Will My Complex Kid EVER Catch Up?!

kid ever catch up

As parents of complex kids, we have "big picture" concerns for our children. We know our kids are 3-5 years developmentally behind their same age peers, but knowing that doesn’t prevent us from focusing on their apparent lack of progress.   We worry about their future, and we ask ourselves, "will my child ever catch up?"

Adding to our worry-fest, we continue to struggle with the daily dramas, often lamenting that we’re fighting the same battles with our children over and over, day in and day out:

‘Brush your teeth.’

'Put your shoes on.’

‘Did you put on deodorant?’

‘Get out of bed!’

‘Get off electronics!’

‘Did you eat breakfast?’

Understandably, it sometimes feels like nothing ever changes. Will our kids with ADHD & other complex issues ever function as independent adults? If they can't remember to brush their teeth, what’s going to happen to them out in the real world?

The Brain Doesnt Fully Mature Until…

While some research suggests that the ADHD brain may not fully mature until the age of 36, at the very best we know that it doesn’t fully mature until age 26 to 28.  So it is easy to see why we parents lose hope.

Ellen Kingsley explains in ADDitude magazine, “The brain’s frontal lobes, which are involved in ADHD, continue to mature until we reach age 35. In practical terms, this means that people with ADHD can expect some lessening of their symptoms over time. Many will not match the emotional maturity of a 21-year-old until their late 30’s.  So, while most people graduating from college take time to adjust to adult life, people with ADD need more time, more family support, and more professional help. 

Now, I know THAT can be exhausting to think about. But it’s also promising – because it speaks directly to the question whether your kid will ever catch up. And the answer is yes! It’s just going to take time.

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Hope is in the Successes

Here’s the thing.  Our kids ARE making progress. They are learning and growing and getter better every day. It’s just happening a lot more slowly than we would like. And because it can feel painfully slow, it’s incredibly easy to miss.

Have you ever gone to visit a friend or a loved one you haven’t seen in a few years?  Or looked at a picture of yourself or your parents from 5 years ago?

What did you notice?

Were you surprised to see that Aunt Susan is now in awesome shape? Or that your brother had a buzz cut? Maybe your mom had a broken arm that Christmas of 2013, and the picture reminded you of how much help she needed in the kitchen that year. Perhaps you’d completely forgotten how challenging that time period was for her (and for you!)

When we see people every day, it’s easy to miss the subtle changes. But over time, those subtle changes can and do add up to significant differences. In our children's case, those differences are PROGRESS!

Looking backward to look forward….

Speaking for myself, when I take the long view, I’m able to see that 3 years ago, my child with ADHD and Autism still needed help getting dressed practically every single day of the school year. I clearly remember thinking – worrying – that he would continue to need help getting dressed every single day of his life.  And I’d be lying if I said that despair didn’t occasionally creep in.

But now, this year, that same child got up, dressed himself (without assistance) and was ready to leave for school on time 95% of the year.

Now that’s progress!!

Don’t give up before the magic happens….

If I only focus on the immediate, in-my-face challenges, like the fact that his social skills have a long way to go, or that he’d still rather play Minecraft than eat, sleep, or leave the house, then it’s easy to miss his leap forward in morning self-care. I could get stuck in the short term, day-to-day grind and miss the miracle of his slow but steady development. I could fail to SEE the change; he’s actually catching up!

Progress is a Process

So, the next time you’re feeling particularly frustrated or gloomy about your child’s forward movement, or when you’re quietly asking yourself, "will my complex kid ever catch up?"– remember to LOOK for the changes that have happened in the last months or years.  Chances are, your kid is progressing just fine, you just need some perspective to truly see the changes.

Time with our kids does indeed fly by. Our complex kiddos help slow that clock down – just enough to make us appreciate the beauty of each little step!


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