It’s the late ’80s. I’m 6 years old, waiting outside of my elementary school for my mom to pick me up. She is running very late, and it’s almost time for school to close. The grownups, horrified by my mom’s transgression, try to comfort me with all-too-cheery, reassuring words: “I’m sure she’ll be here at any moment, sweetie. I am sure she didn’t forget you!”
Meanwhile, I knew the truth — that my mom had absolutely forgotten about me and that she was not on her way to pick me up from school. I imagined the panicked look on my mom’s face – a look I knew all too well – as she realized that she’d forgotten something important. Then the swirling rush to get here as quickly as possible. That was my normal, and the grownups’ efforts to indicate otherwise scared me.
Back then, we did not have a name for people like my mom, who’s now in her 70s. She laughed loudly and talked fast. She said everything on her mind and waved her hands as she spoke. She loved the beach, and kept a beach packing list on a detailed notecard. Though she had an immaculate color-coded filing system for some things, our house was always a colossal mess, full of stacks of paper, dog-eared magazines, and piles of unfolded laundry.
She was magnetic; her friends loved her and loved to spend time at our house, which was always well stocked with orange soda and sour cream potato chips. In our Southern world of twinset-wearing JC Penney moms in minivans, my mom wore slippers and drove a giant electric green camper.
I loved her freedom and joy. She was the mom who propped us up onto the furniture to dance to beach music, cranked at full volume. I loved that she let us eat fried chicken and bananas, the two items always in the grocery cart that she’d load up with enough food to last us a month at a time.
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I loved my mother, and I hated her, too. At least, I thought I hated her at times. I hated the judgment that she attracted by daring to show up differently. I didn’t know it until I got older, but the hate I felt wasn’t actually toward my mom, but rather toward the rest of the world, which didn’t make room for people like her.
In Radical Pursuit of an ADHD Diagnosis
We first heard of “attention deficit disorder” in the ’90s, when I was a teenager. That’s all it took for my mother to bravely pursue an ADHD diagnosis for herself — a rare and unusual diagnosis for adults at the time. Nevertheless, the diagnosis transformed her life. Finally, with a name for her strengths and struggles, she embraced her identity and medication, empowering my brother to do the same once he was diagnosed with ADHD.
My mom’s adult ADHD diagnosis was my introduction to neurodiversity. But it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with autism at age 38 that I truly understood how much of a radical trailblazer my mom was.
As I sat through my autism evaluation, recalling some of the most painful experiences of my life, I felt the searing gaze of the medical establishment sorting and categorizing my experiences into evidence and symptoms. The evaluation forced me to peel back so many layers and confront my deepest fear – that I was categorically different.
[Read: When ADHD (Literally) Runs in the Family]
I wondered how my mother had endured her ADHD evaluation without the gift of the supportive online community that enfolds me today. I marveled at her endurance as a neurodivergent child of the ’50s and a neurodivergent mother of the ’80s. A loud, brash, impulsive character in a world that loved small, quiet moms who conformed.
After four decades, I finally see my mother for who she is: A godmother of today’s neurodiversity movement. A maverick. A leader.
On the Shoulders of Giants
Friends of mine still struggle to access evaluations, medication, and acceptance as adult women with ADHD. I am astounded by my mother’s courage and vulnerability to get a diagnosis 25 years ago. She stayed true to herself despite the forces that shamed and judged her. She created a family where two neurodivergent children could thrive.
As I fight to get my own children diagnosed and to shape a world where they can be their full selves, I am grateful for all who came before and made the world a bit kinder, a bit wider, and a bit more welcoming for those of us outside the norm.
To my mother, and all mothers with ADHD, I salute you for your courage. I honor you for your wisdom. And I thank you for changing the world, simply by being yourself.
A Tribute to My ADHD Mom: Next Steps
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