I had never really planned out how to tell our daughter that she has ADHD. I felt it was important for her to know but I didn’t know how to bring it up, how to explain what is was, or how to explain what it meant. I also did not know when to tell her. Was there a “right” age or grade? How young was too young? How old was too old? I simply did not know what I was going to do.
As it turns out, I should not have worried because she showed me exactly the “right” time and way.
One day when she returned home from another day of third grade she seemed particularly anxious. When I asked what was wrong she said, “Mommy, when I was trying to read today, the words kept feeling like they were jumping all over the page and I couldn’t get them to sit still. They just kept dancing all around. Do you think I have dyslexia?” (She was familiar with dyslexia because she knew someone who had it and identified it for her.) It was as if the clouds opened up and a ray of light shone down on us. I knew this was my window. This was the time. She was inviting me in.
So in I jumped.
I explained to her that she did not have dyslexia. Next I listed out a few things that she does that are typical ADHD-related things. I said, “You know how sometimes in school something can distract you and then you think about that thing and then you think about something about that thing and then you think about what would happen if something happened related to that last thing, and your brain is moving so fast…and then you realize you’ve missed the entire lesson or instructions?” “You know how you don’t like to wear certain materials or tags because they bother you and if you’re wearing something that makes you uncomfortable, you can’t stop thinking about it bothering you?” “You know how sometimes you get really really really interested in one thing and you devote all of your free time and energy into that one thing?” “You know how you have a lot of energy, even when you should be tired and sometimes you have trouble sleeping or staying asleep?”
“Yes” she answered to all of them.
“Well, that is because your brain is actually kind of like your daddy’s brain. It works a little bit differently than other people’s brains. It’s something called ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.” Her eyes widened.
“Did I catch it?!” She exclaimed in horror.
“No no.” I assured her. “It’s just how you were born. It means that some things, like attention, focus, and hyperactivity can be a struggle for you, but that you can also use those special things about you to make you successful–like Daddy does.” We talked at length about ADHD. By the time we finished she was not worried about having it. She was intrigued, relieved, and, dare I say, even a bit proud!
It has been less than a year since that conversation and she is now able to thoughtfully articulate what it feels like for her to have ADHD, what works for her to manage it, what does NOT work for her, and exactly how unique and special it makes her. I have to admit that I feel extremely proud when I see our nine-year-old explaining ADHD to someone else. Her unashamed bluntness and enthusiastic description make me feel really hopeful that she will continue to see her “disability” as something that does not have to disable her. She learns this and realizes this a little more every day. I truly believe that it comes, in part, by how we as a family view ADHD. We tell her that it will be hard, but that struggle will make her stronger and she will find her path because of, not in spite of, her ADHD.
My favorite explanation of ADHD came from a conversation that I overheard between Leigh and our daughter. It is the first page of our book and it. Is. Everything…
“Daddy, you have ADHD just like me, right?”
“Is that bad?”
“No, honey, it’s not bad.”
“But what does it mean?”
“It means that the rest of the world moves too slowly for us.”