My Dash is a seriously excellent boy. Anyone who has met him is incredibly fortunate. It seems he has gathered all of the good parts of me, added some of his own, and wrapped them all in ridiculously handsome packaging. This is how a typical encounter with him usually plays out:
Dash: Hi there, buddy/friend/stranger/new friend/Gramma! Guess what?!?
You: Hi dude! What's up?
D: You'll never guess. This is SO cool. C'mere. I'll tell you in your ear.
Y: (after collapsing into a 4 foot high version of yourself to reach his whisper) Okay, what do you wanna tell me...
D: (whispering in a juicy, raspy smoker's voice, so close you can feel his breath) I. Um. Did. Uh. Um. You'll never guess. I. Did. Um. A. Real. Cool. Thingatschooltoday.
Y: (wiping your ear clean) What did you do?
D: I. Did. A. Waycool. Um. Ready? DANCE!!!!!!!!!
Y: You did a dance? No way! Can I see it?
D: (cautiously, and with legitimate concern) Um, sure, but be careful. It is really cool. And super speed.
Y: Okay I'll be careful.
D: Okay. Here I go. Be Ready.
::He now rolls on the floor, stalls, tries to spin on his head, lands in some quasi-playboy pose, and waits for an enthusiastic reaction::
Y: Wow! That's pretty impressive!
D: (bursting with false modesty) Yeah. It's pretty awesome. WOW! THAT PHONE IS WAY COOL! Can I play Bubble Ball on it? (immediately walks away from you, due to seeing a shiny thing or a bug)
He is social, kind, friendly, encouraging, and enthusiastic. He loves making people smile. He loves to hold hands. He loves to run like the wind. He loves to snuggle.
Dash has been fortunate enough to always be surrounded by strong adults who love him. I had Dash when I was single and in college. My parents, extended family, church family, school friends, and everyone I came across immediately knew he was special. When I moved the two of us from Oregon to Georgia, he and I were adopted by the singles community at the church we attended. When I married Big Love, the first thing he insisted we do is go through a step-parent adoption. Dash has been cared for, watched out for, and loved by every Sunday school teacher, preschool teacher, Auntie, Grandma, and friend that has crossed his path at every year of life, every city we lived in, and every community we belonged to.
So when we begin to hear from multiple influential adults in his life that he needs some extra attention, we listen.
Some of Dash's little colorful intricacies, as it happens, do not seem to appear in many children. For one, he was extremely quick to emote. The slightest thing would either send him into a fit of rage, or a waterfall of tears. He did not conceptualize direction. He assumed that if someone would tell him not to run into the street, it is because they like to say words, not because they wanted him stay safe. He did not know the names of children he played with consistently, nor did he know what happened during the day. He did not appear to understand certain social norms, nor be able to follow them when requested (sitting down, walking in line, waiting his turn).
Now, much of this is because he is a boy. He is also younger, by a significant amount, than the other kids in his grade. But after a certain amount of trustworthy adults come up to you and talk to you about early education, special education, and autism, you start to wonder if there is something different you should be doing for your child.
As he got older, and was expected to take on more responsibilities (walk across the street without hand-holding, put his dirty dishes in the sink, etc) we began seeing how difficult it was to keep his attention. We would have to repeat directions and questions 4, 7, or 12 times, and each time it was like he was hearing it for the first time. He would constantly eat crayons, paper, and sticks. If we asked him to put his shoes away, we would have to describe to him what his shoes were, what they looked like, walk him to where they were, help him pick them up, and show him where his shoes belong. This, as you can likely imagine, is very taxing to us as parents. And as you know about me, I am not known for my high levels of patience. Needless to say, a frustrated and impatient mommy is not the best mommy a boy can have.
So Big Love and I have decided to figure out how to understand our son better. We have taken large steps in a journey that has been in the works for a long time. We feel like we are exhausting our bank of knowledge as far as parenting tactics go. We feel like we have followed the advice, structured our home life, and provided him with an astounding array of variations on supervision vs. independence. Tired are we of not succeeding. Tired are we of not helping him be the best boy he can possibly be. We want his life to be a success.
So, a week ago, we decided to ask his pediatrician about ADHD. I don't know a ton about it. I do know that there are some people whose lives are vastly improved after a diagnosis of ADHD, not necessarily solely because of medication, but because they understand how a person with ADHD thinks. I want that for my son. I yearn to know how he thinks. I long to be able to follow his lines of logic, and hear whatever it is that he hears.
His pediatrician gave us a bunch of copies of the Vanderbilt Test. I knew what this was when I looked at it, but if you are interested in what the Vanderbilt Test is, check out http://www.myadhd.com/vanderbiltparent6175.html. She asked us to fill it out and give copies to his teachers to fill out. So I did. I now hold a copy of the filled out Vanderbilt test from his first grade teacher, school counselor, and Sunday School teacher.
Reading these assessments is like looking into a crazy vortex world that tells me in numbers and graphs who my son is. I feel like the people who read computer codes. Looking at a computer program is colorful, interactive, and invokes emotion, but looking at the coding is just a set of numbers. This paper does not describe the sensitive, energetic, loving boy that I know. This does not show that yesterday he wrote his name for the first time using appropriate upper- and lower-case letters. These numbers don't show how stoked he was when he lost his first tooth. They are just numbers. Have I changed my son into a number?
Do I think Dash has ADHD? Does it matter? No. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that I don't get my son. I need to be able to get a better grasp on who he is. How am I supposed to be expected to set him up for success in this world if I am trying to fit him into a middle-class, suburban, white kid cookie cutter shape? How is he expected to succeed if no one hears him? I'm tired of not hearing him. He deserves better than that. If that means he needs to be helped with medication, so be it. That may not be my favorite idea, but if that is what will make his life better, then that is what we do. If all we get out of this are some additional parenting education, great. If he needs some additional tutoring, therapy, or mentoring, let's do it. He deserves the best he can possibly have. He deserves every opportunity he can be afforded. And, darn it, I will be his biggest and baddest advocate.