Not that I deserve anything special for it. It just happened. 🙂
They sat across from me, in my consultation office, a mother and her 13-year-old daughter.
Both were at the end of their ropes; the daughter couldn’t sit still, and she had trouble focusing on her homework. Her mum was frayed, exhausted from fielding phone calls from the teachers and school administrators. The adolescent was in danger of having to repeat the grade. And the school was a private institution, so there were financial stakes involved as well.
The lovely girl had been given a diagnosis of ADHD and prescribed Ritalin, which came with a full set of undesirable side effects.
I sat facing them, the daughter’s multiple pages of lab tests spread out in front of me. The mum and daughter were poring over their identical copy at the same time.
The test results were atrocious, but that’s common among people who seek my care; every other avenue has been explored, to no avail. The test results themselves were nothing new to me, and, encouragingly enough, there was nothing on them that we couldn’t handle. We’d be able to resolve those findings. Chances were excellent that we’d be able to work together to support her physiology such that eventually, she probably wouldn’t need the drugs.
We could indeed replenish the Magnesium and Vitamin B levels her body (and brain) desperately needed. We’d be able to identify, eliminate, and find fun, tasty, palatable alternatives to the foods that were causing her body to essentially set itself on fire inside. We’d be able to slowly, safely, and surely extract the heavy metal toxicity that had no doubt settled in her bones, organs, and brain. Balancing her blood sugar, her healthy fats, and her proteins would be no problem.
But, I informed them, the ADHD would likely remain. I assured them that sure, the disruptive ADHD traits would improve, and she would likely be able to settle down, study with focus, and retain information. “However,” I cautioned, “the newer research is showing that ADHD itself is in the brain wiring, not the modifiable factors. In fact, the ADHD brain-type can actually prove to be an advantage. Over half of all CEOs of major companies report being ADHD.”
Of course, this conversation took place about three years before I would stumble across my cozy place on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, and thus, be introduced to the term “neurodiversity”.
At that point in time, I might have lacked the formal vocabulary to express the concepts and thoughts. But something in my intuition resonated: that the world needs all kinds. That there was a (much-needed) place in the world for ADHD and other different types of minds.
Since I didn’t know about the neurodiversity term or the underlying concept, I had no idea that it was actually a Thing, nor did I have a clue about its advocacy or proponents. Aside from a few cutting-edge mavericks in the scientific community who dared speak of the idea of depathologizing ADHD, I wasn’t aware that anyone else held the same opinion that I did.
I wish I could say that this particular story had a happy ending, but the mum, nice as she was, couldn’t accept the theory I suggested. All over the internet, various practitioners in my field, indeed many of my colleagues, were claiming to “cure” ADHD.
I’m sure she opted for one of them. There’s hardly a shortage, after all, and my lone voice was indeed a lone one. With everyone else in my field claiming to resolve ADHD, my pre-neurodiversity-awareness “accept the brain type” suggestion placed me at a serious disadvantage. They had plenty of other providers to choose from.
And the girl’s mum simply wasn’t ready to hear of–let alone embrace–the permanence of her daughter’s condition.
I can’t say that I blame her, exactly. I had no resources to which to refer her for further reading or which to support my hypothesis, other than a few brief, curt, cryptic, impersonal research abstracts. There were no plain-language, practical application websites or step-by-step bulleted lists she could bookmark for whenever she found herself at her wit’s end during the rocky, bumpy, pitfall-rich process. Because the process–and progress–is hardly ever linear; there will be ups and downs, peaks and valleys, two steps forward followed by another step back. It’s anything but smooth; in fact, it’s often turbulent. And although my brain and heart were both in the right place, I couldn’t offer them a soft place to fall.
Besides that, there’s always the (usually correct) assumption that when a provider says “oh, that’s no big deal; don’t worry about that”, that that’s code for “I don’t know how we’re going to solve that issue; I’m actually incompetent or inexperienced in that area, but I’m not going to admit that because I need to maintain appearances and your respect, so instead, I’m going to simply downplay it, write it off, or explain it away, and hope that either you’re satisfied with my explanation, or I’ve diverted your attention away from the issue altogether.”
That happens, more than most people realize. But I promise, that’s not something I do, and it certainly wasn’t the case that day.
Fast-forward three years, give or take: looking back, I would now operate from the standpoint that the brilliant teen actually, most likely resides somewhere on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. And if I had it to do over, I would propose that idea, along with a step-by-step checklist, a roadmap with which to begin their journey, complete with which websites to visit and which ones to avoid.
I would give dang near anything to be able to go back in time and do it over again, knowing what I hadn’t known then, but do know now. I know my mum (correctly) states that “everything happens for a reason”, and there’s probably a reason for the fact that this conversation took place when it did, and not more recently.
But that still doesn’t change the fact that I feel like I missed an opportunity to facilitate a transformation of the teen’s life. Not very many days go by where I don’t think of them.
Wherever they are, I hope they’re doing well. I hope they’ve found some answers, answers they can accept. I hope they’ve found some relief.
I also hope that the teen, who is older now, thinks back to the conversation we had, about acceptance of one’s brain wiring, the way it is. I hadn’t meant to be defeatist, nor had I meant to cop out. I had only meant to expand the perception and understanding.
I guess that not much has changed. I supported the spirit of neurodiversity then, even though I hadn’t heard the word, and of course, I do now, and I always will. I was autistic/an Aspie then, even though I didn’t know that either, and I still am, and I always will be.
Little has changed, except that I’m aware of the concepts and could offer more by way of support. I could speak with more confidence. Of course, it’s always possible that the mum still wouldn’t accept the information. There isn’t much I can do about that. But at least I could have given more.
Hindsight, that jerk ❤