The painful part.

My oldest child started college two weeks ago. She moved a whopping five-and-a-half hour drive from home. I know, it could be a lot further — but this is very far for her. While she doesn’t have ADHD or autism, she does have some wicked anxiety, including paralyzing social anxiety. We visited several colleges in our state, many closer to home, but this university had the art concentration she’s been dreaming of her whole life.

I knew this move would be hard for her. I truly understood, because I have general anxiety and social anxiety, too. I actually have first-hand knowledge of how she feels, which is pretty rare for parents when it comes to disabilities. In fact, I myself was supposed to go a few hours away to college and chickened out at the last minute and stayed very close to home, where friends were attending. I’ve regretted that decision my entire life.

My daughter’s focus on the career she wants gives her the drive to tolerate the extreme discomfort of being away from home and being surrounded by strangers (who she’s terrified will consider her “weird”). While her anxiety still limits the majority of her life, she hasn’t allowed it to squash her ultimate dream. I’m so proud of her for that. I know how painfully hard that is.

We spent a few days in her new town with her when we moved her to school. She cried for several hours of the trip there, and then cried for at least two hours every night. Her dad and I were really worried about her ability to power through the anxiety and homesickness. Each evening after we’d consoled her and then dropped her off to sleep in her dorm, I couldn’t help but think about her brother, Ricochet.

You see, Ricochet has ADHD, autism, dysgraphia, and severe executive functioning deficits. I began to worry even more about his future during this process — his struggles seem insurmountable compared to his sister and I. His day-to-day functioning is impaired to an exponentially greater extent. Yet, he’s not disabled to a level that prescribes he live with his parents all his life.

Over the last two weeks, as my daughter has settled into a routine in college and found that there are more people like her in the world than she thought, it opened new space for me to worry more about Ricochet’s future. That, and the fact that he started high school this week, making the proposition of college and adulthood so much closer.

 

The joyful part.

It’s imperative that we let our kids with ADHD and/or high-functioning autism lead the conversation on their future. What we parents want for them may be miles from what they want, or what they can achieve. College isn’t right for everyone, nor is a high-powered, high-paying career. Accepting that is the first step in successfully contemplating our kids’ futures.

Over the summer, with all the talk of his sister going off to college, Ricochet seemed to imagine and plan the first steps toward his future. He told me his plan is to live at home and go to the local community college the first two years, to save money and still have some help, and then transfer to the local university to finish his degree and be prepared for his career. That’s a solid and realistic plan! Now, he still fluctuates between computer programming, digital music, and designing cars… but, that’s ok.

He’s thinking about his future and making some pretty realistic plans for himself. That’s monumentally awesome for him!

 

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There’s always more.

Do I still worry about Ricochet’s future? Of course! His clinical-grade impulsiveness and perseveration on things he wants are really troublesome realities for me. Right now, I see him using rent and food money on the latest video game or console that he just can’t stop thinking about.

But, I’m not going to let all the potential facets of his future rob me from the joy of seeing him start to plan a realistic life for himself. I mean, really… we may need a house with a basement for him to live in, but his Momma would never let him go hungry.

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Penny Williams
Author. Parenting Guide. Journalist. Speaker.
Penny Williams guides and mentors parents raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. She’s the parent of a son with ADHD and autism, and the author of three award-winning books on parenting kids with ADHD. Penny is the current editor of ParentingADHDandAutism.com, Founder and Instructor for The Parenting ADHD & Autism Academy, and a frequent contributor on parenting and children with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications.