Garry’s Story

The young family who lives across the street from us includes five sons and a daughter. Eric, the oldest boy, is fourteen and is by far the brightest and most imaginative of the siblings.

His father, although highly intelligent, is not very handy around a wood shop. As a result I spend a lot of time in my shop helping the kids with their school projects or Mother’s Day gifts.

Eric and I have developed a real connection you don’t find often between two people with a forty-five year age gap. We share something none of the other kids can claim. We are both ADHD. We both experience the same life filled with frustrations and seemingly endless failures and disappointments. We have fantastic ideas trumped only by the certainty of a lack of follow through.

In true ADHD fashion Eric knocked on our front door one evening as my wife and I were finishing up dinner. He came over in hopes that I would help him finish (“start” is a better word) a science class project. Each student was to design and build their own working catapult. The grade would be determined by design, craftsmanship, appearance and function. Aside from a few specific requirements and size limitations, the students were free to build it as they chose.

Already knowing the answer, I asked him when the project was due. Second period class, tomorrow? No problem! He had known about the deadline for a week or so.

I found myself faced with a situation. On one hand I should tell him that it wasn’t fair to me to seek my help on such extremely short notice. It would be nearly impossible to complete it in the time remaining. Not only that, but I had my own list of overdue projects. Besides, he had no plan drawings, or building materials of any sort. He couldn’t possibly be less prepared. And there he was standing at my front door, fully believing we could do it.

Many of us with ADHD have no concept of time, much less how to manage it. Regardless of how little time is left we convince ourselves there is enough. We also tend to avoid problematical details. Reality is a wet blanket, a hindrance, something best to avoid. But, as his only hope, my denying his request would most likely teach him a much needed lesson.

Alternately, I could see in his eyes that familiar resigned-to-failure attitude I grew up with. I could hear the science teacher reprimanding him already. This failure will validate all the others. It isn’t a very long ride to “Complete Loserville.” We, with ADHD, have refined setting ourselves up to fail to a fine art.

So, what should I do? Should I cave in and try to help him with the project, leading him to believe there will always be somebody around to pull him out of the fire? Or, do I let him fail, hoping he discovers the very important lesson to be found there. What would you do?

Around midnight Eric’s father knocked on my garage door in search of his wayward son. He came in and found Eric and I marveling over our creation. For a catapult it didn’t score very high in design, craftsmanship, or appearance. I wasn’t sure if it would even function. But, in our eyes it won a blue ribbon just for being completed.

Why did I choose to help? Because in Eric I saw a very young me. Maybe with a few small successes under my belt like this one I might have discovered sooner I wasn’t a loser, but just someone unique in my own way learning to live with ADHD.