Invisible Obstacles Series

Always Like This – A Light in the Tunnel, Part 2

 FROM THE INVISIBLE OBSTACLES SERIES

Always Like This

LIGHT IN THE TUNNEL, Part 2

 

“Like having a Ferarri engine…with bicycle brakes.”

Ned Hallowell

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Dog steals sock from boy while mother watches from sofa

[I/D: Aidan looks at camera from the ground while LJ steals his sock. Sherri looks on from the sofa]

THE REACTIONS

“It was really overwhelming at times at how active he was – but also how people reacted to his activity levels. We’d go to a class, or a playgroup, to a Christmas party, and someone would always comment. Those questions – ‘Is he always like that?‘ and the dirty looks – the ones that say ‘Can’t you get him contained and under control?’”

As the parent of a spirited child, Sherri’s comments hit me close to home. Since becoming a mom five years ago, I’ve become a hermit. It’s too stressful to deal with the dirty looks and snide comments from strangers as they yell at us in grocery stores and on the street. My kids run down the sidewalks so fast, they touch everything, they want to explore the world, and they want to do it quickly – and constantly.

On playdates, the other parents get winded after 30 minutes just watching me with my kids. My spirited 5-year-old – he just never stops. It’s exhausting to keep him from scaling the walls to see how high he can go and flipping the furniture to build forts. Visiting non-childproofed homes feels like corralling two tigers in a lightbulb factory.

Meeting Aidan gave me a view into a into a calmer, more hopeful future.

At ten years old, Aidan is still a mover. He talks non-stop. He explores and runs circles around us while I chat with his mom in the back yard. He’s fun to hang out with, he’s engaging, and sweet, and his energy is inspiring, rather than exhausting.

 

Boy hanging upside down from broken swingset

[I/D: Aidan hangs upside down and makes a goofy face.]

FERRARI ENGINE & BICYCLE BRAKES

“When he was young – like two years old, he was an active child. I knew he was more active than others, but he wasn’t destructive. He’s not breaking anything. He’s just on this constant movement- he’s playing, he’s climbing, he’s running, he’s whatever – but he’s not really making a mess, he’s not doing anything bad.”

“Someone explained it to me that basically his brain is a Ferrari engine with bicycle breaks and I thought that was perfect, and he though it was a really good description, because that’s what he feels like inside – like he’s moving at the pace of a Ferrari, and can’t stop it as well as we would hope.”

Aidan’s old swingset is rotted and falling apart. The swings have broken, so Aidan finds new ways to tumble around it, hanging from the beams by his ankles, hooting at his mom, chasing the dog. They bounce like tennis balls around Sherri, in perpetual play.

 

Boy laying on ground playing with bottle cap

[I/D: Aidan lay on the ground holding a Gatorade bottle. He’s placed the cap over his mouth as a joke.]

SECOND GUESSING

“It was hard to understand why they had to keep commenting.”

“I began to feel a little paranoid, in the sense of – is there something wrong? I think he’s ADHD, and it’s only a matter of time before someone tells me. But really – what’s the big deal? Am I a bad parent because I can’t seem to keep him under control?

“Then again – he’s not really doing anything bad…so what is it that I have to keep him under control for?”

It feels normal and easy, watching Aidan run around his house, his yard, the neighborhood bike path. He’s just a kid. Sherri is used to his stream-of-conscious conversations, the way he bounces from room to room. She has him take a laps around the house to burn off extra energy.

She’s a great mom – calm, easy-going, affectionate – setting warm but firm limits. She builds structure into Aidan’s routines to help him manage tasks and homework.

It’s only when they head into the rest of the world when she starts to doubt herself. When other parents, teachers, family and friends start making comments – that’s when it gets hard.

We expects kids to behave in one specific way – and it’s not what comes natural to spirited kids like Aidan, own little earthquakes. 

Boy and mother talking in front of wall with blue, red, and white stripes

[I/D: Aidan and his mom discuss what to do once they find out the rink is not open for skating]

VALIDATION

“When the doctor confirmed the ADHD, it was like, ‘See? I’m not crazy! There’s a reason!‘”

“It was nice to have some confirmation. It’s not bad parenting – which is what some people pass off on you.”

“That never seems to go away. We still have that. I guess people have finally stopped some of it…we’ve found better outlets for him. They’ve stopped asking ‘Is he always like that?’ but they will comment about the fact that he talks a lot.”

So I guess they’ve traded it, and now I just say ‘Yes.’

Aidan is neurodivergent. He has a learning disability – ADHD.

ADHD is not a bad thing. ADHD is a natural, healthy, diverse part of humanity. If the world was tailored for Aidan, he’d thrive. It’s our environment that makes ADHD a disability. Later, I get to see a few ways ADHD allows him to excel at things neurotypical people can’t easily do.

The trouble is – the world isn’t designed for kids like him. Schools are designed to educate quiet, calm, focused kids. Offices are designed for quiet, calm, focused adults. Stores are designed for people who are content to wait in line, follow and observe.

For those of us who don’t fit into a standard mold, we have a rougher time navigating everyday tasks like doing homework and going shopping.

A diagnosis helps. It gives us an idea of what tools to try, what resources to search for. It gives us hope. But it doesn’t solve our problems.

The right diagnosis was validating – but Sherri and Aidan weren’t out of the tunnel yet – and Aidan was still at risk of falling off track.

 

…Find out how Sherri learned to advocate for Aidan in Part 3: Courage & Voice

 

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This session is from the Invisible Obstacles Series. Families in the Invisible Obstacles series provide a glimpse into daily life while navigating adversity. Names and locations of minors may have been changed to protect privacy. Permission & quotes attributed to Sherri L. unless otherwise specified.

If you enjoyed the Invisible Obstacles Series, find out how to support Ashia’s do-goodery projects on Patreon.

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