The Sixth Stage of Diagnosis

Jillian Enright

The Sixth Stage of Diagnosis

Embracing your own, or a loved one’s, Neurodivergence

Written by Jillian Enright, CYW, BA Psych.

Do you think you’ve fully accepted all of who he is?”

My friend gently asked me this question one day while we were commiserating about our respective parenting struggles. We both have neurodiverse children close in age and have each experienced a myriad of emotions on this rollercoaster ride that is mothering boys with ADHD.

I was venting about something or other when she asked me that question and truly made me think. I paused, considered carefully, and answered. I think I’ve accepted about 80% of who he is and I’m working on the other 20%. That ratio probably changes daily and is a work in progress, but I understood what she was getting at.

Whose Fret is it Anyway?

In my article about challenging behaviours in children, I encourage adults to engage in self-reflection—and I do consider myself an adult (most of the time).

We adults need to ask ourselves if certain behaviour is only a problem for us, or is it truly a problem for our child? Does it cause us anxiety because of our own issues, or does the child’s behaviour negatively impact their life?

If the behaviour is mostly our issue, is it something the child is even capable of changing right now, given the stage they are at in their development? Is it really something they have any control over? Is it part of their neurodivergence or a disability, something that is part of their biology?

Kids Do Well When They Can

For example, I used to nag my son quite a bit about chewing on his shirts, biting his nails, or whatever sensory-seeking oral fixation he was engaging in that day.

Well, that was silly of me, wasn’t it?

First off, sensory-seeking behaviour is often a self-soothing behaviour, so when my son was sucking his thumb, he was probably feeling a little anxious. Is it going to make him less anxious for mom to nag at him about it?

Not bloody likely.

Also, um yeah, he has ADHD, and children with ADHD are often sensory-seekers. Atypical sensory processing (eg. Ghanizadeh, 2011; Dellapiazza et al., 2021) and anxiety (D’Agati et al., 2019) are both highly co-morbid with ADHD.

Denial

When our children are diagnosed with any condition, or we are diagnosed with one ourselves, common first reactions are disbelief and denial. As I described in an earlier story, I had my share of doubts when ADHD was first suggested in relation to my son.

Anger

My next reaction was anger. First, anger at my son’s school for mistreating him, for punishing him for behaviours he couldn’t help due to his neurodevelopmental disorder. Then anger at myself for the exact same reason. I had been too hard on him, I had assumed that his misbehaviour was intentional, not understanding that ADHD played a huge role in his struggles.

Bargaining

In addition to anxiety and ADHD, our son was also assessed as being intellectually gifted. When a person is gifted and has a disability, that is called twice exceptional (2e). I wrote more about this in a previous article, but it is relevant here because I tried to leverage my son’s intelligence as a way of compensating for his ADHD.

My form of bargaining was believing that if only my son’s school would challenge him academically, then magically his behavioural issues and ADHD symptoms would go away. I guess that encompasses both bargaining and denial, because we ADHDers are always multi-tasking.

Sadness

My sadness came in the form of wishing others could see my son for who he really is. At his former school, they focused so much on his struggles and on punishing unwanted behaviours, they missed out on the awesome kiddo he really is. It was heartbreaking to see his self-worth and self-concept being ground down by their constant criticism.

Acceptance

Oh hell yeah. This is one of the best parts of the journey by far.

I was diagnosed with ADHD about seven months after my son, and am 2e as well. Once I accepted that we are both neurodiverse, I set my sights on learning everything I could. The more I learned, the more I understood and appreciated myself and my son for who we really are.

Even better, we’ve discovered an entire community of like-minded people; other neurodiverse folk and families who really get it.

Not only have I fully accepted both my son and myself for our neurodivergent awesomeness, I am proud to be neurodiverse. This world needs all kinds of people and all different kinds of brains, in fact, many positive traits have been liked to ADHD (Sedgwick et al., 2019).

People with ADHD have been described as:

  • Energetic
  • Divergent thinkers
  • Hyper-focused
  • Nonconformists
  • Adventurous
  • Creative

…to name but a few.

Neurodiversity vs. Pathology

The title of this article includes the word diagnosis because that’s often what we, as neurodivergent people, need from the medical community in order to access accommodations and supports.

With that said, neurodiversity and diagnosis are conflicting concepts in many ways.

Neurodiversity refers to variations between human minds occurring naturally within a population, and includes conditions such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia and dyslexia. This model recognizes strengths alongside challenges (Taylor, 2021).

Neurodiversity is often positioned in contrast to the traditional medical model, in which diagnostic criteria are based on perceived deficits and presumption of pathology (Dunn, 2018), meaning that a diagnosis assumes being outside the norm is a disorder rather than simply a difference.

The neurodiversity movement acknowledges that being different comes with challenges, and one’s neurodiversity can present symptoms that cause an individual distress, in which case those symptoms require treatment.

However, much of the difficulty encountered by neurodivergent people in mainstream society is due to lack of understanding, lack of accommodations, and a pervasive attitude that those outside the norm must adapt and change who they are in order to fit in with the majority.

The Sixth Stage: Celebration

This is where diagnosis makes its way to acceptance, and we view our differently wired brains through a neurodiversity lens, rather than pathologizing our difference.

Different brains and ways of thinking are celebrated all the time. Scientists who make important discoveries, writers who pen remarkably creative and engaging stories, or people who feel so much empathy for the plights of others they dedicate their lives to helping those in need.

Inventions and solutions have come because of people who think outside the box and see the world in a different way from the majority. We are needed, we are important, and our differences are valuable. We may struggle, but we don’t need to win a Nobel prize for our value as people to be recognized.

© Jillian Enright, ADHD 2e MB

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References

D’Agati, E., Curatolo, P., Mazzone, L. (2019). Comorbidity between ADHD and anxiety disorders across the lifespan. International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 23(4), 238–244. https://doi.org/10.1080/13651501.2019.1628277

Dellapiazza, F., Michelon, C., Vernhet, C. et al. (2021). Sensory processing related to attention in children with ASD, ADHD, or typical development: results from the ELENA cohort. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 30, 283–291. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-020-01516-5

Dunn, S. J. (2018). Pathology or Neurodiversity? Cognitive accessibility and the rhetorical construction of ADHD in higher education. (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database. (UMI №. 2111872353). https://www.proquest.com/docview/2111872353

Ghanizadeh, A. (2011). Sensory processing problems in children with ADHD, a systematic review. Psychiatry investigation, 8(2), 89–94. https://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2011.8.2.89

Lee, J. W., Seo, K., & Bahn, G. H. (2020). The Positive Aspects of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among Famous People. Psychiatry investigation, 17(5), 424–431. https://doi.org/10.30773/pi.2020.0036

Sedgwick, J.A., Merwood, A. & Asherson, P. (2019). The positive aspects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a qualitative investigation of successful adults with ADHD. ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders, 11, 241–253. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-018-0277-6

Taylor, G. (2021, March 3). Embracing neurodiversity in medicine. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 50(3). [Editorial]. https://www1.racgp.org.au/getattachment/91a668c6-2e97-4fb0-a0c7-e9fa8e54ee2d/Neurodiversity-Adult-and-paediatric.aspx

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of ADHD 2e MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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