It started in preschool when Lucas was two. Notes coming home saying things like, “Please talk to Lucas about listening and staying in his seat.” And I thought, “Well that’s just freakin’ ridiculous. He’s two. Two-year-olds don’t listen, and they don’t sit in seats. Especially not boys.” As far as I knew, anyway… Still, I talked to Lucas about it, as he scampered circles around the room like a squirrel on crack, never making eye-contact as I spoke, and me feeling like an idiot for trying to reprimand a two-year-old about something that happened like six hours earlier, and rolling my eyes at those-daycare-people-who-don’t-know-shit.
Later, when Lucas started Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK), we received similar notes, albeit with a more ominous bent:
“Lucas did not finish any of his work today.”
“During story-time Lucas ran around the room instead of sitting on the carpet.”
“Lucas was disruptive during nap-time.”
Around that time, I started to chew my lip a little… but I still managed to convince myself, “He’s four. Do four-year-olds finish anything? He’s a boy.” The grandmas, aunts, honorary aunts, and close friends all concurred.
Then, at the VPK Christmas pageant, I watched in alarm as Lucas squirmed and flailed disturbingly more than any of his male peers. He stuck out like a sore thumb. I was that mom waving frantically to get my kid’s attention so that I could ‘evil eye’ him into compliance. Of course I only succeeded in looking like a total fucking idiot.
Four letters began to rear their ugly heads at me.
I asked our doctor about it. He said you really can’t diagnose ADHD until a child is in school, because there has to be a discernible ‘impairment’ when compared to his same-gender peers. I had already seen him with same-gender peers, and I was certain he was different from them. I started to research online. I bought books, but not just about ADHD. Books about parenting ‘strong-willed’ children, books about love languages. (Maybe I just wasn’t giving him enough love and it was making him crazy? Or maybe I could cure him with love…)
At VPK graduation they sat Lucas in the far back corner of the stage, where a teacher sat surreptitiously in the shadows, ready to gently remind him to stay quiet, or possibly remove him, lest he ruin graduation for the other, better-behaved children.
Each child was to have a turn at the microphone to recite a memorized line. As they took their turns, each child mumbled or sniveled, whispered too softly or shouted ear-piercingly loudly, stood dumbfounded or giggled inappropriately, into the mic. They were adorably atrocious.
I was confident my sweet boy would fail, even though we had practiced every night for weeks. “Look at him wriggle back there,” I thought with anxiety, “Why in God’s name can’t he just sit still like other kids?”
Then his turn came. My heart was pounding my brain out of my skull. I knew, at least, that he couldn’t do worse than the kid who did nothing but snigger obnoxiously into the mic. Could he?
“Hello! My name is Lucas. Here is a cool song about a slippery fish.”
Eye contact to the folks at the back of the room.
Like we had practiced, but better.
Confidence blowing out from him like a cyclone.
I, of course, immediately burst into tears.
“Don’t get too cocky,” my hateful inner-self whispered. “That doesn’t mean he’s normal.”
What a relief that Lucas could excel at something! But I still knew he was ‘different.’ One would have to be blind not to see it. We had trouble with Lucas at home too, with not listening, almost as if he was not hearing. We had his ears checked; they were fine. We would send him to pick up his shoes and find him two minutes later sitting on the floor next to his shoes intently examining a piece of carpet fuzz he’d found on the floor. At soccer practice, he was more interested in discovering what happened to his shadow when he jumped, lying down in the grass so that he could inspect the blades more closely, or dangling joyously in the net of the goal while the other kids chased after the ball.
“Focus!” we implored, again and again. “You have to focus!” I’m not sure if we were talking to him or making a wish. Or praying.
We saw Lucas excel in other ways: He was quick to learn, memorized things easily. When he was two, he memorized every word of The Berenstain Bears On the Moon. Around the same time he decided he wanted to be a fighter pilot. That goal is an obsession of his and remains to this day at age six. When my husband told him the F-14 Tomcat was retired, he cried so hard I thought he was going to throw up.
He had excellent memorization skills (if you could get him to listen). He thrived as a performer. He displayed incredible perseverance and dedication when it came to things he was interested in.
So he was smart. But I couldn’t hang my hat on his intelligence. I didn’t want to be that annoying parent who says “He just behaves terribly because he’s bored.”
I mentioned my concerns about ADHD to a few trusted confidants. Everyone denied the possibility, citing Lucas’s intelligence, insisting he must be bored. Or they said his behavior was completely normal for boys his age. Some even suggested that ADHD might not even be a real thing. That maybe it was just ‘labeling’ a legitimate personality type. Even my husband rejected my hypothesis.
Still, I continued my research, like the straight-A student I am. Lucas seemed to have all of the symptoms of ADHD. But the diagnosis checklists frequently came with the qualification that it is very difficult to diagnose a child with ADHD prior to first grade, because so much of the criteria are dependent on an observation of the child’s ability to complete ‘boring’ tasks… like schoolwork.
So even though he wasn’t yet in kindergarten: Observe I did. I observed the shit out of that poor kid. Every outing, every scene, every attempt to accomplish anything, became a test. I was always on the hunt for ‘same-age, same-gender peer groups.’ Watching like a famished hawk. Starving for signs that he was ‘normal.’
I hung my hopes on kindergarten, thinking his performance in school would tell us everything. It would be obvious, then, whether or not Lucas had ADHD.
The second day of kindergarten, Lucas came home with a note that said, “Lucas had a very rough day today.” I posted the contents of the note on Facebook along with some snarky remark like “REALLY, Lucas??” I’m pretty sure that’s not good parenting, but at the moment, it was the only thing I could do that would keep me from bursting into tears.
In early December, after many teacher conferences, behavioral interventions, fancy rewards charts, forms filled out, questionnaires answered; Lucas’s doctor diagnosed him with ADHD. He then asked me if we would like for him to prescribe medication for Lucas.
Wait… what?? Isn’t the doctor supposed to tell me what to do? How can I make such a huge decision all by myself like that? Besides, the Hubs is thoroughly against medication. He talks to his engineer friends and they all tell him they had the same issues when they were kids and “look at them now, they’re doing great!”But were they on medication as kids? Maybe it helped them. What if it actually dumbed them down and they didn’t begin to really thrive until they were taken off of it? What if they would have been even more successful without medication? Or what if the medication was an out-and-out lifesaver?
I’d read plenty on the topic of ADHD medications. But all those hours of research didn’t give me any kind of assurance that I was equipped to make such an enormous decision for my child. I felt panicky. Then somehow, I heard a little tiny something inside my head whisper that this was how Lucas was supposed to be… and that I shouldn’t try to change him. At least… not yet – not this young. Not in kindergarten. Even if it made our lives harder, and made his teachers and classmates miserable. I know that’s not fair. It even sounds a little crazy. But that’s what my insides said. No medication. Not yet.
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This is the first in an I-don’t-know-how-may-posts-long series about our journey with ADHD. Nothing I say here or anywhere else is meant to be judgmental. I know ADHD is a very personal struggle and each family may find different ways of coping that work for them. If someone can learn anything from something I write, or find comfort in the solidarity of similar experiences, that would be the best thing I could get out of this. I very much welcome comments, personal stories, and even advice. Please feel free to share your stories!