It took me many years to realize how successful my ADHD/Asperger’s son really is. We measured Clark by the yardsticks we had been measured by. Did he make A’s? Was he a good athlete? Was he a popular friend? By all those measures, our son, who we dubbed early on “Clark Kent the Wonder Kid,” failed. Each year of elementary school, he did worse against this criterion. In middle school the downward slope of his performance grid fell off at a steeper angle.
Comparisons Gone Awry
We compared him to ourselves. His father and I had made fantastic grades. Edward was a star athlete and had lifelong friends. I was a distance runner and cheerleader. Clark’s grades were terrible. He washed up in lacrosse and football and refused to try other sports, refused any physical activity he could, in fact. By the time he was in middle school, he had no friends whatsoever. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Clark didn’t just “fail” at school, he failed at home. He was the kid that never did what he was asked, lied more often than he told the truth, and drove all the rest of us crazy with his odd, repetitive behaviors and awkward comments.
We wrung our hands. We bemoaned his (our) situation. We hung our heads. Was it our parenting? Other people seemed to think so. Why couldn’t Clark succeed like we had, and like our other four kids did? Why, why, why?
I Wised Up
I finally wised-up about the time Clark was in 8th grade. I was the one who was failing, but not because I failed to force Clark into a cookie-cutter shape of the All American Boy. I was failing because I still worried that my worth was based on what other people thought of my children, people who knew nothing about me or them. People who knew nothing about Clark or not being neurotypical.
Shame on me.
Self-Analysis: What did I Want?
I examined my feelings about Clark. Was I wringing my hands for him or for me? Honestly, it was both. But Clark wasn’t wringing his own hands. Clark was, for the most part, happy being Clark, even though being Clark was harder than being me, or being Liz or Susanne, the two siblings closest in age to him. If he was happy, why couldn’t I be? I needed to let my Pollyanna Perfection fantasy ideal go. I had to live in the real world, with my real son. And I asked myself an important question: What in my deepest heart did I want most for all my children?
The answer came easily, and it stung: for them to be happy.
So what did I do?
- I put his (terrible) report cards away.
- I let him drop out of lacrosse.
- I quit pushing him to invite friends over and let him hang out with us.
- I listened to the sound of his laugh, pure and real.
- I quit pressuring him about his grades and school work.
- I let him breathe.
- I let him exist.
I Listed his Successes
- Clark is the kindest member of our family
- Clark is the happiest person in our family
- Clark learns more and knows more than most other young men his age
- Clark does not care what other people think
- Clark is not fearful
- Clark rebounds and re-centers faster than anyone I’ve ever known
How in my right mind could I not count this child as a success, as more of a success than his angst-filled siblings, even? I would succeed as his parent if I just got out-of-the-way and let him be Clark.
Left to his own Devices
I still want him to navigate through the neurotypical world painlessly, to make it over its hurdles, to reach his own goals. But if in doing that he gets a few failing grades on his report and wears his flip-flops and sweats with holes to school with his shirt on inside out and backwards, smiling and relaxed all the while, who am I to take that away from him? And, left to his own devices, he found his niche in robotics and debate, spaces in which he could succeed on anyone’s terms, and he even made a few real friends.
Clark has ADHD. He is an Aspie. He is a genius-boy, creative, brilliant, and aggressive. The popular athletic kids think he’s weird. And he couldn’t care less.
Neither could I. Rock on, Clark.
An adaptation from The Clark Kent Chronicles, slated for release on May 21, 2012, with express permission from Skip Jack Publishing