I have worked very hard to try to understand my son’s life — the way he sees and feels the world through the lens of ADHD (and probable autism). It has taken me years of research, dedication, and a truly open mind to get to a point where I feel like I understand him and where he lives, though I’ll never really see his view of the world.

Learning their view of the world is not only crucial to your success as a parent of a child with ADHD and/or autism, it’s also crucial to your child’s self-esteem. When they are misunderstood, they internalize it as a personal flaw. No parent wants that.

Let’s visit one of my recent experiences with Ricochet, as an example of truly seeing through your child’s different and unique lens:

We visit my in-laws in Kentucky every other Christmas — 2014 was our year to travel. We opened presents and ate breakfast Christmas morning, then packed up and hit the road for the six-hour drive. You might be thinking that the road trip must have been a nightmare with a kid with ADHD. Nope. Besides Ricochet’s uncanny knack to emergently have to use the restroom after we’ve just passed the last exit for 20 miles, the trip was nearly stress-free. In fact, Ricochet was on his best behavior throughout the trip, until it came to Walmart.

Now, let me just interject for a minute. Walmart is a sensory kid’s worst nightmare. It’s loud, chaotic, bright, overwhelming, and frustrating. I do not go to Walmart unless I have to. This time I had to — my in-laws live in a tiny town well over an hour into the countryside after getting off the interstate. The only department store they have is Walmart.

Grandpa gave the kids each a $100 bill for Christmas. For an impulsive, money-loving kid with ADHD like Ricochet, that bill was on fire. If he didn’t spend it quick, it was going to disintegrate into a pile of ashes. Having money to spend is an emergency. I’m not exaggerating, just looking through his lens.

Grandpa gave them their Christmas money at about 8 pm Christmas night. I assured Ricochet we’d be sure he got to spend his money sometime during the weekend. Our hope was that he’d wait until the drive home and the nearest Target store. Ricochet tried with all his might to be ok with that. His internal sonar was qued to sound at the first mention of visiting a store though.

The next morning, Friday, Ricochet asked if we might go to spend his money. He knew we were driving into the closest big city about an hour and a half away to see my grandmother. He knew there were many ways to spend his money there. His dad had other ideas though. We were to race in and out of my grandmother’s and get right back to his family, who he only sees once every two years. Ricochet was crushed, but he did his very best to hold it together. Once we got back to Grammie’s town, we were to stop at Walmart and pick up some photos we had printed for Grandpa. Ricochet knew his dad was against him shopping at that point, but that money was fully ablaze now and his sirens were blaring.

Ricochet said he knew exactly what he wanted, so he and I split off to retrieve it quickly and appease everyone. This momma didn’t consider that it’s the day after Christmas in the only store in town. I never once thought about how empty the shelves would be. We searched for the video game he wanted, to no avail. We scanned the picked-over toy aisles, but most shelves were empty. We went back and forth between these sections numerous times as Ricochet tried to grapple with his unmet expectations.

Then Daddy rounded the corner, anxious to leave, and I was stuck playing referee, again. Daddy was not going to waste a second more of his weekend with his family in Walmart. Ricochet wasn’t willing to leave Walmart without buying something, despite there being nothing to buy. I knew he’d find something he wanted given time to get over his crushed expectations, but I was the only one who had the patience for that. As the opposition raged, I told Daddy to leave us there and come back for us later. I would spend an hour or two at Walmart with Ricochet until his brain had the chance to sort it all out.

Daddy stormed out the door, our daughter close on his heels. Ricochet and I began to survey the Christmas leftovers again for something he might want to purchase. His frustration grew as I tried to squelch mine. I anxiously looked at my phone for the time, only to discover that it was about to die. I fired off a quick text to Daddy telling him I wasn’t going to be reachable by phone, and then it went black. Not only were we in Walmart in a strange town with no transportation, but my means of communicating our readiness to be rescued picked up from Walmart just died.

We spent another thirty minutes or so looking around and Ricochet was teetering on the edge of meltdown. He simply saw no other option but to spend his money right then and there. Daddy came back in the store and said time was up and we have to leave right then. Despite my insistence that he leave for a while and come back for us, he sat in the car in the parking lot perseverating on what our son’s behavior was costing him, time with his mom.

As he pushed rigidly, Ricochet spiraled. Still working to understand his needs and avoid a meltdown, I again insisted that he go to his mom’s and come back for us in an hour. This time, out of sheer frustration, he listened — he and Warrior Girl left us at Walmart.

Ricochet and I continued shopping. Once he had time for his brain to cycle, he could accept that what he wanted wasn’t there but he had options. Then he began to find a couple small items that would satisfy his need to make a purchase right then, but leave him money to spend on what he really wanted as soon as we could get to it. Giving him time was just what he (his brain) needed.

[Tweet “Being able to see things through your child’s (special) lens is a gift. #ADHD #Autism”]

Ricochet purchased his items and we checked the parking lot for Daddy. He really had left the second time. So, we sat on the bench inside the door side by side and waited. In the quiet aftermath, Ricochet began to feel overwhelming remorse. He apologized to me for his behavior over and over.

“I’m sorry for my behavior, Momma. I’m so sorry!”

“I know, Buddy,” I responded gently, tears filling my eyes. “Momma understands that your brain gets stuck sometimes. We got through it together.”

Yeah, Momma understands, but that doesn’t make his anguish and guilt any less painful for me.

We sat on that bench for about 30 minutes as darkness fell on the day. Then Daddy came back to pick us up, calm after some distance and perspective. The quirks of ADHD and autism can be frustrating, but I’m so grateful for the gift of being able to see things through Ricochet’s lens, and support him.