At his pre-kindergarten graduation, Lucas sat in the far back corner of the stage, nearly hidden from view. A teacher crouched in the shadows behind the stage curtain, ready to remind Lucas to stay quiet—or remove him—lest he ruin graduation for the other, better-behaved children.
Each child was to have a turn at the microphone to recite a memorized line. As they took their turns at the mic, the children mumbled or sniveled, whispered too softly or busted eardrums with their screams, stood dumbfounded or giggled like tiny chipmunks. They were adorably atrocious.
We’d been practicing Lucas’s line every night for weeks. Look at him wriggle back there, I thought. Why can’t he just sit still like the other kids?
When Lucas’s turn came, my thudding heart almost started an earthquake. I hoped, at least, that he wouldn’t do worse than the kid who did nothing but snigger into the mic. But I knew the teachers expected him to fail. We all did.
Then: “Hello! My name is Lucas. Here is a cool song about a slippery fish.”
Clear. Articulate. Well-paced. Making eye contact with the back of the room. Like we’d practiced, but better. Confidence blew out from him like a cyclone. I burst into tears.
Don’t get too cocky, my hateful inner self whispered. That doesn’t mean he’s normal.
Since Lucas was old enough to talk, we’d had trouble with his behavior. We’d send him to pick up his shoes only to find him two minutes later sitting on the floor next to his shoes examining a piece of carpet fuzz. When we put him in soccer, he was only interested in learning what happened to his shadow when he jumped. He laid down in the grass so that he could inspect the blades, or dangled in the net of the goal while the other kids chased after the ball.
“Focus!” we implored, again and again. “You have to focus!” I’m not sure if we were talking to him or making a wish. Or praying.
I mentioned concerns about ADHD to a few trusted confidants. Everyone denied the possibility, citing Lucas’s intelligence, insisting he must be bored. Or they said his behavior was normal for boys his age. Some suggested ADHD might not even be a real thing, that it was unnecessarily labeling a legitimate personality type. Even my husband rejected my hypothesis.
I understood their hesitation. Lucas was quick to learn and memorized things easily. When he was two, he committed to memory every word of The Berenstain Bears on the Moon. He thrived as a performer. He displayed incredible perseverance and dedication when it came to things he was interested in. Still, I didn’t want to be that annoying parent who says, “He behaves terribly because he’s highly intelligent and therefore bored.”
According to my reading, Lucas exhibited nearly all the symptoms of ADHD. But the diagnosis checklists I was using came with the disclaimer that it is difficult to diagnose a child with ADHD before beginning school, because so much of the criteria are dependent on an observation of the child’s ability to complete “boring” tasks like schoolwork.
I eagerly awaited the start of kindergarten. I was sure Lucas’s performance in school would make everything clear. Kindergarten would tell us with definitive certainty whether or not Lucas had ADHD.
He did struggle in kindergarten, but there was nothing simple or obvious about arriving at his ADHD diagnosis. Oddly, despite my ever-growing certainty that Lucas did indeed meet the criteria for ADHD, I continued to employ every behavioral modification technique I encountered, trying to find that elusive something that would flip the switch, get him to pay attention, and make us say, “Ohhhh, that’s what it was! He just needed XYZ!”
Soccer. Violin. Rewards charts. Checklists. Organic eating. Dairy elimination. Food-coloring elimination. Firmer boundaries. Looser boundaries. More hugs. More eye contact. Less TV. We did it all, and we’re still doing it, always trying new things, continuously evolving our methods as we get to know our child. We are learning how to navigate a sit-down-and-focus world with our boy, whose insatiable mind wants to fly out and away, to experience all the tiny, “insignificant” details.
As his parents, we’ll always be the teacher crouching in the wings, but instead of standing ready to pull him off the stage, we’ll be there to push him toward the microphone.
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