This morning Ron Fournier (one of the few political reporters/analysts who plays it down the middle) was on Fox and Friends, but he wasn’t talking about politics. Fournier spoke about his new book, “Love That Boy.” The book tells the story of his relationship with his son Tyler who has Asperger’s syndrome. As Fournier explained, “I had to learn to love my boy for who he was, rather than what I wanted him to be.”
After the segment I raced to Amazon and ordered the book. Ordering a book based on a TV interview is something I very rarely do but as the father of two special needs children (now adults), the story of Ron and Tyler Fournier touched me. Once Amazon delivers the book and I’m finished reading it, you can expect a review.
The story of the Fournier boys motivated me to repost the article below which was originally written for AISH.com fourteen years ago. The piece spoke to the struggle of my oldest child (and her parents) with adapting to her ADHD.
I knew there was something bothering her. My daughter is usually a happy 12-year-old but as she approached my car she had a look on her face that was more serious than I had ever seen.
“Daddy, I think there’s something wrong with me.”
My response was the typical one for any father of a teen-aged daughter, “Honey, are you sure this isn’t something that you should be discussing with Mom?”
“No, Dad,” she said with that frustrated teenaged girl tone that she had developed recently (thankfully it didn’t include that “te” tongue click that would make me lose my hair if I had any left to lose). “It’s not a girl thing,” she answered. “It’s about my Bat Mitzvah! I am weird — all the other kids complain about their lessons, but I like them. Is there something wrong with me?”
After explaining that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her, I realized how far she had come, and how profoundly proud I am of her. You see, there is something in my daughter’s brain chemistry that makes her a little different and causes her to be distractible, unorganized and impulsive, and lacking the skills to recognize the non-verbal signals all human beings sends to others (making it hard for her to develop friendships). Her unusual chemistry also gives her a high IQ, a wonderful creative mind, and a sense of compassion that goes way beyond the other kids of her age.
She needs to work extra hard at tasks just to get started, but her intelligence, resourcefulness and work ethic enables her to surpass most of the kids her age. Most nights she has to work on her studies till 9 or 10 pm, but because of her hard work and intelligence, she has been on Honor or High Honor Role every semester since her entrance into Junior High School. Not bad for a kid with ADHD.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is not rare. It effects between 7% and 8% of all kids, yet it has been my experience that most adults are insensitive to the people who are affected by the problem.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard ADHD (or “hyper”) used as a derogatory term to describe any child with behavior problems. Some insensitive adults even describe themselves as ADHD on a day when they are not performing at their usual levels. Those comments are as hurtful as they are untrue. Most ADHD kids I have met are sensitive, smart and no more rambunctious than other children.
Unlike what comes out of the mouths of uneducated people, ADHD is real, it is not the “disease of the month.”
ADHD does not mean that a child cannot pay attention; it means that sometimes they pay attention to the wrong thing. Some say it is a genetic remnant of the “caveman” days, when man was not only a predator but prey, and reacting to stimulus helped them to sense danger and prevent being eaten.
The disorder is actually a gift. With ADHD you are much more likely to “stop and smell the roses.” Of course it is also harder for a person with ADHD to stay focused and return to the task at hand (like cleaning his/her room). But in times of crisis they are able to hyper-focus, concentrate on the task at hand better than anyone. My wife says my daughter has “eagle eyes” because she can find the needle in the haystack, (my daughter says she doesn’t have ADHD she has ADOS–Attention Deficit…..Ooh Shiny!).
Since the first day of kindergarten, school has been an every day struggle in our home as most teachers and administrators find it difficult to deal with a kids who doesn’t conform to their vision of what a student looks and acts like. It is easy to develop a program to help a child that can’t read or add, but school systems are unprepared to help a very bright child with whose special brain chemistry forces them to learn differently. Even worse the school administrators I’ve dealt with so far, see my child as doing well enough therefore she doesn’t need help. Unlike how they prepare education for the other children, they don’t see the purpose of education for my daughter as enabling her to achieve her potential.
We always thought it important to share my daughter’s needs with the teachers and administrators, but often they just don’t get it. I can’t tell you how many times I have been frustrated at seeing a report card that commented that my daughter was distractible, or exhibited a lack of organization. As Homer Simpson would say “DUH!” That is the equivalent of telling the parents of a child in a wheelchair, “You need to get your child to run faster.”
Raising a child with special needs requires you to constantly fight for your child. This has been a full time job for my wife. She has questioned, begged, threatened, and pushed to school administrators to make sure that my daughter is given the opportunity to reach her full potential. An avid researcher, my wife taught the school district about new resources available to kids with needs, often after we purchased and installed the resource in our home.
Because we ask questions (and do not take no for an answer when it comes to our child’s needs) my wife and I are known in the school district as “the parents from hell.” We always wonder about the other parents, the ones who don’t know that they can’t take everyone at their word, who don’t know how to ask questions or realize that they need to fight for their kids.
Understand, these administrators are not bad people, most of them selected their profession because they truly care about kids. The undeniable fact is that schools are like any other business — and an administrator’s job is to get things done using as few resources as possible. Which is why they instruct the teachers to cover things up, they want teachers to paint a beautiful picture by telling parents that everything is going smoothly, even when it isn’t. Because the administrators don’t want mom and dad don’t ask for more services.
Nontenured teachers have been fired for being honest with my wife and me about the services my child needs. Tenured staff have been transferred or disciplined for letting us know more about our child.
Along with her ADHD, my daughter has visual-motor issues and fine motor problems (to this day she has to type everything). In a conference, an administrator once tried to answer a question for an occupational therapist. I reminded her that the therapist was the expert in the area, and maybe we should hear his answer. The therapist answered honestly and was removed from the district the next school year. We went through three occupational therapists in three years the same way.
Having needs that no one understands can be even more frustrating for my daughter. Once she came home from school complaining that the teacher sat her next to a child who was throwing paper clips. “Mom,” she said, “the teacher put me, someone with an attention problem, right next to the most distractible kid in the class. What was she thinking?”
Often she will come home relating to us that a teacher doesn’t understand her issues. Part of growing up is to learn to advocate for ourselves and my child is beginning to learn this. Often, though, a teacher who doesn’t fully comprehend her issues confuses her. This is compounded by her desire to be respectful for authority (well, authority whose names aren’t Mom or Dad). We’re working very hard at trying to teach her that it is okay to respectfully advocate for her needs. When that doesn’t work, my wife and I (as the parents from hell) quickly go to the school or the district office to straighten things out.
ADHD can lead to social problems. We all give out body language and other physical signals to the people we interact with. As you may expect, people with ADHD don’t always recognize the signals. For example, because they are caring and impulsive they are more likely to invade personal space or commit some other social miscues at an older age than other children. Friends can be hard to make, but when people give her a chance they find her to be a fun and fiercely loyal companion.
God willing, in six months my daughter will be having her Bat Mitzvah. She is already making comments, and asking questions about her Torah portion that make me scramble for the nearest Jewish theology book to up with her insights.
With the advent of her Bat Mitzvah, she will begin to be responsible for herself and will be looked at as an adult in the Jewish community. In truth she is just beginning to make that long transition from adolescence to adulthood. Like most parents, we spend lots of nights awake and looking at the ceiling worrying about both our kids— hoping we are doing the right thing, enabling them to reach adulthood, not only achieving her potential as a person but to be a healthy human being with a good heart and the right values.
As she reaches her Bat Mitzvah and begins that slow transition into adulthood, thanks to her disorder she has learned that nothing comes without working very hard, it is important to speak up for herself (respectfully), and she should never take good friends for granted.
Most importantly she has learned that values are more important than popularity, and has become someone who can appreciate the things around her better than anyone I know.
I am very proud, and very thankful.
Now if I can just get her to clean her room.
Epilogue: Fourteen years later my daughter is living on her own in D.C., finishing her studies and trying to become a (Republican) political operative. She has already turned into beautiful young lady with a good heart, and as to cleaning her apartment—lets just say we are still working on it.