Blue Highways

So your child has ADHD. Welcome to a different country...now throw your road map away!

At a school where I was teaching about my book, The Bullying Antidote, the principal told me their special ed parents' club called themselves the “Holland Group.” I asked her what the name meant. She handed me a many-times-copied story that she had found on the Internet.
Blue Highway
In 9th grade, the highway to success seemed clear. But when my son's organizational difficulties kept steering him off onto side roads, we had to find a new map.
“Welcome to Holland” is a 1987 essay by Emily Perl Kingsley that describes what it feels like when you learn that your kid has a disability of any sort. “When you're going to have a baby,” the essay says, “it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip — to Italy.” She describes in detail the iconic things one looks forward to in Italy — “The Colosseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice,” and how one learns the language. But when you get off the plane, you find you are in Holland instead.
It’s not that Holland isn’t a wonderful place — it is. There are windmills and tulips and wonderful people. But it just isn’t what you planned. And when everyone else is talking about Italy, well, you are sorry you missed it, but you wish they were interested in hearing about your trip to Holland as well!
Watching my son Enzo evolve in high school has been like getting off the plane in Holland. We chose a school with an engineering academy (which he loved), and a Paideia program (which I loved)...and started making plans (akin to driving a Lamborghini around in the Colosseum).
In 9th grade, the highway to success seemed clear. But when his organizational difficulties kept steering him off onto side roads, we had to find a new map. As it turned out, the new paths took him to some wonderful places, as Blue Highways (a term coined by author William Least Heat Moon to describe the back roads through America) tend to do.
For me, the strangest parts about being in Holland, or on the Blue Highways, are:
  1. Seeing so many of his friends on the road to Rome they originally chose.
  2. Managing the (ridiculous and unnecessary) resentment at their achievements.
  3. Identifying with a “disorder” or “disability” in the name of self-acceptance when it’s just life, really.

Becoming an advocate and spokesperson for the "Blue Highway lifestyle" was an unexpected turn for me. But that’s the thing about getting tickets to Holland. Our new reality calls us as parents to step up to a new level, welcome the dazed new arrivals, and share our road maps.


Like Son, Like Mother?

No need to wonder where my son's attention issues came from. This apple fell from my tree.

"He definitely has attention issues, but he doesn't have ADD."
This is what the social worker told me after evaluating Enzo's questionnaires, filled out by myself, himself, his dad, and two teachers (one of whom gave him the label of "high priest in the church of no homework," whose class he barely passed).
Boy Doing Homework
Discussing all the problems and pitfalls, it was like watching my own childhood being replayed, and even my life now.
After all, said the clinical expert, he's well-socialized, he can sit still (sometimes for hours on end), and has a good opinion of himself. Of the five matrices that determine ADHD, he scored normal in four of them — but was way off the charts with attention issues. That was after the first report card of ninth grade, where in two years his 4.0 had dropped under a 3.0.
When his first report card of tenth grade appeared, Enzo's GPA had slipped considerably below a 2.0. Now we were desperate for some sort of help, or even just some insight, or a referral to another idea.
I went back to Kaiser and stormed the castle. "So, what do we do about attention issues, for goodness sake? How can I help my child?" The guy gave Enzo one more test, this one on a computer — why they didn't just do that in the first place, I don't know — and voilĂ : a full-blown case of ADD-PI. All of a sudden, the gates of support opened wide.
Within a few weeks, we were in the embrace of what I call Kaiser's ADHD School. I took a series of classes on learning disabilities, parenting practices, and coping skills. We learned about medications and chose one to try. Every week, Enzo and I attended a Teen Group with break-out sessions for parents to ask questions like, "What's with the lying thing?" "How can we stop fighting over homework?" and "Where did he get it from?"
Lightbulbs were going off like crazy in my own head about that one. Discussing all the problems and pitfalls, it was like watching my own childhood being replayed, and even my life now. (I don't have a GPA, but for all my cleverness, I do have a pretty unimpressive AGI.) I had to bite my tongue to keep the conversation on the kids.
I called Adult Psych to explore the possibility that I might also have ADHD. It felt like I could have taught the introductory workshop. I read Driven to Distraction and recognized myself on every page. I took the Kaiser tests...and guess what they told me?
"You definitely have attention issues, but you don't have ADD."