A Generation of Alphabet Boys

I have a kid with ADHD. Big deal. The truth is, I don’t know anyone with a son that doesn’t have ADHD. Or Aspergers. Or learning disabilities. Or SI disorders. They’re all alphabet boys and a gathering of my son’s friends is a tragi-comic buffet of twitching, fidgeting and shoe staring. All of it very loud.

What’s going on? I’ve heard the argument that we’re pathologizing normal boy behavior. (Actually, I’ve heard a host of sanctimonous arguments usually undertaken more for the pleasure of knowing better than someone who is already on the edge than to offer helpful insights. You know who you are; shut up.) Before having a child with ADHD, I am ashamed to say, I was one of those.

Raised with brothers, I dismissed all those whiny parents who couldn’t cope with active, creative sons and felt uniquely well-equipped to deal with a boy. I was not equipped to deal with mine. From day one, the kid was a pill. We laugh together now over baby stories: how he spit up everything that ever went in him, how he flipped out over textures and noises and cried almost continuously; how getting him to fall asleep, no matter how tired he was, required a ritual no less elaborate than a Hindu wedding; how he didn’t sleep through the night until he was oh, four. Years. We only just recently got him out of our bed and, no, there is no way I’m going to admit how old he is at present.

He was expelled — yes, actually asked to leave, immediately, please — from three day care settings before he was two and a half. I mean, come on; how bad can someone that age and size manage to be? The thing is, my son is also catch-your-breath beautiful and was speaking in full, clear sentences by that age. So whenever we sought help, describing the child from hell, we inevitably had to produce said child, who spoke engagingly and looked like nothing so much as an earthly manifestation of an angel. Any professional sympathy we had earned in the first consultation withered under his charm assault into the kind of looks most commonly directed toward people suspected of drowning kittens.

Our daughter was born when he was twenty-two months. When she herself reached that age, she was using the potty, tying her shoes, using the microwave to warm her milk bottles (don’t look at me like that — it was her idea), choosing her outfits. He, by way of contrast, still has to be reminded for 20 minutes or so to stop wandering aimlessly with his underwear around his ankles and pull it up, and then can’t reliably figure out what goes on over it. This with an IQ that is roughly 40% higher than the average.

One day, just for fun, we sent him to school without his meds — his teacher was not convinced of the need to implement any special accomodations recommended for him. I admit I was surprised that it was a whole hour and a half before the school called to ask me to come take him home and to warn me sternly that if he ever again forgot his meds, he would not be permitted to stay.

It’s maddening. And he’s not doing it on purpose. But don’t try to tell me it’s normal.

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