Updated: Dec 20, 2022
As I was watching my toddler have a meltdown last night because he was overstimulated, it occurred to me that this could very well be the first sign that he might have ADHD. One of the things that I notice more today about my ADHD than I ever really had before is how easily my brain can get completely shut down from overstimulation. It's happened all throughout my life, especially when I would be at parties with lots of people. Looking back, I realize that whenever I was at any of those parties. Unless, of course, it was my own and all the attention was on me, I would ultimately end up migrating to another room in the house that was quieter and less chaotic as a way of coping. It wasn't until we were at a Halloween party with our son that I realized that he does the exact same thing that I used to do in overstimulating environments. Currently, he is too young to really have coping mechanisms of his own, but as parents, both my wife and I have a natural inclination to move him to a quieter environment the moment that we realize that he is getting overstimulated and fussy. Originally, it was really easy to just blame it on Covid-19 and the fact that he was essentially isolated from anybody but his mother and I for the first year of his life. And, that may still be a part of it. But as he gets older and we see him interact with more people, I'm beginning to see that there is a pattern forming where he really only gets extremely upset when there is too much going on for him to process. It's like his growing brain is just trying to absorb everything at once and he isn't able to prioritize what is important or not and so he instantly becomes overwhelmed. We eventually took him inside where he could play with some toys in peace.
What I find interesting though is the fact that he seems to have more awareness of overstimulation than I had as a child. Where I might go into a quiet room until my brain would calm down, I would often head back into the main room with people where I would eventually realize that I was overstimulated again and then I would go back to the quiet room. My son, on the other hand, remembers that overstimulation he had and will actively try to avoid it and wants to stay in the quiet room. I haven't really decided if that is a good or bad thing at this point. And maybe it doesn't matter. The point is that he knows what his limits are. At some point, he might be more willing to push those limits. But for now, I have to commend the fact that he, as a 2-and-1/2-year-old, is more self-aware than I even am to this day. And of course, none of this means that he actually DOES have ADHD. It could just as easily be any number of things and it's way too early to really be able to tell for sure. I just want to operate under the assumption that there is a good chance that he has it so that I am able to act accordingly as a parent. It all just made me start really thinking about what it means that he will be growing up with a knowledge of his ADHD that I never had as I was growing up. I feel like there will have to be a balance of sorts when sharing knowledge with him about ADHD. The last thing in the world I want is for him to feel like he is somehow broken, but at the same time, I also want him to understand where his own personal limits for his unique brain are. He already seems to be on a good path toward that. I just want him to understand, that there are also tools we can use for overcoming many of the obstacles that ADHD presents, and the sooner he learns about those tools, the better off he will be. I think the hard part for me is going to be avoiding the urge to try and associate my own experiences with his. I know that it's important to understand that every person's ADHD presents itself differently. What may have worked for me, might not work for him. I will do my best to validate him, and offer support, but I need to remember to take a step back and observe from an unbiased vantage point. It might be easy for us to see his ADHD, but that might also make it too easy for us to explain away his behavior. This won't do him any favors growing up since other people will likely not see it and he won't have any idea why people are judging him. As much as I hate that I had to have coping mechanisms in order to mask my ADHD, the reality is that those coping mechanisms are what helped me get by in a world that isn't designed for neurodivergent brains. And since the world has a long way yet to go, it will be important for my son to develop his own coping mechanisms to survive in this world as well. But at least now, he won't have to do it alone.