Having a child diagnosed with ADHD is life-changing, and each parent and child will go through their unique journey. For those who struggled through traditional education, this is for you. You’re not alone. If your child has, or is grabbing their diploma, this year, CELEBRATE! It doesn’t have to be about academic awards or achievements. Instead, focus on the way your child made it through a system that is still, today, woefully underprepared to help them.
One Mom’s Letter to Her Son With ADHD
As graduation approaches, I’m forced to reflect on the last eight years of education that weren’t part of a healthy personal growth journey for you. No, you didn’t experience the wonder of celebrating special academic milestones, but instead frequently received notes home saying there were some “concerns.”
No, you weren’t accepting numerous awards like your peers, but instead being labeled lazy, loud, and unprepared. And nope you weren’t ever the star of your class, ever. But you were always our star. School for you was a series of nearly back-breaking emotional experiences that have you sliding into June’s graduation processional sideways, maybe even backwards, for a nail biting finish.
But, you know what, you did it!
ADHD kids don’t always go gently into the rigorous and rigid experience that is traditional education. Psychologists say that because you have ADHD, by the time you were 12, you likely received 20,000 more negative comments than your peers. And unlike the daily list of checks and achievements your buddies received, you got a list of all you did wrong…in the form of a weekly progress report.
It listed everything you did “bad” that week. An accommodation designed to help you, but instead one that strikingly pointed out every single mistake in glaring “enjoy your weekend disappointments” every Friday. Reports that came to ruin nearly every weekend of our lives.
But, you still did it!
Education for you became torturous, not joyous. For the eight years since your diagnosis, we asked you to carry burdens that we as adults wouldn’t, or couldn’t shoulder. What employee wants to get a note of everything they did wrong, let alone a child? Who wants to be labeled lazy by teachers for not being able to equal the achievements of their high functioning peers?
No singer wants to miss out on solos because their memory processing speed didn’t allow them to learn it as fast as those around them. Who wants the teacher to share with others that you wouldn’t get the lead role because she didn’t trust ADHD kids. You went on to get the lead role of Charlie Bradley outside your school that year, because you refused to give up.
You did it…gloriously and I was never so proud!
You faced judgement and rejection from numerous teachers, because you started to lie to cover up your inability to do things at the same level of your peers. Then you didn’t just become a student with ADHD, you became the ”bad guy.” The guy with no “integrity.” I remember a school administrator calling you out of your classroom to tell you, you should spend the weekend looking up the word “integrity.”
The very day after I emailed the school to say your birth mother died, and you ran away. It crushed you. And, we were crushed with you. You may not know, but lying is a common coping mechanism for children who can’t manage the challenges brought on by their ADHD. While we taught you better, your mind seeks ways to find why you can’t be like your best friend, and lying is frequently it. You still managed to push on, yep you did it!
These educators weren’t seeing the boy I saw at home who was always helping me or neighbors carry groceries. They didn’t know the boy who cooked for me after many surgeries, who helped the poor in soup kitchens, cooked for families affected by cancer, played games with handicapped children, or the sweet child who took communion to the dying and held their hands as he sang to them.
You were labeled by a school administrator as a danger potential, and they encouraged me to watch for signs. Instead, I chose to focus on all the ways I watched you spreading your goodness. You were doing it!
Son, when you walk in your graduation two weeks from today, dad and I won’t be there celebrating an academic diploma, but instead he and I will be celebrating the dozens of ways you had to beat back every punch in the gut you endured from people who chose not to understand you, or the nuances of your disability. The countless times you came home defeated, and the number of times you crumbled in despair while your dad or I did, exactly ZERO!
On June 8th, we’ll be celebrating the outstanding young man you’ve become, as part of this experience. How it shaped you. How it molded you. How ADHD made you, the very unique, compassionate and loving young man you are. Can you believe? You did it!
My final hope in all this son, is that when you get your dual degree in music education, that every child who comes into your classroom, who is different will receive a special kind of love that perhaps only someone with your experience can deliver.
An ability to closely examine the whole child, not the disability outcomes. The ability to understand, not judge. The ability to dig deep rather than superficially label. The willingness to extend a second chance, through empathy. I’m excited for you son, because I know you can change the future of education through your lens, and you’re just the man who will do it!
Finally, I know education for you has not been easy or fun, but I know something else too…that despite it all, you did it! And you did it spectacularly with great grace and courage, and I’ll love you for it, forever! You have taught me tenacity, unending grace, forgiveness, and courage. Your rewards, though, not through academics will come in your future when you show us how you change the world.
Congrats to the ADHD class of 2019!!
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Beth Renner Regrut is a marketing/advertising executive and freelance writer. She has won numerous awards for her writing, including her most coveted the Silver Quill Award for “Best Business Writing” from the International Association of Business Communicators. She is a frequent contributor on the subjects of self-care and wellness, addiction, learning differences, and home improvement. Beth currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and son.