One day when my son was walking home from school, he uncharacteristically decided to stray from his usual route home. Perhaps, he wanted to shave off some time of his already short commute from his elementary school to our townhouse. He cut through one of the townhouse complex’s many courtyards and passed a storm drain. He saw a set of eyes peering out at him. As he approached, he heard the mewling cries of a cat trapped in the deep drain.
He saw the cat before he heard it, noticing its eyes glowing from the small space that allowed the water to get in. He saw the cat despite being in a hurry to get home to get ready for swim team practice, the reason behind his quest for a shorter way home. He saw the cat and immediately all other concerns melted away, and he was determined to see the cat rescued, however long it might take. We tried to coax the cat out with bits of meat and calling softly to it, which didn’t work. So finally, finally called animal control to come and rescue the poor, trapped animal.
The cat was fine. My son was relieved, and I wondered at my child’s ability to notice the things that no one else does.
My son has ADHD. ADHD is not really about having a deficit of attention, but instead an overabundance of attention and an inability to decide — prioritize — where all that attention should be directed to. People with ADHD are also not great at pretending to pay attention, either unable to sit still or faces registering that the mind is clearly elsewhere. People with ADHD do not do boredom silently and calmly. People with ADHD also resist being told at any point what to pay attention to.
I wondered at my child’s ability to notice the things that no one else does.
I should say that I have ADHD as well, diagnosed as an adult, after my son received his diagnosis. The more I read, the more I saw myself in the descriptions of ADHD symptoms and presentations. I was a space-cadet, often completely zoning out during class or dinner or even in the middle of a conversation as my mind pulled me away from what I should have been paying attention to, towards something, anything more interesting, or even just different and new.
My son, on the other hand, has always managed to focus on the smallest, most seemingly unimportant thing. We were walking through the mall, and he stopped me to point out a fake falcon way up on the rafters that I didn’t even know existed. And then, on the next beam, an even smaller rubber duckie.
ADHD is not really about having a deficit of attention, but instead an overabundance of attention.
When he was very young, we would take him to zoos, and he would notice the insects wandering around on the ground instead of the real, live animals immediately and most obviously in front of him. When we watch TV shows, he notes production values and small actions, despite what might be showier performances and features.
Kids generally love hypotheticals, and my son loves “what if” scenarios and trying to figure out if something in history was changed what the impact would have been. Often, I’ll admit, I am only half-listening to his ramblings, but any parents whose child is prone to telling stories of any kind will understand. Parenting has provided a particular challenge for me and my ADHD, struggling to pay attention or at least look like I’m paying attention to my children’s ramblings. During one of these hypothetical scenarios, he stopped and asked me if this particular scenario had played out, if the USA would still have the penny.
This wasn’t entirely as random a question as it might first seem. Recently, Canada stopped producing the penny. All prices are rounded up or down to the nearest five or zero. My son had long been fascinated by the decision by the Canadian government to get rid of this small, copper coin. And in the hypothetical he was working through, Canada and the USA were the same country or much more similar than they actually are. In his scenario, the USA lost the Revolutionary War. He wasn’t attuned to the legacy of slavery or systems of government or anything large, but instead he paid attention to the status of the penny.
I remembered that sometimes asking the questions about the small, seemingly unimportant things can have the biggest, most important impact.
I was taken aback by the question and almost dismissed his question as inconsequential or irrelevant. But I stopped myself. I remembered that sometimes asking the questions about the small, seemingly unimportant things can have the biggest, most important impact.
In my son’s hypothetical, it probably wouldn’t matter. But what if it did? What if he was the only one who thought to even ask the question?
We need people to notice small things. We need people to be drawn to the elements that no one else notices because they have been conditioned not to. Because of his ADHD, he will always struggle with being able to differentiate between what is and isn’t “important” according to whatever standards the situation typically dictates. But, because of his ADHD, he’ll be able to see things others miss. Because of his ADHD, he can see trapped cats and fake birds and small bugs and wonder about the status of the penny.
Because of his ADHD, I don’t know what he’ll discover, so I don’t want to stop him before we all find out.
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