In Defense of ADHD


My son is five and a half years old and is hyperbole incarnate. He is the fizz pouring out of a shaken-up bottle of coke. Everything he feels, from compassion to anger to enthusiasm, he feels to the Nth degree. I love him for it, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t wish I was a little more like him.

I’ve parented this boy for over four years, us molding into each other just before his first birthday, and I have felt every single day of those years. This child is beautiful, kind, smart, and funny, but he is not an easy child to raise. I couldn’t possibly live without him, but I’ve often thought mothering him might be the death of me.

Right from the beginning of our adoption, my husband and I knew our child was different.  Early malnutrition and trauma made that a no-brainer. We sought out everything we came across that might help: speech therapy, occupational therapy, gluten free/dairy free diet, supplements, essential oils, play therapy, parent-child relationship therapy, Wilbarger brushing, no screen time, vigorous exercise every day, adoptive parent training, colored glasses, and every sensory processing tool that anyone has ever made a buck off of. If it sounds excessive, that’s because it is.  But when your family is struggling to survive in a world that was not made for them, you don’t stop until you’ve built a life raft.

Finally, finally, we conceded that we needed to see a psychiatrist. My son and I drove two hours to the nearest children’s hospital because I didn’t want some run of the mill quack slapping an ADHD label on my kid and calling it a day. The doctor and I talked about attachment, anxiety, sensory issues, the unknown genetic mental health history, and every other nuance that made this case so complicated. At the end of the two hour appointment she said it: ADHD. My heart sank.

My kid would not be another kid with ADHD. Was she serious? 

She was.  Along with a tangled web of complexities that complicate things for my son, he does have ADHD. The doctor said that actually only 8% of children in our country have it, though you wouldn’t know that by the rampant over diagnosis of the condition. We had a choice to make and as resistant as we were to medicating a five year old, we had come to a place of believing that it might not be fair to him to not try it. Life was just too hard.

So now I’m a naturally-minded mama with a baby on Ritalin. Turns out the two aren’t mutually exclusive, or at least I’m guessing not since the earth didn’t start quaking the moment he took the first pill. And the truth is, Ritalin has been a life-saver. If I had any doubts after our appointment about whether he actually had ADHD, they’re out the window now. That medicine was exactly what his little brain needed, and I am thankful for it. He gets to be his real, true self but now he’s in control of his own body. I think in some way he’s thankful for it too.

But here’s the thing: I’m reluctant to actually tell anyone about it. Oh sure, I texted my family and closest friends immediately (some of them are the crunchiest women I know, and they have been beautifully supportive). But as for everyone else, I conveniently avoid bringing it up. Partly because my son is a complex human being with a complex history, and one diagnosis does not begin to cover everything he heroically battles on a daily basis. It is partly that. But it’s largely because ADHD is so cliché. We all know that ADHD means the child is either spoiled and undisciplined or just has lots of energy that inconveniences the adults in his life. Only lazy parents let their kid get diagnosed with ADHD.

I’m not for the overmedication of children, and I am adamantly opposed to viewing certain children as problems. I agree that ADHD is over diagnosed in our country, but I certainly won’t be the one to say whose kid has it and whose does not. My hope is that as a society we can do a better job of creating a culture of empathy, one that says “I don’t know what it’s like to be you or to parent your particular child. You’re the expert on him, and I support you with all of my heart and good will.” Because at the end of the day, turning up our noses at childhood diagnoses does nothing to help the kids or their families (who are obviously hurting or they wouldn’t be searching for an answer in the first place), but offering support, a big hug, and some free babysitting can go a long way.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)