ADHD/AUTISM: Our story

by | Jan 17, 2018 | reflections, writing

So, last week, I shared about my son’s diagnosis with high-functioning autism at 2 years old. That’s not the end of the story BY FAR. I would say that last week was more about that diagnosis and a bit of our story. But today, let me give you a wider view of my story with both autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder).


My sweet Audrey, my daughter was always high energy. From the time she was little. We always said she had two speeds: on and off. And when she was on, she was full on. She was only truly off when she “crashed” at night. It was almost as if she was driven by a motor. There was certainly something fueling her. (If only we could harness such energy, right?) We mentioned it to her pediatrician when she was probably three, but no doctor worth their salt will worry with a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD that early. It’s just too soon to tell.

Enter the school years. It’s still a little early to diagnose such a condition, but her situation was severe. She’d had problems in her PreK program sitting still and focusing. But we wrote it off to her high energy. Once she had a Kindergarten teacher that communicated well with us, we began to see the marked difference between her and her peers. More than that, the teacher said “she really wants to follow directions and comply, she just can’t seem to make herself”. So, we went back to her pediatrician. And started the process of diagnosis.

In the end, between the doctor and a psychologist, we wound up with ADHD. And the road of medication. We were not excited about it. But we went over the pros and cons, discussed the severity of her situation, and did what any parent can do in any situation: we made the best decision we could with the information we had.

It took three years and three different medications before we found the right one at the right dose.


Meanwhile, our Andrew has graduated from occupational, speech, and developmental therapy and started school. He is ongoing in ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) Therapy in the home and at school.

And we run into the same issue. Focusing problems. We’d heard it all before.

But we’re chalking it up to the autism.

Back to the pediatrician.

The co-morbidity (two things occurring at the same time) of ADHD and another condition is apparently not as uncommon as I would have thought. The doctor was certain it was ADHD. Back through the diagnostic process. The diagnosis stood.

Medication for him too.

What does all this mean in real life?

Well, it creates some challenges with our routine.

The autism piece means that we thrive in routine.

The ADHD piece means we have to be aware of the medication, the time, and eating patterns.

My ADHD kids are built like dad was at that age, on the thinner side, so we gotta make sure they get plenty of calories. So, if they don’t like what I fix for dinner, we can’t do this “well, this is what we’re having”. Nope, we have to give them another option. When they needed a bedtime snack, I was doing veggies or fruit. “Not a chance,” the doctor said. “Ice cream, cookies, the works.” The DOCTOR says this.

Homework must be done right after school while there is still some of their medication in their system and they can focus. But we must have a regimented bedtime routine to help them prepare for sleep as their meds can make sleep difficult. (It is not uncommon for autistic individuals to struggle with insomnia anyway.)

Discipline becomes a new ballgame. One that is a minefield. We have the regular discipline challenges, but we have the added worry of “is this something he/she can control?”. When dinnertime comes, for example, my daughter doesn’t have the self control or the ability to stay still that she otherwise would have or that other kids would have. So, I don’t set the same expectations on her to stay in her seat, for example. She is better now that she’s older. But it doesn’t feel fair to me to punish her for something she has limited control over. It’s paramount to punishing her because her hair is blonde, in my mind. At the same time, I want to help her learn appropriate behavior… Why, oh, why, don’t they come with manuals??

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Sara R. Turnquist