My son was diagnosed with ADHD by a computer.
That’s how they do it, apparently. We, his parents, filled out a form each, as did his teacher. The forms are fed through a computer (I don’t know) and the results are spat out. Anything over 70% is considered a clinical diagnosis. I think there were 5 categories and he scored into the 90’s in some of them, and over 70 in all bar one. If it all sounds a bit vague, my brain is whirring around so much information, I just can’t process it all. I wish you could record these meetings, how is it possible to store all this valuable information you’re being given?
The doctor took me by surprise when he told me, I hadn’t expected to be given a diagnosis that day. He told me they would diagnose the boy with ADHD based on the results, handed me some printouts with some recommended reading, mentioned parenting classes, family therapy and medication and sent me on my merry way with my handouts. I don’t think I could have spent more than ten minutes with him.
Whilst it was a shock to hear a professional tell you your son has ADHD, it hardly came a surprise to me. This is why we had gone to the Lucena Clinic in the first place, at the suggestion of his teacher, along with our own concerns. And yet, I just didn’t feel that was the end of the story. I know my son, and I felt there was something more. Something else was going on to explain the low moods, the extreme emotional over-reactions and sensitivity. If I were to describe it, I would say he has tantrums that I would expect of my two year old; he is six. He will push and push at an argument until everyone is shouting and in tears; this will seem to lead to some kind of catharsis for him, and then, whilst I will be emotionally drained, a maelstrom of guilt and exhaustion, he will be perfectly happy and can continue on as if nothing ever happened. As if we weren’t a family on the brink.
And so I asked the lead Social Worker on the boy’s case if she would do an ADOS test. Of course, I had trawled the internet in my desperation, and had identified certain behaviours sometimes present in people with ASD which seemed to fit with the boy. These were, namely: Agression, causing self-injury, tantrums, unusual mood or reactions, unusual reaction to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel. An onlooker would just see him as a naughty boy, pushing boundaries. Sensing my desperation, she said yes, she would, but that she would expect him to do quite well.
This week, we went back to get the feedback from the ADOS test. She gave us a narrative of what he had done well, what he had struggled with. It all sounded quite positive. Then she said, ‘ we are diagnosing him with Autism Spectrum Disorder’. The emotions suddenly swelled up inside me; fear, relief, uncertainty, sadness and, what I’m realising in retrospect, was shame. Shame at all the times I have shouted at him, got angry and frustrated with him and called him naughty.
It’s not his fault. It’s not my fault.
It’s who he is, how his brain works.
The label doesn’t matter, we all know that. But I suddenly feel I understand him better. Which sounds strange, I know. So much of my frustration came from just not being able to comprehend why he would do things that just seemed so obviously wrong, or why he would react so intensely to the slightest injury or offense. The discussion with the social worker about the workings of his brain, has shed light on that, and everything has clicked. The incomprehensible suddenly makes sense.
I know it’s up to me now to step up to the plate, to give him the support he needs and be his champion. He has so many skills we can nurture and develop to ensure he fulfils his potential, and this diagnosis will help us do that. It also means that he will get extra support in the class-room, which is vital in ensuring he doesn’t fall behind at this key stage.
It’s also important we recognise as a family that this is hard for everyone; me, my husband, our daughter and of course the boy himself. How exhausting his life must be for him. We all need to learn the value of walking away, calming down, breathing space and respite.
I’m sure I will think of a hundred questions over the next few days as the news sinks in, in the meantime, I have some serious reading to do. You think you know about ADHD and Autism, but when I picture a typical ADHD kid, I don’t picture my son. Which just goes to show how little I know about it all. So, to the books and message forums I go.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any experience of parenting a child with ADHD/ASD or any recommendations of where to look for advice.