Shakespeare wrote, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ That’s true, it would. But if a rose was called a stench you wouldn’t bother. Names can give you a suggestion of things to come and a label can be handy. But a name can also hold you back.
My middle son, Karate Boy, has Attention Deficit Disorder. He was diagnosed four years ago, before that he’d been diagnosed with a Global Developmental Delay. Before that he had, what I, his mother, called, ‘Something’s up’. A diagnosis of a Global Delay was good in the sense that his ‘problems’ weren’t imagined and we could take steps, but it was bad because it was GLOBAL and it was DEVELOPMENTAL and it was a DELAY. What did it all mean? You mean the whole lot of him, Doc?
Karate Boy has become attached to the words Attention Deficit Disorder, especially the disorder part of the phrase.
At breakfast last Wednesday:
‘I don’t want to take tablets everyday.’
‘Matey, I take a tablet every day.’
‘Yeah, but you’ll get better. I’ve got an infinity sickness.’
An infinity sickness.
You don’t grow out of ADD, it stays with you into adulthood, the idea is you manage it better. You take your tablets and put your grown up mind to learning some coping skills.
So Karate Boy is right. Infinity it is.
A couple of years ago his very brilliant teacher, whose name I’ve forgotten she was so good, gave me a few ideas about how to handle ADD. She told me that for Karate Boy, ADD was like walking into a room with a hundred televisions on and every one of them showing something fascinating. When you think of ADD like that it becomes instantly understandable.
We love our kids for who they are, their looks, gifts, trials and personalities. I wish Karate Boy could see what I see – a lovely boy learning how – it seems on his good days he can, but at the moment he’s only seeing the disorder.
Imagine if we could reset the vibe.
Imagine if we could rename ADD to Attention Deficit Delight.
Yes, Karate Boy would still have issues. He’d still have the difficulty he has relating to people, because, Wow, I like you and you like me and let’s be best friends and I could come to yours and you could come to mine, and my mum will bake a cake, I love chocolate cake, do you love chocolate cake, and we could play Xbox, I’ve got Skyrim and Star Wars, and Lego Star Wars and actual Lego if you wanna, do you like Lego…Karate Boy adopts people with gusto even when they don’t know him yet. He’ll get up in their faces because who has time for personal space. THERE IS TOO MUCH TO DO!
Because of this enthusiasm, and his abruptness when things don’t go his way, Karate Boy’s friendship group is slim. Yesterday he brought home the class friendship list.
‘But you don’t have to worry about it, Mum.’
‘I don’t have any friends.’
It was all I could do to not lean on the steering wheel and cry.
With Attention Deficit Delight Karate Boy would still be bored in class, ‘we did decimals last week, what else have you got?’ He’d still be restless and emotional. But perhaps he’d know that those hindrances are a small part of his character and not the definition.
You stick a term like syndrome, or disorder, on the end of anything and it sounds bad.
‘Hi, I’m Adam. I have Happiest Person in the World Syndrome and I’m real pleased to meet you.’
Imagine meeting Adam. This guy is so happy there is something wrong with him. He is so optimistic and loves life so well it’s bad. You’d treat him with suspicion. You’d wonder if he’d be worth getting to know and what it would take from you.
And Adam, though he is so happy, he’d be sucking on his label good and hard. He’d get a good taste of what’s bad about him.
Maybe I’m being silly.
Maybe you think I’m minimising the issues inherent to ADD. I’m not. I couldn’t. Karate Boy and I live with ADD everyday, sometimes it’s full colour because in kids, spectrums and disorders can have an extreme look.
Changing the name isn’t going to make Karate Boy’s problems go away. He’s going to have ADD forever. It’ll a big ask to make ADD look good to Karate Boy but I will try. I’m starting today with Attention Deficit Delight and for Karate Boy delight is appropriate. Yep, he’s moody. Yep, he has been giving his teacher more exercise recently. But he’s smart, he’s interested, he’s enthusiastic, he cares. He’s starting to get jokes and make some of his own.
Karate Boy is a delight.