So I was watching my son play Minecraft just now (on my new Kindle Fire HD, purchased refurbished from Amazon after my first Kindle stopped charging altogether. Just taking a moment here to thank Tristan Sanford, still my best friend in life after two decades of only occasional visits, for giving me the first one), and I heard him say something that made me choke on my beer-and-chicken stew.
“I made a fucking SHEEP!” he yelled.
Ulp. “What did you say, Bud?”
“I said a fucking SHEEP! I said a fucking made a fucking SHEEP!”
What do you say to that? We’ve already had extensive conversations with my son about swearing, and he knows full well that there are words he’s allowed to use at home that he’s not allowed to use in public. He wouldn’t ever use that word when he wasn’t at home (or alone in the car with us) — but that doesn’t mean we expect him to use it the way we do.
Which is patently absurd. Of course he’s going to use it the same way we do — what other example does he have?
Reflections Go Both Ways
What’s fascinating, however, is that just as much as he reflects me — showing me what my biggest foibles and flaws are by acting them out in an amplified, five-year-old fashion — I reflect him, too. I can learn about him by looking at myself — and I can learn about myself by looking at him.
For example, in all of our research into ADHD on behalf of my son, I recently did an interesting thing: I took a test for adult ADHD myself. And surprise, suprise, I scored “you definitely have attention deficit problems.” I looked a little bit into what that means, and it turns out that it might just be, after living with my wife for the last decade and constantly accusing her of being overly practical and too down-to-earth, she might be the normal one!
I might actually have a problem. There might be a chemical imbalance in my brain that is the reason why I have trouble focusing on things like doing the laundry in a non-spontaneous fashion. I might actually be as grounded as my wife except for something in my brain that doesn’t handle dopamine quite properly. And more importantly, my son might come by his own diagnosis of ADHD legitimately.
Maybe he gets it from me.
There are a thousand reasons why I don’t want this to be true. I certainly don’t feel like I’m some weirdo who can’t sit still…but then, the test that I took divides the diagnosis up between ‘hyperactivity’ (which I scored in the ‘middle’ range on), and ‘attention deficit’ (which I scored through the roof on.) So it could well be that I’m weird only insofar as my brain tends to wander off and do its own thing whenever I’m not completely engaged in what’s in front of me.
And the thing is that this explains so much of my life. It explains why I never feel comfortable sitting down and just having a conversation with normal people. It explains why I always find myself idly daydreaming about [insert name of the latest game I’m obsessing over here] while I’m cooking dinner or writing a particularly dull article about the importance of maintaining your rain gutters. It might even explain why I never really get enthusiastic about much of anything. I enjoy my life, but I would almost never describe myself as ‘excited’ or even ‘happy’ — I’m always ‘content’ and ‘laid back’. I want to know what it’s like to be genuinely thrilled about something, and it might actually be something inside my brain that’s holding me back.
That thought is weird and scary. And what’s weirder and scarier is reading some of the stuff that people have written about the experience of taking some of the drugs that people take for adult ADHD. Adderall, for example, made one woman who took it compulsively clean her entire kitchen.
Looking at my kitchen, that might well be something that I could really use.
The thing about this realization is that it’s given me an entirely new perspective on my child’s behavior. It’s one thing to believe that my son is a precociously intelligent, manipulative little boy who is deliberately gaming the system — and I know for a fact that he does; we’ve seen exactly how (our latest parent-teacher meeting was somewhat eye-opening). But knowing that I may, in fact, have signs of the same problem means that he’s a precociously intelligent, manipulative little boy with an attention problem who is deliberately gaming the system in order to cope with that problem. And that’s a deeply different scenario.
See, my perspective on the whole ADHD thing has always been that it’s overdiagnosed, and kind of a bullshit diagnosis in the first place. Something like one in five high school boys are on some form of ADHD medication, and that’s just plain insane — if we have to drug twenty percent of our boys just to get them through school, it says way more about the school system than it says about those 20% of boys.
And even if ADHD is something vaguely real, I’m an extremely firm believer in natural healing. “The six best doctors anywhere, and no one can deny it/are water, sunshine, rest and air, exercise and diet,” as the man says. If there’s a chemical problem in our brain, we should be able to solve it using chemicals that naturally occur in our brains.
But we’ve tried that. We’ve tried dopamine powder, and amino acid therapy, and hydration, and increasing his available sleep time, and we’ve gone down the list of things that he might need that we can give him and we’ve exhausted the list. We absolutely refused to believe that there was anything wrong with our son, because we adamantly insist that he’s perfect. But if I have a problem that’s so similar to his, who am I to try to tell anyone that my son is just fine and they all have their diagnoses wrong?
What’s more, I’ve tried all of that stuff too, over the last decade, and it hasn’t worked for me, either. I’ve loaded up on amino acids in order to try to be able to focus better on work, and it’s never done anything noticeable. I’ve had days when I could focus decently on six hours of sleep, and days with eight or nine hours of sleep that were total wastes. I’ve taken dopamine powder in my chocolate milk and adrenal support supplements to keep my cortisol levels in check. I’ve tried a huge range of diets. Nothing we’ve done has ever produced a noticeable change in the way I function. So as much as I believe in it, I also have some pretty decent evidence that whatever problem I have, it may need a stronger solution — which would point fairly strongly to the same argument for my son; maybe he gets it from me.
So, the upshot of all of this is twofold: I have an appointment early next month to talk to my doctor about adult ADHD and what it may mean and what I can do to test for it more deeply than an online exam, and my wife and I are going to talk seriously to his teachers and doctor about what exactly his issues mean in terms of his ability to cope with first grade.
In first grade, he’ll only have one teacher, not five, for the 20+ children in his classroom — and if he can’t focus on the work, he’ll just fail out instead of getting more and more attention from the staff. That’s not a scenario anyone wants to see go down, but the only other options are keeping him in special education (no one wants that), or putting him in something called a LEAP classroom for children with behavior problems so bad that they can’t handle being put in a social situation for fear of hurting someone — and we’re definitely not letting that happen. Our son is hard to handle, but he’s never ever mean-hearted, and we don’t want him learning that from the worst of his peer group.
So, this is a pretty serious time around our house. I’m recognizing that I might not be the perfectly normal, sane person I thought I was, and we’re all recognizing that there may be more legitimacy to our son’s diagnosis than we want there to be. I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to deal with all of this, but it’s what’s next.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up on some prescription, and in a month I’ll have a clean kitchen and a happy home and be able to carry on adult conversations with people like my father-in-law without wanting to retreat into the safety of playing video games with the 12-year-old.
I can’t decide if that’s a goal to strive for, or not. Strangely, I can’t decide whether having a child who sits calmly at school and does everything he’s told and nothing he isn’t is a goal worth striving for, either. My son is a brilliant sparkling disco ball of chaos and creativity, and I don’t want him to lose that. I don’t want him to lose that because I think maybe he gets it from me.