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Invisible

I have written many blogs about my seven year old, Fletcher, who has autism, yet I seldom mention his older brother, Truman. This spring, as the school year came to an end, and as I sat in the audience of Truman’s elementary school and watched him “graduate” from fifth grade, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I needed to write about the obstacles he has faced. Hopefully this blog not only will prove therapeutic for me, but also will soften some hearts toward kids like him.

Truman has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and after an extremely difficult school year, I can say that having a child with ADHD can be even more of a struggle than having one with autism. Autism is a challenge accompanied by a lot of heartache, because I see Fletcher’s awkward social interactions, his anxiety and rigid ways of thinking, and I hurt for him because I know he seldom feels at peace. I wish I could make his life easier, yet I don’t have that power. But at least Fletcher has something major working in his favor: at least others can recognize that he has a disability and know to treat him delicately; at least he is not ridiculed or bullied by peers or teachers for behaviors that are out of his control.

ADHD, on the other hand, is invisible. I know that might sound strange, since many of the behaviors that accompany it are so noticeable (fidgeting, interrupting, getting sidetracked easily, forgetting to complete tasks) – but these same behaviors are also seen in children who don’t have the disability, children who are simply considered “behavior problems.” You know, those kids who are purposefully disrespectful, disobedient, and even aggressive, and not due to a medical cause. Teachers struggle with how to discipline them. And some teachers think ADHD doesn’t even exist, that it’s a fad diagnosis slapped onto every student who acts unruly; they think ADHD kids are just more bad kids who need firm discipline at school and plenty of spankings at home. And this is why having a child with ADHD is so hard. Knowing my son literally cannot focus or control his impulses, and knowing there were other adults in his life who had very little patience for him, makes me feel much more powerless and isolated than having an autistic child. No matter how hard you try to make others see the person your ADHD child is inside, they only see his problem behaviors. When it comes time to award children who show empathy and respect for others, no one chooses your child, because again, they will not look past his problems to the character underneath.

One Sunday afternoon, my family went to Harris Teeter and saw an ambulance parked outside the entrance. As we walked past it, two paramedics wheeled out a stretcher with a lady on it. She was sitting up and looking around, so apparently she was not in need of urgent medical care. However, Truman froze when he saw her, and just stood and stared.

“Come on, Truman,” I said, reaching for his arm. “We need to make this a quick grocery trip so we can go home and fix dinner.”

Truman followed me into the store, but he stayed silent and kept wringing his hands. Finally he asked me, “Do you think that lady is really sick?”

It took me a moment to realize he meant the lady on the stretcher. “No, I don’t think so.”

He was quiet a few more minutes, following me down the cereal aisle.

Then he said, “But she had to be wheeled out to an ambulance.”

“Yes, but they weren’t rushing,” I pointed out. “If she was really sick, they would’ve been in a hurry and the lights would’ve been flashing.”

We reached the end of the aisle, yet now, instead of following me, Truman came to a stop. “What is it?” I asked him.

“You don’t understand,” he said, and his eyes filled with tears; his voice choked on the words. “I already pray for about a million people every night, and this is one more person I’m going to need to pray for.”

All I could do was look at him, my son, who had just moved me to tears for a whole different reason. This, I wanted to tell everyone, this is the person he really is. Can’t you see it? Can’t you realize there isn’t possibly another eleven year old in this world with so much compassion for other people?

Truman might feel embarrassed one day that I shared this with anyone, but to me, it’s a beautiful illustration of his true character. I have spent so much time and emotional energy trying to help others see this character, and praying they will embrace him as they do his typical peers. At times, it has not worked. But I have stopped seeing this as a failure on my end, or as an imperfection in my child. Instead, I see it as other people letting their lives be ruled by hatred and intolerance, rather than by the pure, complete love God wants us to feel. I know my son has a genuine love for other people, the kind of love we are meant to have. And to me, that’s enough to know he is already shining in God’s eyes.

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Jessie Tucker Mitchell

Jessie Tucker Mitchell graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with Honors in English and Creative Writing. She has written dozens of articles for various publications, including Carolina Alumni Review, Our State, Business North Carolina, Cat Fancy, and babyzone.com. She lives in Winston-Salem with her husband, Robert, and their children Elsa, Truman, Fletcher, and Archer. Fletcher has autism, so autism awareness is an important part of their lives. Jessie and Robert feel incredibly blessed to be members of Reynolda Church.

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