Sometimes adventures aren’t all open roads, flash, and adrenaline. Sometimes adventure is mundane and “grown-up”. Today I embarked on a new adventure, and it’s a doozy.
One of the biggest tasks I’ve ever been handed was that of raising two daughters on my own, one of whom has always been a little different. For years and years I’ve been told (and admittedly agreed) my oldest daughter, L, was on the Autism spectrum, but I always assumed she was high-functioning. These pseudo-diagnoses came from teachers and medical doctors and well-meaning friends. As a former paraeducator I also believed she was on the spectrum based on my past experiences with former students.
However, I’ve never been able to get an official diagnosis from the correct specialist in order to access appropriate therapies and support services for her. As she’s grown older, the obstacles have become more pronounced and at the beginning of the year, I reached out to our family doctor AGAIN, in the hopes that we could get a referral to the right clinic to help us. After months of back and forth, filling out forms, surveys, and multiple phone calls, we finally had our appointment with Dr. Shruti Mittal, MD, a Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician.
I fully expected another “quickie” appointment with no real answers. I was wrong.
Dr. Mittal spent TWO FULL HOURS talking to both me and my daughter and conducted another assessment directly with L with her self-reporting her own experiences, feelings, behaviors, and concerns. After an hour of private one-on-one conversation, Dr. Mittal went over the assessment scale she used as well as the DSM-5 diagnosis criterion for ASD. In order to be diagnosed with ASD, a patient must meet three of the three A-criterion and two of the four B-criterion.
While L meets three of the four Criterion B, she only meets one of the three Criterion A. She also does not meet Criterion D. She does not have Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Dr. Mittal went on to explain the assessment scale for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as ADHD. L meets nearly all the criterion for ADHD.
Ok stop. What a lot of people misunderstand about ADHD is that they expect to see children having wild outbursts, emotional disregulation, opposition to authority, defiance, and uncontrollability. This is a severe misrepresentation of what ADHD looks like.
ADHD can present as fidgety, disorganized and messy, forgetful, boredom, frustration with tasks that require mental endurance, talkativeness, inability to multitask in a meaningful way, attention-seeking, interrupting, and easily distracted. The closer I looked at how daily life is for L, especially related to school, the diagnosis of ADHD makes sense.
Now I know most people think our society over diagnoses ADD and ADHD all in the name of “big pharma”. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “In my day, no one had ADHD, they just needed a good whoopin!” This type of mentality fails to acknowledge that living with ADHD can be really frustrating and isolating if not treated correctly.
We will have more appointments with Dr. Mittal to design a treatment plan together so that L can begin to understand her strengths and weaknesses in relation to this diagnosis, I can learn mechanisms to help her feel more confident and comfortable in academic and social situations, and she can be well on her way to overcoming any obstacles with the help of people who love and care about her. As of right now, Dr. Mittal has no plans to include medications in this treatment plan, preferring to focus on organizational and communication therapies, social skills support groups, counseling, and the development of an IEP and/or 504 for school so that she can continue to excel academically.
I’ve heard that “we shouldn’t be labeling” children with developmental, learning, and cognitive challenges. However, having a DIAGNOSIS (NOT a label) is incredibly helpful for discovering the work-arounds that will make life and the world easier to navigate. Being a pre-pubescent pre-teen girl who doesn’t fit the mold of what is “normal” is already hard enough. Having challenges that haven’t been named until today has made it even harder. Now we finally have a starting point for moving forward. We’re no longer just guessing and wondering and unsure of what to do to make things work. We know now, and I’m eternally grateful to Dr. Mittal for taking the time (who has ever spent two full hours with a doctor of any kind?) to get to know L and help me understand what’s really going and how to mitigate L’s challenges to support her now and into adulthood.
I also need to thank the people who I reached out to today, who offered words of encouragement and their own experiences having or raising children who have ADHD. It’s an overwhelming thing to receive a diagnosis like this, and it was reassuring to hear that I’m not alone and to be encouraged as her mom, for pushing on the system to work with us and help us.
It’s a new adventure and I’m ready.