For the last almost three years now, I have claimed over and over again that I see ADHD as a difference and not a disability. And I did truly believe that. When Luke, my 8-year-old son with ADHD, was diagnosed, I denied the term disability. I didn’t use that word to describe my son. He’s intelligent and creative and fun and capable. Not at all disabled. I guess I did not truly understand the term.
Merriam-Webster defines disability as: : a disqualification, restriction, or disadvantage. I wish someone would have reminded me of that when Luke was diagnosed with ADHD — maybe I wouldn’t have walked around with blinders on for two and a half years.
This summer I realized that ADHD (and sensory processing disorder/SPD and learning disabilities) is really a disability that causes him to be different, not just a difference. Will I walk around talking about how he’s disabled? No, of course not. But now I see it clearly and I am hoping this clarity will finally let me off the hook I’ve been dangling from to truly accept him the way he is and no longer work so hard to figure out how to “fix” him, which is really only trying to change him.
How did I come to this realization you may wonder. With a good, old-fashioned kick in the pants of course. When we were nearing the end of summer, and Luke had been on a Gluten-Free Diet for about four months, I decided it was time to test how much the diet change may be doing for him and take a medication break. It was unbelievably eye-opening, but not at all in the way I expected.
|Luke participating in the Web of Life
ceremony the first day at his new school.
While I’ve known for some time his Concerta isn’t doing enough, I truly didn’t realize how much benefit Luke is getting from taking it. Even he would tell me each day without medication that he liked not swallowing the pills but that he felt more in control of himself and more calm when he takes his medication. Even this immature 8-year-old could tell the medication was making some positive improvements for him.
We had a meds break for a full week. Most days we didn’t have anywhere we needed to go, thank goodness. But on day 6, we decided to have a family day out. We hiked up to Mt. Mitchell’s lookout tower and then we followed the Blue Ridge Parkway on around to Little Switzerland for dinner. This is a trip we’ve made before and a trip Luke enjoys. But this time, the entire car ride he asked when we were going to head home. He didn’t want to go anywhere at all. He didn’t have the patience for the car ride, even when he had electronics to keep him occupied.
The real epiphany was at dinner though. Little Switzerland is this teeny-tiny town on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you blink, you will miss it. Literally. There’s a small old general store and restaurant there that we like though. It’s casual and they make a wicked smoked trout BLT. Luke was super fidgety in his chair, falling out over and over again, and his voice was loud, but I thought he was doing well otherwise. Then a boy a year or two younger came in and sat down with a group of ladies at the table next to us. This boy sat still and quiet and drew on a piece of paper — the entire time we were there. The stark contrast between Luke and this other boy nearly blew Daddy and I right out of our chairs. I am afraid we probably stared at that boy. We were dumbfounded but knew that the other boy was behaving as expected for his age — our child was the one that was not typical.
Our hearts broke that evening. We knew Luke really is disabled, even if only in some respects. He didn’t have the ability to sit still in the chair or to regulate his voice.
I received my second reminder that Luke is disabled just last week. Luke started his new school, the private school we’ve put ourselves in financial distress to send him to. The school I hand-picked because of a small student:teacher ratio and a focus on experiential learning. I knew without a doubt this environment was much, much better suited for him to be able to learn successfully. And then the teacher stopped me one afternoon when I was picking him up and told me there are problems. Told me he’s inattentive, not completing his work, and disrupting the group sometimes. I was stunned. I didn’t think we were going to have the same issues here. But of course we would, because these are deficits in Luke’s abilities that don’t magically go away because we altered the school environment.
My son has a disability (three in fact) and I’m not ashamed. I am glad I have finally realized it because now I can stop working so hard to change those skill deficits and focus on teaching him how to be happy and successful with his differences.