So, guess what? This girl right here? She has ADD.
Officially, as of this week, I’ve got a dx and an Rx and FRIENDS, can I tell you — it took me FORTY YEARS to realize that there is a neurological reason my brain works the way it does.
This is earth shattering. So many things that for so long have felt like personal failures—procrastination, overwhelm, the inability to keep my house organized and clean, lack of follow through, anxiety + depression, and more — turns out these can all be sign posts. Who knew?
Late diagnosis is fairly common among parents of neurodivergent kiddos — I mean, those beautiful and curious brains didn’t just appear out of nowhere. And those of us who learned how to mask early somehow found ways of getting by. It’s often not until a parent sees their child reflecting back to them the deep pain and confusion they’ve internalized over a lifetime that they begin to question what they’ve known.
I’ve always had a deeply intuitive connection with Jacob, understanding his sensitivities to life in ways that had other people in our circles scratching their heads. I’ve sometimes struggled to translate, to articulate what just seemed so obvious to me in my gut.
When we first went in for Jacob’s evaluations a couple years ago, we were expecting to learn of high intelligence and emotional intensity, perhaps along with some sensory differences. We had no idea he’d be diagnosed as autistic + ADHD.
But now I know the reason we had no idea is because we hadn’t learned properly about neurological differences. Autism doesn’t always look like Sheldon (it can actually look a lot more like Anne Shirley) and a girl with inattentive ADD presents very differently from the quintessential boy running in circles around the house. (Just one more reason to shake off old binary ways of thinking.)
It’s taken months to get to where I am — the first clinician I spoke to insisted I consider an evaluation for autism before assuming I needed meds for ADD. This wasn’t as surprising as it may seem; sadly, many women make it to adulthood having learned how to mask heavily and follow social scripts despite having an “invisible” disability. And the truth is, high-masking autism and ADD can have many similar traits. I have spent hours pouring over books and Facebook groups, soaking in the experience of actually autistic women. And the truth of the matter is, I feel connected to the experience of those women, just as I do with the accounts of women with inattentive ADD.
“You‘ve always been weird, though,” my husband says helpfully, with a smile, as though labels don’t mean or change a thing. And I suppose they don’t have to. But there is something about sinking into a part of yourself — a new, unexplored territory, seeing everything in your story through a new lens — that can make you feel a little closer to your center.
And the truth is, labels do change things. The label of autism gains us more access to school supports and accommodations for Jacob, and the label of ADD gains me access to pharmaceutical help that is literally changing my life.
I want to keep talking about this because it has become so clear to me how far we have to go as a society to accept, celebrate, and support neurodivergence. We are currently in a great school district, receiving the care and support from staff who are hardworking, intuitive, and willing to think outside the box — and there is still such a disconnect between what I know my son needs and what the school has been able to provide thus far. It’s an uphill climb, but we’re doing it together.
And now that I know my brain is neurodivergent, too? This means I can sit on the couch, cuddle up to my sweet son, and watch his entire body relax when I tell him our brains are more alike than we ever even knew. “Thank goodness,” he breathes.
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