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Dad Daze: Getting to know your son with ADHD

UPDATED: Sun., May 2, 2021

Milo Condran at Dick's Hamburgers last August.  (Ed Condran/The Spokesman-Review)
Milo Condran at Dick's Hamburgers last August. (Ed Condran/The Spokesman-Review)

When my son Milo was recently rushed to a hospital for an appendectomy, the phrase “it figures” ran through my mind. I had the same procedure at a similar age. My other three children still have what is believed to be a useless appendage on their large intestine.

In so many ways, Milo is my doppelganger. Milo’s biology teacher asked him about his floppy ears. “Where did these come from?” she said. “That’s genetic.” When I was 4 years old, my parents, who feared that their son would be bullied, opted for otoplasty so that I would be more aesthetically pleasing. I never had ears a la Prince Charles.

“Where did you get the retro baby clothes for Milo?” a friend once asked after examining my infant photos. The resemblance is so uncanny, even Milo admits that he unfortunately looks like his dad while glancing at tween and teen photographs of yours truly.

However, there are some subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Even though we’re both myopic, my eyes are not shaped in a symmetrical manner, and my children grow slowly. A father of a former schoolmate of Milo’s asked a very annoying question five years ago, “What’s with Milo? You’re so tall, and he’s so small. When is he going to grow like you?”

“August of 2021,” I snapped. “We just went to the doctor and had his wrist X-rayed.” I was kidding, of course, but what an audacious question. Milo, 15, who finally experienced a growth spurt, recently had a well visit and for the first time is projected to approximate my height. Not that it matters.

But there is something significant we don’t share. Milo recently sat me down for a serious chat. “You tend to forget that I have ADHD,” Milo said with a most earnest expression. “You don’t have it, so you don’t understand it. You have to remember that I have this deficit.”

It sounds silly that my son has to remind me about his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but I’ve needed prompting over the years. At times, I don’t understand why Milo fails to follow instruction or has issues meeting deadlines in school. I never left points on the table, and I completed homework as soon as possible since I didn’t want it hanging over my head. Milo operates in a completely different fashion.

Sometimes I lack patience. It reminds me of stories I’ve heard about Ted Williams as a MLB manager. The greatest hitter ever reportedly had a difficult time understanding that players, while expending great effort, couldn’t accomplish what he could achieve with ease.

Not to compare myself with Teddy Ballgame, but it’s been a struggle to relate with my ADHD-addled children. My sons hate Ritalin since it suppresses their appetite. “You have no idea how miserable that makes you,” Milo said.

He’s correct. My daughter Jillian, 22, who has become a collegiate scholar, struggled as a high school freshman. “I remember trying to finish a math test when I was in ninth grade, and the bell rang,” Jillian recalled. “I was about 80% finished with the test and class was over, and everyone had finished but me. I remember crying in a panic, thinking, ‘What is wrong with me?’ “

The good news for Jillian is her ADHD diminished during her junior year of high school. But it’s painful when you want to help your children, but you don’t quite understand them. I heartily recommend “The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was a Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength” for anyone in a similar situation. The edifying book by Dr. Dale Archer is an eye-opener.

The stark reality is delivered, but the positives, which there are many, are also detailed. Children who have ADHD are often curious, adventurous and take risks. According to Archer, they are unusually resilient. Each of those adjectives describes Milo, who is always up for a road trip, particularly if there is a cliff-diving opportunity.

Milo, who has been to 49 states, has always been unflappable. Whenever his older brother Eddie, 19, would beat him in a one-on-one ice hockey challenge or puck battle, Milo said he would get him next time despite the age/height/weight difference. When his report card has been disappointing, Milo talks about how he’ll rally the next marking period. He’s never afraid of failure, which makes me worry sometimes. Perhaps it shouldn’t.

I’m ill at ease when Milo mountain bikes over technical terrain. “If I fall, I tuck in my arms, like a bird,” Milo explained. “I’ll be alright.” Archer writes that ADHD kids tend to be creative, visionary and entrepreneurial. Milo, who loves art, is creative. I don’t know about his visionary status, but I think Milo believes that’s how he should be categorized.

A few years ago, when he was forming a band, Eddie asked Milo if he could write songs with him. “I don’t think so,” Milo said. “A band is lucky to have one visionary, and you’re no visionary.” I was encouraged by the entrepreneur aspect since that’s ultimately what Milo dreams of becoming post-college. “Why would anyone work for anybody but themselves?” Milo said. “I don’t want to do that or work within four walls.”

Sounds good, but Milo’s academic inconsistency has been troubling. I’ve told him that he needs to read more. “If you’re going to run your own business, you need to know more than an office drone,” I’ve told Milo. “Reading is the gateway to knowledge.”

I still encourage Milo to dive deep into his studies, but I feel a little more optimistic after devouring “The ADHD Advantage.” I’m still learning so much about something I had no concept of before I embarked on the parenting odyssey. For instance, two teens with ADHD is a match, according to Milo.

While in Hawaii, Milo met a girl, and they remain in contact. Apparently, they have much in common, including ADHD. “It’s so good talking with her since she understands me, and, when she explains things, she does so in such detail,” Milo said. “So much of that is because she has ADHD.”

I’m working on more patience and understanding with Milo and each of my children. I’ve taken a few steps by reading, which coincidentally is what I still stress to Milo is part of the way to becoming an entrepreneur. The more we learn, whether it’s about ADHD and our children, or whatever subject we’re interested in, the better off we are.

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