Life is a profound and ever-evolving journey, characterized by its unpredictable nature, as it meanders through unexpected twists and turns. For our family, this metaphorical road, which we have traversed together for years, took on a slightly turbulent and bumpy quality this year, for a plurality of reasons… One of the catalysts for this shift was the long-awaited diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in my almost 21-year-old son, Liam.
This is a vulnerable post. It’s taken me a month to chew on this information and whether or not to share it with the world.
The diagnosis became a turning point, prompting a cascade of emotions and reflections that we, as a family, are still confronting, with resilience and love.
The revelation of my son’s ADHD and ASD diagnosis has stirred up many emotions within me. There was an amalgamation of relief, as we finally had a clearer understanding of the challenges he had been facing, and a tinge of anger, due to the extensive delay in reaching this point. We knew that this new chapter would require us to chart a course with care and consideration, navigating the bumps and curves that these conditions might present.
The Quest for Understanding
From kindergarten to 12th grade, my son’s academic journey was accompanied by tireless advocacy for the school system (and our family doctor) to get him tested. I sensed that something was different, and my motherly instincts pushed me to seek answers. I did take steps to ensure he made it through school, every single day was a battle, we have the emotional bruises to prove it. When he graduated from high school at the beginning of the global pandemic, I was exhausted and joked that I deserved an award! Regrettably, it wasn’t until after his first year of university, which didn’t unfold as he had envisioned — his self-esteem took a severe hit and depression changed my joy-boy into someone I almost didn’t recognize. This compelled us to intensify our efforts for a diagnosis, he wouldn’t be able to return to university without it.
Am I shocked by this diagnosis? No. Not at all. This diagnosis offers a fresh lens through which we get to view our son’s journey and his aspirations. While it did not alter the essence of who he is, it illuminated aspects of his personality and thought patterns. With this newfound understanding, we are better equipped to continue to create an environment that nourishes his strengths and gently supports his challenges, empowering him to thrive in a way that is true to himself.
Looking back, we realized that his struggles with social interactions, sensory sensitivities, he was/is easily overstimulated, he has an incredible ability to be hyper-focused, I have to remind him a dozen times because of planning/scheduling difficulties, and other communication challenges that had always been there, but without a diagnosis, we were navigating them the best we could, but it was like having a blindfold on. I felt like we were swimming upstream, screaming into the wind when it came to getting him the help in school and work he needed. We were always partially in the dark. So many years of wondering and worrying… it feels good to finally be seen and heard! Understanding that ADHD and ASD are a part of who he is brought clarity and a pathway toward acceptance, not just for us but for those whom Liam interacts with.
Our journey forward is not without its challenges. As a mother, I’ve had to confront my own misunderstanding, preconceptions and fears – about autism in particular. I’ve also had to navigate those in our lives who aren’t… shall I say…. as generous in the compassion and empathy department.
Relief and Frustration
Receiving the diagnosis has been both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it lifted a tremendous weight off his shoulders. For years, he grappled with questions like, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why am I not like ________?” (insert his sibling’s name). He consistently internalized the belief that he was the problem… that he was somehow, “bad”. But on the other hand, the delay in diagnosis left us frustrated. We can’t help but wonder how different his educational experience could have been if we had been listened to earlier.
The Power of Understanding
As his mother, I have always known the importance of demonstrating patience and empathy with him. But there is huge power in understanding that any communication difficulties he encounters are not indicative of any personal shortcomings; they are merely a unique way of processing and expressing information. This has strengthened our bond, allowing us to navigate challenges together with a fresh perspective.
With the diagnosis in hand, we can now focus on nurturing his passions and providing ample opportunities for him to explore and develop his skills. By wholeheartedly focusing on his strengths, we aim to cultivate a strong sense of purpose and bolster his self-esteem. I want him to embrace his uniqueness and thrive in environments that celebrate diversity.
A Journey of Growth
The journey of supporting a young adult with ADHD and ASD is undoubtedly filled with ups and downs. However, it has also been a journey of growth and self-discovery for both of us. As his mother, I have learned to be resilient, adaptable, and even more understanding. My son, too, will come to embrace his differences, I hope one day soon he realizes that they do not define his worth or potential.
As we continue on this journey, I am filled with hope and optimism.
To parents who are facing an autism diagnosis for their adult child, I want to offer a message of hope. Embrace this new chapter as an opportunity for growth and understanding. It may not always be an easy path, but by approaching it with an open heart, seeking knowledge, and surrounding yourselves with a supportive community, you will discover the incredible beauty and strength that lies within your relationship.
To individuals like my son Liam, who have received a late ADHD and/or ASD diagnosis, he just happens to have both, remember that your journey is unique and valuable. Embrace your identity, celebrate your strengths, and know that you are capable of incredible achievements. Your place in this world is meaningful, and your voice deserves to be heard.
We are committed to supporting our son every step of the way, ensuring that he is empowered to reach his full potential and live a fulfilling life, celebrating the unique individual he is.
Liam’s a loving and attentive young man. Everyone who takes the time to get to know him says he is extremely caring. They always leave a conversation feeling seen. If you have anything to say to encourage Liam, please kindly leave him a message in the comments below.