Remember when you were a young child and how comforting a nice, warm, hearty bowl of alphabet soup was on a frigid winter’s afternoon? Gazing at each spoonful while excitedly spelling new words, then hurriedly chomping them down with a satisfying slurp and a gulp?
It’s amazing how life throws us many unexpected hurdles, obstacles, and challenges along our journeys. I’m a grown-up now and am very proud to be the mom of an incredible teen with a very complex set of challenges, including the very frustrating condition abbreviated ADHD. The name, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is in no way a suitable encapsulation of the symptoms he contends with each day nor an inspiring description of his numerous strengths.
The best description I’ve heard for kids and teens like mine who have ADHD and several other related conditions (called Co-Morbid Conditions …yikes!) is an “Alphabet Soup Kid”.
It’s a clever reference to how nonsensical it is to assign a bunch of random letters to young kids/teens, almost at times wishing for the “right “ combination of random letters; the lucky bowl of Alphabet soup comes with a lifetime of inadequate support and resources to help each child live well independently with support into their adulthood.
To me, these random letters, particularly the D’s for “Deficit” and “Disorder”, stir up negativity and increase stigma rather than helping to decrease it. It also presumes a level of not being capable or competent. Which in turn, could unfortunately imply that a person with ADHD could be seen as being “damaged “ or even “ defective” in some way, and that could not be further from the truth. Celebrating individuals’ strengths makes much more sense and is way more proactive than getting needlessly lost in the labels. It’s helped me a great deal through the years to think of ADHD as one of my son’s strengths, or even a “superpower”, since there are many positive aspects of this condition, such as his ability to hyper-focus; to maintain a sustained level of extreme focus on an important task. As my son’s advocate, I will never stop trying to change this conversation and will never stop fighting for him.
So, what does true “inclusion” really look like? Why are we still jumbling up random letters to poorly describe conditions in hopes of receiving support for our kids? Unless this changes, we are still trying to make kids “fit” into preconceived categories when it’s clear that it does not work well for them or their families. What if support services were not condition-specific but provided based on each child’s (and their family members’) needs? What if we just asked our younger kids, pre-teens and teens what they need, to do well in school and life? We are likely to be very happily surprised at their responses.
Strong parent advocates create even stronger self-advocates. Our kids simply need and deserve the opportunity to be seen, heard, valued and included in conversations about their futures. I’ve learned that I was being overly cautious and protective in ways I’ve had to modify a bit, now that my son is a teenager. He is clearly looking for opportunities to show us he can independently do more things each day. He actively seeks out and welcomes taking part in the first important steps in his mid-teens, which will help us set the framework for his impending adulthood.
One of the trickiest lessons I’ve learned, is that my previously being too overprotective and sometimes forgetting to include him in these conversations, was holding him back. I accidentally thought he might not be capable of being involved in his future life goal planning. Once I adjusted my thinking and approach, I was pleasantly surprised to discover he wanted to learn how to get a job. He also wants to live in a different place than me when he’s older. He’d like to learn how to drive a car and maybe even have children one day.
I’m very proud of my “Alphabet Soup” teen. I invite other parents and caregivers of “Alphabet Soup, “atypical”, “neuro-divergent” kids/ teens ( whichever term you are most comfortable with using), to celebrate their strengths, encourage big dreams for their futures, focus on what can be done to help them thrive as adults and choose the battles worth fighting. Our kids are already changing the world.
It’s lunchtime now. I think I’ll enjoy slurping and gulping up a nice big, hearty bowl of alphabet soup.