Fourth grade. Home from school. In my lap. Crying uncontrollably.
“Mom, why am I different from everybody else? I don’t understand. I don’t want to have problems.”
I was wondering when this would happen. By the time he was 6, Ryan was on ADHD medication and undergoing behavioral therapy. He had also been seen by multiple doctors, had gone through several rounds of testing and screenings, and was pulled out of class twice a day for special education classes and occupational therapy.
I had no idea when and where it would really dawn on him that he was different. We had never sat him down and said, “Hey, look, your brain works differently. You learn differently, and that’s just the way it is.”
I held him as I cried. It broke my heart, too. (Heck, I’m crying now just remembering it, even though Ryan is now a 22-year-old college student.) Painful as it was, this was a huge, necessary step in our lives. Ryan knew that he had ADHD and other learning differences, but it wasn’t until this moment that it really hit home for him.
So I sat with him and explained it all. I told him that his brain was like a speed tunnel — that it worked faster than other brains, and thus had trouble processing things in a steady, coherent manner. That it worked faster than he could get his words out. That what he thought he heard and understood didn’t always match up to what was actually said.
Letters and words, I continued, don’t always look right on the page. And the weighted vest he wears is to help his body, which doesn’t always know where it is in space. His meds are to help slow down the brain so that he can process things better.
“But, why?” he asked. I had to tell him there was no answer; this was just the way he was made. And sometimes, being different is a gift — a difficult but incredible one that he would someday come to embrace. Of course, this is not what he wanted to hear. His heart was broken. But I believe it needed to break so that he could learn how to heal.
We’ve worked hard since then to help Ryan be proud of who he is. While Ryan has to live with the brain and body he has 24/7 (and I’m sure he wants to scream and run from it at times), we’ve done our best to remind him all the while that he is not alone.
But it’s hard. He comes face to face with the reality of his challenges every day. Ryan has had to work twice as hard as most people all his life.
But through therapy, school accommodations, and the help of his family, he became better at self-advocacy and embracing his differences. His educators and doctors have also encouraged him along the way, giving him tools and an extra push to face his challenges and not be afraid to ask for help. He has since learned to talk openly about himself and his challenges. And he encourages other like him to do the same.
When new hurdles cause Ryan stumble, the reality of his life sometimes still hits too hard — forcing him to endure a heart-wrenching struggle all over again. But we try to remember that each of these hurdles is a new opportunity to learn.
It’s hard enough for typical kids to excel in school and in life, but Ryan is playing an entirely different field. On his field, we never leave Ryan to work through his struggles alone. I will never stop being Ryan’s mom and I will never not be on his team.
Being Different with ADHD: Next Steps
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