This is part 2 of a 2 part series.
(If you haven’t read part 1 yet, you might find yourself kinda confused. Read part 1 HERE)
Our Story: Ages 3.5-5.5
Ethan started preschool a few months after his first appointment with the Developmental Pediatrician, a few months shy of his 4th birthday. In the school division where we live, preschool is provided at no charge and happens daily for 2.5 hours. I was greatly looking forward to the double benefit of Ethan being in a high-stimulus environment where he could be engaged on a level I could not provide at home, and me getting a BREAK. I was already accustomed to caregivers finding him overwhelming – and I am a peacemaker by nature – so while it wasn’t a surprise to us that the preschool teacher had a lot of negative feedback for us revolving around Ethan showing poor impulse control and hyperactivity, it was still disappointing and stressful.
Those who took the time to get to know Ethan’s heart and really listen to him would encounter a pure-hearted, good-willed, brilliant and determined little boy; but those who couldn’t dedicate that kind of time and energy were sometimes overwhelmed with how to manage him. One day I showed up at school and noticed that someone had taped a square shape on the floor just inside the door of the classroom. When I inquired about it, I was told that that was “Ethan’s jumping square”!! Haha! I got a good laugh out of that, because, YES, that was my boy! The one who jumped so much that he needed a designated spot to do so safely.
The perk to caregivers and teachers noticing the behaviours was that I felt like my own experience was legitimized: clearly these were “above and beyond” behaviours. The hard part, besides the fact that we had to deal with it every day, was knowing that some people seeing the behaviour would be misjudging us and assuming that this was a parenting issue. And, of course, there would be those who would only see the behavior momentarily and think we were over-reacting and just being too high-strung. But my process with that – while ongoing in some respects I suppose – is fodder for another blog post. Suffice it to say, living with integrity – according to our own convictions and persuasions – has to trump anyone’s options, founded or no. Still, being misunderstood feels hard. Especially when you’re a “connector” like me and just LOVE feeling understood, getting along, singing kumbaya together – all that good stuff.
With Kindergarten came a new teacher at a new school, but the same difficulties were arising there too. By now he was a much happier child than he had been, say, when he was 2 and 3 and just constantly frustrated; but he still had the rest of the trademark ADHD behaviours down pat:
He couldn’t keep his hands to himself, he had a hard time respecting personal space, he was busy and impulsive, being disruptive due to fidgeting, and alienating other kids by wrecking whatever they were working on. These were normal kid behaviours, but not normal at his age in that quantity. He had a high need for physical contact, often bumping into kids “by accident.” In retrospect, that was probably just him intuiting that he needed MORE STIMULATION and finding it in the way his body was showing him. A pediatrician once defined impulsivity as “not being able to stop yourself when you should,” and this was definitely something he struggled with. He wanted SO BADLY to “be good” (bless his heart) but just could not help doing certain things. I remember once watching him throw a metal trowel at a neighbor-kid and showing intense regret about it while the thing was still in mid air. Fortunately it missed!
Getting a professional assessment done.
A few months after he turned 5 – so mid-way through kindergarten – we started the ball rolling toward getting him professionally assessed, and were fortunately able to avoid repeating the long wait for referral because the original developmental pediatrician we had seen was happy to see him again.
We and the teacher all filled out the requisite “SNAP” forms (official assessment tools) and faxed them in to the clinic prior to the appointment, which was scheduled for spring. When we arrived at the clinic the doctor spent a while assessing him (“playing with him”) which he LOVED. She had him building block towers, or sounding out letters or words, throwing and catching a ball, and so on. As with his appointment 2 years prior (the one where she tentatively “diagnosed” him as Spirited), she was assessing him to see if there were any obvious disabilities or impediments to learning. The conclusion of that component of things was that he was a bright boy who was generally “on track” cognitively and physically. But, she went on to say, the results submitted by both us and the teacher indicated that he absolutely did land on the ADHD spectrum…. And watching his behavior as the appointment went on affirmed this.
Processing the diagnosis: pros, cons, and the feelings in-between.
The assessment and diagnostic experience was a good one, and the outcome was not unexpected, but it was nonetheless difficult for us. But for whatever difficult emotions it brought up in me, having a diagnosis in hand was undeniably a blessing for us. For one, it opened up a whole pile of important resources to us: from ongoing medical support, to collaboration and insight from teachers and resource personnel, to access to a fabulous psychologist who is helping us navigate some of the challenges of parenting this unique and wonderful boy. The diagnosis has also given us some handles for our own experience; from contextualizing and normalizing our experience against the experience of so many ADHD parents, to legitimizing the things we had experienced 5 years prior to it. All these outcomes have been worthwhile, but I also found the diagnosis hard to hear, because the idealist in me was yet-again being forced to accept that there would be ongoing challenges – that we would have to keep working very hard.
And I also struggled a bit with how to think about diagnosis as it related to my son’s identity: When I felt vaguely constricted by those four new capitalized letters and imagined them writ large over my child, I reminded myself that a person is not their diagnosis. He was first and foremost my child, my beloved Ethan, beautifully made by the creator, delighted in and beloved. And he came with all these particular characteristics that collectively made up… well… HIM! And he was wonderful.
When I felt vaguely constricted by those four new capitalized letters and imagined them writ large over my child, I reminded myself that a person is not their diagnosis.
It just so happened that a small collection of those characteristics also indicated that he was wired “differently” than others, and in a way consistent with a whole pile of other people – enough people to justify a category. ADHD is a wiring issue. It’s not behavioural – it’s neurological (developmental): His brain was actually operating differently. There were some things he just couldn’t do as easily as others; and some things he could do better. Ethan was not a disorder. He was not even disordered (I actually have a problem with the final “D” in ADHD, but extrapolating on that thought can wait for another time). He was just gloriously himself, like everybody and like nobody else all at once.
Of course, this is not the end of the story. But perhaps the end of one of the harder parts of our journey with ADHD. Going from not knowing to knowing has been HUGE. Since the diagnosis, we have learned a ton, and the world has “opened up to us” so much more in terms of resources and support. Please stay tuned for more to come about how we have moved forward proactively post-diagnosis, and how we are processing other challenges that have come up over the past year or two!
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Want to learn more about our ADHD journey?
- To read part one of this two part series, click HERE.
- To hear about some of the challenges of raising a child with ADHD, check out THIS POST.
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