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My Daughter’s Superpower

A mother’s diagnosis helps inform her daughter’s

Published on: September 29, 2017

girl with autism

Editor Note:

This is part of a collection of seven personal essays written by parents of children who have special needs. 

I used to ground my daughter for being autistic.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t know this, or that she wasn’t diagnosed until she was 9. If I had known that anxiety and insomnia are common issues for children on the spectrum, I would never have punished her for being willful and refusing to sleep. I would never have accused her of not trying hard enough when she struggled with homework, because what looked like laziness was actually the result of something she couldn’t control. I would never have grounded her for public meltdowns; I would have comforted her when she was overstimulated.

I wish I would have opened my eyes sooner and believed her when she told me she wasn’t doing any of it on purpose. I wish I could take it all back and not feel guilty for having made her feel “less than.” But I can’t. What I can do is try to do better from here on out.

I’m grateful for my own experience of being diagnosed with severe ADHD as an adult. It’s what finally gave me the insight I needed to truly see my child, empathize with her and educate myself.

What I can do is try to do better from here on out.

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with ADHD, I don't think my daughter would have been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
I would have just nodded my head, setting aside my suspicions when friends texted links to articles about similarities between the gifted and autistic. I would have said things like “You’re right” and “What was I thinking?” when people asked me why I would want to chance sticking a label on my child for life.

“Something like that will always follow her,” they’d say when I discussed my thoughts about seeking an evaluation. Or: “Even if you’re right — and I’m not saying you are — but even if you are, why would you do that?”

I’d then remind them that I had a label. I’d never made a secret of my own diagnosis.

“Yeah,” they’d say, “but that’s different.”

I never could see how. So, I kept pushing, voicing my concerns to my daughter’s pediatricians year after year until one finally listened. I wasn’t trying to make a big deal out of nothing or looking for a problem that wasn’t there, I told this doctor. I just knew something was wrong, and I know all too well how different my life would have been if I had been diagnosed with ADHD as a child rather than as a 34-year-old — how I would have understood sooner and struggled less.

“I would rather push for her evaluation now than ignore my suspicions and have her call me when she’s 34 to tell me that she was just diagnosed with high-functioning autism,” I told the doctor. “What could I say if she were to ask me why it took 34 years for answers?”

The doctor nodded reassuringly. I breathed easier. She understood and agreed with my suspicions. It would be irresponsible not to have my daughter evaluated for autism, she said.

I’ve always tried to show my daughter that I’m not ashamed of my diagnosis. If I hadn’t,
I don’t think she would have left her evaluation for autism with a smile. I’ve always said that ADHD is my superpower; I wasn’t surprised when she said autism is hers.

Read the full collection

  1. The Secret Language of Chickens: How a family pet helped a boy communicate

  2. Dangling Without a Diagnosis: Moving forward on an unclear path

  3. Parenting in the Present: Why special needs aren't so special

  4. Undercover Expertise: A mom on trusting her gut

  5. It's Not a Catastrophe: Learning to cope, one year at a time

  6. My Daughter's Superpower: A mother's diagnosis helps inform her daughter's

  7. 'But She Looks So Normal': Reflections from a mom of an Asian American child who has Down syndrome

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