I wrote this piece for ADDitude recently.
It was inspired by an actual event that transpired at my in-laws’ house this summer when my eight-year-old son Edgar was not at his best.
There is a passage at the end of the post that reads as follows:
“I spoke to Edgar in the car and informed him of the consequence for his behavior. As I was doing so, his four-year-old brother said, in a moment of sibling solidarity, ‘But, Mom, Edgar has ADHD.’ My reply was simple: ‘Edgar’s ADHD is an explanation, but it is never an excuse.’”
Anyone who knows my four-year-old, August, can probably imagine him saying those very words, can hear the accompanying tone and the intonation. And for those who don’t, just imagine the most precocious four-year-old you can, the youngest of three bold boys, and you’ve got a sense of my son. He has a lot to say–all day, every day–about a host of topics.
However, when I wrote the piece, I figured if anything would garner a reaction it would be my words, not my young son’s.
And then I read this comment from a reader:
Your 4 year old knows what ADHD is, and that it causes issues for your older son. Wow. That seems pretty weird to me. Mention the diagnoses much?
Now, I could answer this by adding that in addition to August’s snappy conversational skills he also has a mind like a trap and forgets nothing. Promise him on Monday he can do something on Saturday, without prompting, without even an oblique reminder, he’ll come down the stairs on Saturday morning letting you know before he even says “good morning” that he has remembered. So, you could have told him sometime in, say, mid-December about his brother’s ADHD, or even been talking to a doctor on the phone while he was within earshot, and he could have brought it up this summer with minimal mental effort on his part.
But that’s not the truth. The fact is we sure do “mention the diagnosis much.” We actually mention it a lot. We have defined it and described it for both of Edgar’s older and younger brothers in language that is appropriate for each of their ages for a host of reasons not the least of which has to do with shame.
While ADHD is a condition and does not define our son, it does affect his life. He takes medication; and, as I mention in the piece, he (along with us) is going through a process of unlearning and relearning appropriate behaviors and reasonable expectations. His diagnosis–just like any diagnosis in any family–affects all of us. And since we all love Edgar and want the best for him, we all must work together to help him be successful. For his brothers not to know of Edgar’s condition would be a tremendous disservice–to Edgar, yes, but to his brothers and to every person living with ADHD.
It is my contention that when someone doesn’t mention something of great magnitude, there is usually a reason. And maybe there is a good reason. But, unfortunately, when a person–child or adult–doesn’t know the reason, one of the first assumptions (right or wrong) is that there must be something shameful in the revealing of the information, something about which to be embarrassed. And that is not how our family sees ADHD or, most importantly, Edgar. His condition does not need to be shrouded, kept under wraps. Neither he nor anyone else who lives with ADHD has anything to be ashamed of . . . nothing. It is a physiological condition that can affect a person’s quality of life–just as any other condition can and often does. That is what my sons are learning because that is what they’re living.
Our four-year-old is old enough to see his brother take twice-daily medication, old enough to notice behaviors; he is old enough to understand that ADHD is a challenge his brother faces, so he is old enough to cheer on his brother as he makes strides and old enough to stand by his side without judgment through the inevitable challenges.
Nothing “weird” about any of that. In fact, it sounds like love, like family.