To tell or not to Tell?

Inspired by the clients I work with who are always wondering if they should talk about their mental illness.

My son Cole is a competitive swimmer and we attend a lot of swim meets, swim practices,etc. When you attend these events, you meet a lot of other swim parents, and

Bryce loves being in the ocean. Here he is with his brother and cousins.


typically the conversations result in questions about other children, including of course, “Does your other son swim?” A lot of swimmers are part of swim families, and all of the kids swim. Well, not so much in our family. I mean, Bryce swims. He loves the water. Bryce is sensory-seeking – meaning he craves stimulation. Swimming, taking baths, jumping in waves in the ocean – all of those things fully stimulate your entire body. So, yes, Bryce loves to swim, but he is not a “swimmer” like Cole.

Of course, when you answer, “No, he doesn’t swim,” the next questions is always, ‘what does he do?” It’s not rude or even nosy. It is just conversation and of course people think that when you have a son as into their sport as Cole your other son MUST also be into something. So, how do I answer? Sometimes I just say, well Bryce is a video game kid and not really a sports kid. But, I always think, do I need to explain more? Do I tell them that Bryce has tried to participate in sports but it is so difficult for him? Do I share with them that Bryce has special needs. How do I explain it? Do I go into detail, or leave it at “special needs?” Do I say, Bryce has behavioral issues? That isn’t really correct. Do I say, Bryce is diagnosed with mental illness? Or, do I go into details.

Bryce is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Anxiety, Executive Functioning Disorder and has developmental delays. He is probably somewhere on the Austism Spectrum. I mean sometimes I don’t even know what to say because the list is so long and the list can change.

Or, do I tell them, well we tried soccer when he was younger. But since Bryce didn’t understand how to play the game, got frustrated and had impulse control issues, he just ran into the other kids. We tried swimming. Bryce made it through two practices before he realized that you had to actually pay attention and swim back and forth in the lane over and over again. So that didn’t work. We tried diving. The description for diving said it was great for kids with ADHD. and it was at the same time as swim practice. Perfect, I thought. That was going really well until we wound up in the emergency room because Bryce got upset to the point where he wanted to kill himself (that is a whole other post). We recently tried an art class. And guess what? Bryce made it through half the class before he decided he didn’t want to do it. But, he calmly came and told me he wanted to leave. He didn’t scream, yell, call anyone names, hit anyone or throw anything. Success!!

I know I do not need to tell anyone that Bryce is diagnosed with a mental illness or that he has developmental delays. Yet, many times I do. Why? To explain why it is that he plays a lot video games? Is that me feeling a need to not feel guilty?. Probably a little. Is that our society expecting everyone these days to “do something.” Probably a little. It is also just me telling about Bryce. That is who he is. He is special. I also do it because I want to stand up against stigma. I want people to know that it is okay to talk about mental illness. That I am not afraid to talk about it. And, when I do talk about it, other people talk about it. Maybe other people will get help for their child or find services. Because we have had success for Bryce and that is because we do get him help.

So, what does Bryce do? He loves video games, drawing, animals, stuffed animals, jumping on the trampoline and swimming. He loves swimming.

Parents of Special Needs Kids? – What do you tell people about your child? Please leave a comment.


19 thoughts on “To tell or not to Tell?

  1. decodingbipolar April 17, 2016 / 3:55 pm

    Great post. As someone with 4 mental illnesses, including comorbid Bipolar Disorder and ADHD, life can be complicated to say the least. I get those question the time. “What do you do?” It is a common question to ask when you first meet someone, but it is so complex that I often don’t know where to begin. Do I keep it short and say “I write” and hope they don’t ask any more questions – meaning I’ll have to explain my life is unconventional because of my diseases – or do I go ahead and explain my situation? Sometimes I can tell right away, but other times it is scary because if I do decide to open up, I don’t know how they’ll react. I also want to avoid information overload and try to figure out if it is just light conversation or if they really want to know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tracy April 17, 2016 / 3:59 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. I completely understand and know that it can be scary. I love your blog, by the way and am so glad that we can support each other!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ANNIES EMAIL April 17, 2016 / 4:24 pm

    Really sweet and well written. I love the last paragraph.. Well Done, A

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Gayle greenberg April 17, 2016 / 4:31 pm

    I love your post. Actually Bryce does do something just not sports. And I live that he collects vintage animals. Everyone is different And although you don’t have to explain this to anyone, only by speaking about his differences do you help others understand the problems that exist and how they can reach out and help others Keep up the great work become the voice!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kitt O'Malley April 17, 2016 / 5:08 pm

    As a parent of an adolescent who has struggled with chronic physical, neurological and psychiatric issues, I LOVED this post. Thank you.


    • Tracy April 17, 2016 / 5:25 pm

      Thank you too. This means so much to me. I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kitt O'Malley April 17, 2016 / 6:22 pm

        I know what it’s like to parent a sensitive child who struggles. Too often we are blamed or judged. Not easy.


  5. SuperMommyofTwins April 18, 2016 / 10:02 am

    Great post! My daughter has ADHD and it’s mainly other children who ask why she takes medication. I explain that her brain just works a little differently from theirs and the meds help her with her work.


    • Tracy April 18, 2016 / 11:21 am

      Great explanation. Thanks so much for sharing.


  6. Pepi April 18, 2016 / 2:51 pm

    You are an amazing woman and family! And Bryce gives hugs! Last time I saw you and Bryce, I hadn’t seen him in years! What did he do? Gave me a big hug. LOVE him (and you!) Keep up the good work you do for him, mental illness, your family and yourself!


    • Tracy April 18, 2016 / 3:03 pm

      Thank you Pepi. You too are amazing. Miss you.


  7. Bryce Griffler April 19, 2016 / 7:06 pm

    I’m not a parent of a child with special needs, but I’m going to comment anyway.

    When you described the success of Bryce coming to tell you when he wasn’t pleased with art class, rather than lashing out, I started to cry. That’s unbelievable, and I can only imagine JUST how proud you were. You’re a great mom!

    Removing the stigma is so important. NOTHING about our society will change (about ANYTHING) if we don’t talk about it. Much like talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace is considered taboo in many workplaces, dancing around the subject and fishing for “words-that-won’t-offend” defeats the purpose and will stall progress. Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing. Apologize when you do say the wrong thing, and thank the person who corrected you!

    Way to go, Mom.


    • Tracy April 19, 2016 / 7:49 pm

      Thanks Bryce! I am glad that you are comfortable talking about who you are!


  8. Tinkerbell April 24, 2016 / 2:56 pm

    Wonderful post. We struggle with this question all the time. Telling has backfired, since many people–especially clueless ones–love to offer unsolicited advice. But the toughest for me has been people who I think would understand but when they hear the diagnosis, roll their eyes with the, “Oh, so a temporary, fake thing” look, as though I’m making something up. So, we never tell people, including family, a diagnosis (outside of teachers), but will let people know that she needs a little extra patience and has some learning disabilities. They can draw their own conclusions. My main goal is to protect my child and help her grow into an advocate for herself so she can protect herself when I am not around. People make a lot of assumptions about you and your child and in the end it is us against the world. The occasional true advocate/”kindred spirit” we find is like water in a barren desert of understanding.


    • Tracy April 24, 2016 / 3:40 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment and feedback. All the best to you. I like the “extra patience” line. I hope in time people will not roll their eyes and we can start to end stigma.


  9. Ariel April 25, 2016 / 12:14 pm

    Thank you so much for this. As the mother of s teen with “invisible” disabilities (ADHD, depression, anxiety) I often feel at pains to explain why we’ve opted out of the high-stakes world of AP classes, why my son is a sophomore and hasnt begun to plan for college, why we have to limit his after-school and weekend activities to accommodate for the extra time he needs to do everything.


    • Tracy April 25, 2016 / 12:25 pm

      Thank you for your comment. We should not have to explain. Do what you do and tell as much as you are comfortable. I wish you and your son the best.


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