The Miracle of Diagnosis

ADHD affects executive function, memory, focus, time management and so much more. But for me, in the decades prior to diagnosis, the corrosive impact on my self-esteem was infinitely more damaging. Conversely, nothing has had a more positive impact on my self-worth than learning that my challenges were normal and taking pride in the hard work I had put into overcoming them. Diagnosis has set me free.

I understand the reluctance of parents to label their children. I find the term ‘ADHD’ reductive and offensive myself.  But please hear me when I tell you that we already have labels.  They have been assigned by others and they stick to us like superglue. They are with us every second of every day: lazy, flaky, forgetful, loud, difficult, attention-seeking, scruffy, weird, disorganised, naughty, disruptive, over-sensitive, over-thinker, scatty, useless, emotional, obsessive…..

By refusing to acknowledge your child’s difference, you are relinquishing control of the narrative and giving the inner critic top billing. You may shout words of praise from the rooftops and think they will get through eventually. They won’t. Your message will be no more than an inaudible whisper drowned out by the cacaphony of insults in your child’s mind. There is no room for dissent. 

Every lost key, every scolding, every abandoned project, every mistake, every unfinished course, every missed bus, every missed opportunity, every forgotten assignment, every masked trait, every task reminder, every unfollowed instruction….all of these tiny bullets are added to the inner critic’s arsenal and deployed in her daily offensive until apathy is the only retreat. 

There are lesser-known aspects too.  I’ll let you into a little secret:   I wet the bed until I was 11 years old.  This experience was among the most traumatic in my life.  The knowledge that this was down to my brain wiring and that my neurodivergent peers were likely waking up to urine-soaked sheets too would have gone some way to alleviate my shame.

In adulthood I wouldn’t have spent thousands on driving instructors in futile attempts to become a confident driver or beat myself up every time I failed.

Society’s denial of neurodiversity took a little girl who was intelligent, full of ideas, sociable, passionate about justice and curious about the world and turned her into a mute, static, introverted empty shell of a woman.

Yes, ADHD comes with difficulties.  We are more likely to drop out of education, end up in prison, lose our jobs, become addicted to drugs, get divorced…  It’s scary stuff.  But I don’t believe that many of these outcomes are due to the condition itself.  Rather, they are the result of our ignorance and failure to adapt. Embracing your child’s neurodivergence will break down the walls and set them up for a career in which they can thrive rather than a working life characteristed by failure, exhaustion and misery. From Dave Grohl to Richard Branson, an army of ADHD role models awaits to inspire your child and give them a vision for their future. 

I used to think I had no talent, no skills, that anyone could do the things I could.  No big deal. It was always a surprise when I was so enthusiastically praised for my original ideas at work.  They came naturally to me.  I questioned how I could be so lazy, yet still make a decent living.  Then I learned about the extraordinary benefits of hyperfocus.  When I was locked down in a bar in Paris during the 2015 terrorist attacks I wondered why I was so calm when others were panicking. Later I learned that ADHD brains are extremely well-suited to crisis situations.

Having one – albeit imperfect – label allows us to understand ourselves, find our tribe and finally know how it feels to fit in. It enables us to advocate for ourselves and our needs. I cannot describe the feeling of relief and pure joy that comes with being able to talk with friends who get me or the sense of liberation that comes with putting my struggles into words.

In practical terms diagnosis has helped me to find my voice and write about my experience, confidently express my needs and boundaries and ask for help when I need it. It has given me the tools to identify the right strategies for me, even if they seem a little unconventional to others.

This may be hard to believe (because nothing in life is this easy) but the negative self-talk almost evaporated completely the day I found out about ADHD.  Back when I was plagued with depression and pouring money into therapists and self-help books I would have given anything to be given a magic bullet to resolve the turmoil.  I am still in a state of joyful disbelief and gratitude that the magic bullet actually exists. 

Speaking of magic bullets, maybe you’re worried about the health implications of medicating your child? If so, you are probably unaware of the depressing health outcomes for those living with undiagnosed ADHD.  ADHD shortens life expectancy by anywhere from 13 to 25 years in the most severe cases, more so than any other single health threat including high cholesterol, obesity and alcohol or tobacco use.

Some of this may be down to genetics, comorbidities and socio-economic impact, but the fact that accidents are the most common cause of premature death among people with ADHD suggests that behavioural factors are far more significant. This is good news as it means that these outcomes are far from inevitable.

I am very fond of my brain. It has taken me on enough adventures to last 10 lifetimes. But knowledge is power and the evidence backs this up.  The risk of an early death increases with age at diagnosis. In other words, the earlier you find out about the condition, the better the health outcomes.

Believe me, I understand the temptation to brush the flaws under the carpet.  But ADHD is a package.  By failing to acknowledge their flaws, you are denying your child the opportunity to celebrate their superpowers.*

*I know some people don’t like to talk about ADHD superpowers. I do. 

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