Well, I know it’s been too long! I know that I have been remiss in writing. I can feel it. Writing has become an outlet for me, yet as my job has changed, and I write more for work, I find it harder to find the words to write to you each week. I also have a crappy computer where the stupid space bar is broken, so writing takes about 5x longer than it should as I correct too many spaces or not enough spaces in every sentence.
Today, I want to talk a little bit about the new “A’s” in our lives – ADHD and Anxiety Disorder.
Yesterday, after six years of sporadic testing, we have a diagnosis. My oldest has struggled to fit in and focus for a very long time. He came early – a preemie with complications – and our doctors let us know that he might face challenges that other kids didn’t. Yet we have been blessed, because every challenge and obstacle we’ve encountered can be worked on…and this one can too.
Between speech therapy, occupational therapy, and even counseling, he knows more doctors than coaches, but every day he grows stronger and closer to the “average” kid. He was first diagnosed with sensory integration disorder at four. He was “floppy” and physically “weak.” He struggled to connect with other kids. He tended to avoid looking people in the eyes, and he would much rather sit by himself and play cars alone than be with others.
That was the first time we got tested for autism. He has several common symptoms of autism, but wasn’t on the spectrum. We had a diagnosis, but we also didn’t. Kids with sensory issues struggle mightily. They have to work exceptionally hard to focus, work to stay physically on-track with their age, and work to understand how to relate to their peers. Yet, they often fall within the normal range for schools, don’t always need a learning plan, and their challenges aren’t always obvious to the naked eye.
To kids and parents, particularly as they hit those tween years, they become the awkward kid or the strange kid or the trouble-maker/problem child. They are some of the easiest targets for bullies, and often they are also the kids that internalize the rejection of their peers and adults the most because they are the most sensitive to those around them. Many kids with sensory issues understand that they are different and desperately want to belong, to be normal, but just can’t find the path to get there on their own.
Well, third and fourth grade have been particularly hard. School has gotten harder, standardized tests are impossible, kids have gotten less forgiving of “quirky” behavior, and thus less inclusive, and emotions both anger and frustration, but also fear and sadness, have gotten stronger. It’s hard to be 9 and 10-years old, and feel like no one likes you. To dread going to school because you assume you’ll do something wrong. To expect the kids in your class to reject and disparage you. To be anxious constantly and lonely most of the time, and to spend all of your energy trying to fit in and “behave” at school so that people will like you – where people include kids, teachers, and parents.
This is my beautiful son’s life, as it is for an increasing number of kids in the US today. For the last eighteen months, it has been getting progressively worse, and we have been lost in knowing how to help him…until yesterday.
Yesterday changed the conversation and the strategy for us. We went through a new round of testing last month, where his teachers, his doctors, we and he all worked hard to provide perspective, and we have received a new diagnosis. Our son has ADHD, an Anxiety Disorder, and a mild learning disability. This is in addition to the sensory issues that he has struggled with for over six years.
This may sound strange, but as I write this, I feel nothing but relief. I am relieved because I walked out of doctor’s office with answers, not questions. I walked out with five pages of recommendations to “go-do.” I am no longer lost. And I am relieved, because as my 10-year old asked me yesterday when my husband and I got home from the doctor what was wrong with his brain; we were able to tell him emphatically “NOTHING!”
We told him that his brain may work just a little bit differently, but that he is perfect just the way he is. We told him that every person has something that they need to work on, but now we know what to help him work on and can build a plan to help him. And with tears in his eyes, he asked me if this means he’s “normal.” I told him that no one is “normal.” Everyone is different and special. But then I told him that he is “special” just like everyone else.
Yesterday, for the first time in 18 months, I saw hope in my son’s eyes. It broke my heart and filled me with so much joy at the same time. Hope is a terrible thing to lose, but a beautiful thing to find.
Today is the beginning of a new journey for our family. We’ll mess up, we’ll explore different paths, and we’ll try different things.
Today, I say hello to the new “A’s” in our lives, because like it or not, Anxiety and ADHD are here to stay. But I also know, we got this!