path that interested him.
One night he just started talking about what was going on in his life. He and his girlfriend had decided to take a break from seeing each other. There was too much emotional turmoil, and he felt consumed by it. His grades were suffering. And he felt he was less focused at work.
I reminded him that ADHD can make it hard to manage emotions and keep them from taking over. I told him how great it was that he had the self-awareness to see the problems it was causing.
A few seconds went by before he quietly responded with what sounded like a confession. “I’m tired of having ADHD. I thought it would be gone by now.”
This time, I wasn’t heartbroken, although I did feel sad for a minute. I realized that what he had just shared was an expression of a more adult type of self-awareness. It showed how resilient he truly was after realizing that ADHD doesn’t just go away. He didn’t want to let his challenges stand in his way. So he didn’t let them.