Previews of a tween with ADD

Since he was little, my son seemed different from other children. Blaise let out bigger, more intense tantrums. He wouldn’t wait quietly with a book and pencils. We constantly had to take him for walks, talk to him, play with him. As we enjoyed raising our busy boy, my husband and I recognized the early signs of ADHD (because we both have it).

A lot of adults write a lot of essays about their childhood with ADHD. I remember spacing out, forgetting about work, and losing shoes – just like my husband. But my childhood in the 1990s doesn’t match any childhood today – with smartphones, 24/7 streaming, social media and a global pandemic.

What is a child going through today with inattentive ADHD? I have no idea, really.

So I asked my 12-year-old son — now a lanky, eye-rolling teenager who tortures us with moan-inducing puns — to perch on the arm of my writing couch and talk to me about his ADHD.

Inattentive ADHD and hyperfocus

“Hypofocusing can be very difficult,” Blaise immediately said. “But it’s very useful if you want to research something.”

The kid’s not wrong – I often call him for dinner several times to find him curled up with a book. (He devours everything from graphic novels to Archeology.)

[Take This Self-Test: Could Your Child Have ADD (aka Inattentive ADHD)?]

“I didn’t hear you,” he will say, and I believe him.

Hyperfocus, a hallmark of ADHD, involves direct and intense attention to a singular task. When directed toward something “useful,” like reading, writing, or, as Blaise puts it, “research,” it’s almost a superpower.

But when hyperfocus lasers focus on something less than useful – like Star Wars: Battlefront II — it can become a burden. Children with inattentive ADHD do not consciously choose what gets their attention. So while Blaise’s hyper-focused research on cryptozoology has him beating adults in trivia contests, he often forgets dinner because he programs Roblox.

Inattentive ADHD and big emotions

Every mother will say her baby is the sweetest child alive and a monster in the same breath – and my characterization of Blaise is no different. However, Blaise begins to realize that his sometimes vicious temper is not just a symptom of his teenage years, but also of his inattentive ADHD.

“I’m going really crazy,” he told me. “I tell other kids it helps to scream into the pillows when no one else is around.”

[Read: “Why Are We Still Failing Kids with Inattentive ADHD?”]

Children with inattentive ADHD may be dreamy and high, but they may also have the same feelings and emotional dysregulations as children with the hyperactive subtype of ADHD. We continue to work on adaptive capacities.

inattentive ADHD and working memory

“I forget little things, like where my library books are,” Blaise sighed. “I also forget really big stuff, like bringing a tablet cord when we go on vacation. I forget a lot of things.

This is a characteristic of children with inattentive ADHD: they forget things. They lose things. And from the sadness in his voice, Blaise knows it.

We school at the Blaise house, with his two young brothers, so he misses some of the social embarrassment linked to the loss of papers and the forgetting of his lunch. But he knows that when it comes time to collect books from the library, I get exasperated when three are missing. I try verbal reminders. I try baskets. Books always disappear. The same goes for its shoes, despite dedicated shoe custodians.

Every time this happens, I take a deep breath and remember my own shame and blame. Children with inattentive ADHD will be forget things. They will be lose things. But they need support to overcome a cycle of self-blame. When Blaise sighed, my heart broke a little. I forget things too. I need to be nicer.

Inattentive ADHD and Cleansing (What is it?)

When the subject of his bedroom came up, Blaise looked lost. He moans. “Cleaning is just hard to do, okay?” he said. “Clean up after dinner, clean up my room – that’s just hard.”

Children with inattentive ADHD have trouble cleaning. Blaise often says he just doesn’t see the mess. I sympathize. As an inattentive adult with ADHD, I can open an Amazon package, drop the box, and walk away. I do not think so, I should pick up this box.

It shouldn’t be surprising that children with inattentive ADHD don’t know where to start. Blaise’s floor may now contain sediment layers and saying “Clean your room” will only end in tears.

He needs non-judgmental reminders, and he needs them frequently. We say, “Can you take your plate? after dinner, rather than “You didn’t take your plate!” once he leaves the table. It’s easier, and he needs that grace. Why not give it to him? I would like a good fairy to appear and remind me to pick up my Amazon boxes.

“Hope this helps other kids,” Blaise said before running off. “Parents need to understand that it’s not easy to have ADHD.”

Although I remember my own childhood with inattentive ADHD, it helps me to remember how children with inattentive ADHD feel. It hurts to hear that he blames himself for losing things. But I’m glad he recognizes how much his hyperfocus helps him. Blaise isn’t ashamed of his diagnosis. His symptoms sometimes annoy him. But being non-neurotypical does not.

Some days, I get it. Some days I’m confused. But talking about his ADHD gave me a better insight into his life. I’ll parent a little kinder. As he said, “It’s not easy to have ADHD.” I already knew this. But add being 12 – that sounds pretty tough on everyone.

Inattentive ADHD in Preteens: Next Steps

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