Do you ever feel like no one out there understands what it’s like to parent a neuro-atypical child?
Even the people closest to me haven’t always seemed to get it.
My husband does, but he didn’t. Not until he’d lived with us for a year as Clark’s step-dad did he finally accept that he could not do by strength of will and caring what we had not been able to do for Clark before, which is make him “mainstream”. He truly believed that with him supporting me, we could get Clark to turn in homework, make friends, and tell the truth. Now, Eric gets it, and he helps tremendously, but he can’t “fix” it.
My friends don’t. They hear anecdotes about Clark and say, “oh my kid did that once last year.” Um, yeah, so do our four other neuro-typical kids, but the difference with ADHD is EVERY DAY, multiple times a day. “Have you tried _____?” they ask me. “It sounds like he needs accountability, and organizational skills.” *Sigh* Tell me truly: have any of you ever had a suggestion made to you about how to “fix” your ADHD child that had any impact, let alone truly worked? I suspect there are very few raised hands out there.
My parents didn’t. Last year, when Clark was 14 — he is 15 now — they asked me to let him move in with them. I know they didn’t mean to suggest I was failing as a parent by doing so, but let’s just say that they believed it was in his best interests to let them have a try. I declined, gently. I said thank you for offering. Inside, I cried. What was I doing wrong this time? What did even my parents believe they could “fix” that I couldn’t?
It wasn’t/isn’t that I am angry with my loved ones. I appreciate that they care. After awhile, though, my teeth are worn down from gritting, and my jaw is sore from clenching.
So it is with a poignant sense of relief and (yes) vindication that I tell you about the short conversation I had with my mother last week.
“I wanted you to know that the reason your dad and I asked you to let Clark live with us was because we live in a small town where all the kids have more opportunity to participate and shine. We thought if Clark just experienced one small success, at anything, that everything would turn around for him. That if he could build off a success, he would find motivation to succeed at many more things,” she said.
I stared at her over the top of my venti skinny cinnamon dolce latte at Starbuck’s, tightening my stomach in anticipation of what came next. Ready to paste on a smile, bite my lip, and make anything she said OK.
“We were wrong, and I’m sorry,” my mother said.
This is not what I had expected.
“Thank you, Mom, thank you very much, that means a lot to me.”
“We realize he had some big successes this year in debate and socially, but that didn’t change a thing about how he thinks or operates.”
My words came out in a rush. “No, it really didn’t. He’s maturing, he has meds, but he still has ADHD, or something like it, God only knows where he really is on ‘the spectrum.’ He will never think like us. He’s brilliant and creative and different, and he wears lacrosse gloves to weed the flower bed and stuffs trailing wads of toilet paper in his nose to keep out the dust when he’s mowing. He wants to drive more than almost anything but can’t remember to pick up his driver’s permit paperwork at school with a text from me, a written note to himself, and a reminder from his girlfriend. He doesn’t turn in homework that’s in his hand as he walks past the in-basket. He’s the same boy that in 5th grade read Harry Potter without realizing a paper on his desk was a test and that everyone else was taking it but him. He may always blurt out odd and inappropriate comments. He may struggle with gaming addiction all his life. He may never understand the importance of truth from his “there is only NOW” focus.”
I took a breath, then smiled.
“But he doesn’t need to be like us, Mom. He’s a lovable little sucker just like he is. All 6 feet of him. We don’t need to fix him, we just need to help him survive growing up in a world where the rules for success are set by and for people like us.”
“And pray he has a great personal assistant some day,” she said, and reached across the table and patted my hand.
And, thanks Mom. I love you.