Back in November, Abraham’s dad and I both started getting not-so-good reports from his preschool teacher. He’s in Junior Kindergarden this year and an August baby (the oldest in his class). We got notes home that he was disruptive, disobeying, and even hitting his friends. I watched closely for any of these behaviors at home, but he was awesome at home. He did his chores without my reminding him, he said please and thank you; yes he struggled with the inability to control the volume of his voice, but what 5-year-old doesn’t?!
It was then that the school psychologist in me started wondering if this was not a behavior issue but something a little deeper. (Did you know I have a graduate degree in school psychology? I pay $500 in student loans every month so that I can use my degree to diagnose…my child.) Soon after my radar turned on, Abe’s dad suggested to me that we have him tested for ADHD. Knowing what I know of that diagnosis, I was very skeptical. I’ve seen many an intern score an observational ADHD survey from a teacher and slap a diagnosis on a kid who had no business even being tested. The fact that we live in Jacksonville, not exactly the most progressive city on the map, didn’t quell my fears either. But his dad was insistent, and sometimes that insistence is a parent-gut feeling…so I agreed.
Abe’s dad, his fiance, and I all piled in to a little office last week with the psychologist who completed his testing. She was young. Younger than I’d prefer. But she had letters after her name and a good sense of who Abe is by her own descriptions, so I listened. She explained that Abe is a “joyful” little boy who had lots to say and was very polite. She described his intelligence as “above average” and his ability to gather information visually as being “gifted”. She was impressed with his physical control when he was asked to stand on one leg or hold a pose like a statue for 2 minutes. Then she got to the attention testing section of her report.
Let’s just say…it didn’t go…well.
And then to be more specific…he was…”Well Below Average.”
There’s passing, there’s not passing…and then there’s Abe.
I can’t say that I was in any way surprised or disappointed. But I was introspective for a few days. I considered all the times that people told me I let him play on his iPad too much, or that I shouldn’t take him to movies. I remembered that I breastfed him for a year, so I gave myself points for that. A clean diet with no simple sugars, more points. Divorce. Divorce might take away points…I mean. Is there anything I did to cause this or cause it to get worse?! I’M A SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST. I KNOW IT’S GENETIC AND RELATED TO A SPECIFIC PATHWAY IN THE BRAIN THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH DIVORCE OR TV. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a bad mom and therefore my kid has ADHD.
I go to Abe’s classroom at least three times a month and I see him. He is impulsive. He doesn’t control his emotions very well. He does drift away during circle time. He can’t even SIT during circle time. It’s hard to watch your child struggle with the inability to talk out a problem at school before he loses his mind over the injustice of a stolen lego piece. ADHD isn’t a simple case of five symptoms and five behaviors. It’s different in every kid. So when I think back to the camp counselor last summer who told me he “would never get away with his bad behavior in a public school”, I want to call her and shout at her, “MY BOY’S BRAIN DOESN’T WORK LIKE OTHER BOYS’. HE’S NOT BAD. HE DIFFERENT. AND I BREAST FED HIM FOR A YEAR!”
I’ve spent the past week attempting to disassociate my personal reactions to Abe’s diagnosis and allow it to be a guidepost on his little educational journey. I suspect this will be an ongoing challenge for me to maintain my composure as I explain to teachers year after year the best ways to capture Abe’s attention and calm him down because I’ve been doing it since he was born. I pray that his inability to focus works in his favor and he doesn’t notice the other kids doing things he can’t, like finishing an assignment in one sitting (even if it is just cutting out the letter “S”). More than anything, I just want his friends and educators to love him for the silly little guy he is.
Abe can’t sit down at the table and color a picture or focus on my voice when kids are running around and there’s lots of noise. He can focus when he uses the iPad to write his letters or do math problems. He pays attention to TV shows about how things work. He’s capable of reciting to you the full plot of the movie we watched last night. He can build the hell out of some magnetiles. That’s just him. And I’m not going to feel badly about using the tools that hold his attention and limit his impulsivity to help him gain access to education, entertainment, and frankly, the world. (Except for when I feel badly about it.)
Being a mom is hard.