I have spoken in the past about a friendship that I’m lucky to have. A wonderful, funny, kind and super smart lady who I met through our mutual acupuncturist when we were both undergoing IVF treatment. A serendipitous friendship that took an unexpected turn when we became pregnant within a week of each other. We have a shared history and a friendship bigger than anything that life tosses at us.
What I haven’t spoken about is the friendship that our boys have forged. Born in the same hospital, just 48 hours apart and by virtue of the friendship his mum and I share, they too have grown up together. Soon to be eight, their friendship is what will shape their childhood memories and I could not love this thought more.
They are now also forming friendships external to one another. We’ve encouraged the school to put them in separate classes, mindful that we’ve wanted them to become independent of one another.
My friend’s son has ADHD. All that this encompasses, which to say the least is complex and tricky and it is her story and not mind to tell. I don’t pretend to know much about ADHD though out of respect to her family and her glorious son I have educated myself enough to appreciate the challenges but because I bear witness to this friendship and I know her son very well, I know that his ADHD does not define him, and it certainly does not define the friendship that the boys share.
My son’s best friend has ADHD, and this is what I want parents to know about what it is like if your child is friends with a child with ADHD.
Only recently has my friend’s son become more aware of his diagnosis and so because of this my son also now knows of ADHD. He doesn’t fully understand it, he knows enough to understand that his friend’s mind and body works fast but it is his friend and there is so much more to him than a bunch of letters in CAPS.
Only recently my friend said something to me that made my heart twinge. She and her husband are her son’s greatest ally and advocate. They push and pull against the system to make certain that he gets all the opportunities afforded to non-neuro diverse kids. Her son is unquestionably bright, but it is the expectations and assumptions of society that are the catalyst for her anxieties. Her most recent worry is that other parents might start to discourage their child to not interact or play with her son lest he be a ‘bad influence’.
Only last week, the news headlines were reporting that an Australian politician, a man who is frequently plagued with scandal because of his objectionable behaviour, has been diagnosed with ADHD. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with this diagnosis, and the more we normalise it the better, but in this instance, the tone of this perhaps suggested that it was his ADHD that could be used to justify his behaviour.
We aren’t seriously going to buy into this are we?
With my friend’s permission, I write about Tom and what I can say about him is this. He is clever, spirited and immensely funny. He is not naughty (well, he is, but only because he’s seven and if you tell me that there are seven year olds who don’t misbehave then you are misguided, and no one would believe you anyway.) On many occasions neither of them are especially a great influence on each other and this is because when you put two energetic, curious, creative and terrifyingly industrious boys together someone is going to suggest something that isn’t a good choice.
Weirdly and yet miraculously neither of the two have even broken a bone.
Charlie is many things. He is funny, artistic and clever. He is mighty and sparkling. A bookworm, a Lego master and a dreadful cook. His pockets are full of rocks, shells and other things that are sticky and unidentifiable. He is colour and sunshine and his gentleness and kindness make my heart dance. He is also cautious and can be guarded when trying new things. Tom however is unguarded and his impulsiveness and uninhibited approach to life and all its glory has taught Charlie to be more spontaneous. If I need Charlie to do something new or different, I only have to enlist Tom as my secret accomplice. Tom will encourage Charlie to push a few boundaries and to challenge his fears and I am grateful for this. Sometimes Tom might suggest they break a few rules along the way, but this is a good lesson for both of them because Charlie is learning to say no when he doesn’t agree with something and Tom is learning that not everyone will see things the way he does. I know many adults who could learn a thing or two about compromises in friendships and relationships and here are two small boys figuring out for themselves.
Recently we had to take Charlie to the emergency department and Tom was made aware of this. There is this notion that a child with ADHD doesn’t experience or feel empathy, but the contrasting reality is that Tom was deeply concerned and hounded his mum for updates on Charlie’s well-being, demanding to FaceTime with him so he could see for himself he was okay.
Tom radiates equal parts joy and chaos, and Charlie has learnt to be accepting and understanding. He know that Tom has ADHD, but he could not be less interested in this information only that he knows it is a super power and he’s in awe of his friend’s vibrant and abundant knowledge across a ridiculous range of topics.
Tom is not a child that should be excluded from parties or play dates and to discourage a friendship with Tom, or indeed any child with ADHD is to deny your child the opportunity to have a gorgeous friendship that is full of adventure and rich with lessons.
As parents we should want to raise our children to be many things. We have hopes and aspirations that they will do well at school, enjoy learning, make friends, enjoys a variety of extracurricular activities, to eat green food, to go to sleep and for the love of God to listen. But we also want them to be tolerant, accepting and empathetic. We parrot modern cliches such as ‘you do you” so surely then this should mean letting others be who they are too.
ADHD does not define Tom, it is not a flaw of his, just a feature, and it is a blessing that my child is learning the importance of accepting someone for who they are. My non ADHD child is not better, smarter or more behaved than a child with ADHD and to think so would be ignorant.
To quote my friend “being neuro diverse is not bad it’s just different. We’re all different, trying to work our way through the world. I’m proud of who my son is, and I wouldn’t change him or his super power for anything.”