Disclaimer: The characters belong to Ngozi Ukazu.
A/N 1: I had two betas for this fic: happyzimm and OrSaiKellieLonore. I am eternally grateful to happyzimm for their enthusiasm and OrSaiKellieLonore for their input and corrections.
A/N 2: I'm autistic, as is one of my betas; my other beta has ADHD and went through the diagnosis process recently. This doesn't mean we know everything about autism or ADHD, but I'm not randomly guessing, either. If you have ADHD and feel I've misrepresented the condition or the diagnosis process, I'm open to hearing that, but if you don't have ADHD or autism please don't criticize the representation here.
A/N 3: This is a canon-divergent fic because Jack and Bitty are already together before Jack graduates. Jack and Bitty's neurodivergence is not meant to be canon-divergent, however. Certainly the characters aren't confirmed to have ADHD or autism in the original comic, but they have a lot of traits consistent with those conditions, and I'm trying to write them as compliant with both canon and my headcanons.
A/N 4: This chapter contains ableism. Just a heads-up.
Two weeks before Eric's ADHD evaluation, he receives a stack of paperwork in the mail asking about his symptoms and what he was like as a child. He hasn't talked to his parents about any of this yet—the ADHD evaluation process is so tied up in his mind with Jack and the new relationship that he hasn't been able to even contemplate calling his parents—but he can't remember enough about what he was like as a small child to complete the paperwork, so it seems like involving his parents is going to be necessary. Eric wants to sit in Jack's room while he makes the call, because Jack makes him feel so much calmer and more at peace, but he doesn't think he can sit in his boyfriend's room and pretend to be straight and single on the phone, so he stress-bakes a pie and then heads to his own room to make the phone call.
"Dicky!" his mother trills into the phone the moment she picks up. "I feel like I haven't talked to you in forever!"
Eric ducks his head, mildly ashamed, even though his mother can't see him and won't notice the gesture. "Sorry, Mama. I've been pretty busy with hockey and classes."
"Playoffs are coming up, aren't they?"
"In about three weeks," says Eric. "So we're practicing all the time. But that's not what I'm calling about. I'm calling because, well, I've been starting to wonder if I have ADHD. You know, attention deficit—"
"I am a teacher, Dicky; I know what those letters stand for," says his mother. "But really? You think you have that? You were always such a sweet child. Most of my students with ADHD have been real trouble-makers."
"I think making trouble is one of the ways to get diagnosed early," says Eric. That's something he read in one of the articles Jack sent him. "But I always lose track of deadlines, and I have a lot of trouble with procrastinating. And there's other stuff, too. There's something called the hyperfocus highway, where you get really focused on something that may or may not be productive, like I get with baking sometimes. And then there's a symptom called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, which means that you take criticism really, really hard, and I resonate with that, too."
"I think that's just your personality," his mother says.
"What if ADHD is the reason behind parts of my personality?" Eric presses. "I've been trying things that help people with ADHD lately, like caffeine and fidgets, and they've been helping me focus better than I ever have before." He takes a deep breath and says, "I've already made an appointment to get evaluated for a diagnosis. It's next week. I'm supposed to fill out some paperwork beforehand, and there are questions about what I was like when I was little that I need help answering. Can you help me with those?"
His mother sighs. "I suppose so."
Eric learns a lot in the ensuing conversation. He learns that he loved to run around and climb trees as a child, for hours on end, and his early elementary teachers commented on both his fidgeting and his daydreaming, but he fidgeted less once he started figure skating. He learns that when he went more than two days without figure skating he stopped sleeping and lost his temper. He learns that he started baking when he was only three and it was all he wanted to do or talk about for a long, long time. He manages to wheedle his mother into answering the questions from the form as well: questions about "low frustration tolerance" and "excessive talking" and "procrastinating" and plenty of other symptoms he might not have thought of. His mother doesn't necessarily rate him as highly on the symptoms as he would rate himself, but even from her answers it's pretty clear to Eric that he's probably on the right track in exploring this diagnosis.
When Eric has what he needs—it takes a while; the forms are long—he says, "Well, thank you, Mama. That's all I need."
"You're welcome," his mother says, somewhat stiffly. "Call me more often, will you? You shouldn't leave your poor mother hanging for five weeks from one conversation to the next."
Eric sighs. "You're right. I'll call you before playoffs start, okay? Sometime in the next three weeks." I'll call you if I get a diagnosis, he thinks but doesn't say. He's pretty sure they've both reached their limit for talking about ADHD in one day.
"All right, Dicky. Have a good rest of your day."
"You too, Mama," says Eric, and hangs up.
When Eric arrives at his diagnostic appointment—he and Jack are both skipping a morning of class for this, which is a shocking choice coming from Jack and makes Eric's heart swell just thinking about it—he's surprised that there are even more forms to fill out in the waiting room. He mailed in the main paperwork about a week ago, but apparently there are yet more questions he needs to answer. Beside him, Jack pulls out a history textbook from his backpack, followed by two stim toys, one of which Jack hands to Eric.
"Will this help?" Jack asks.
"Probably," says Eric, taking the stim toy. It's the pencil with the plastic wings. Jack had lent this one to Eric before buying Eric stim toys but had taken it back once Eric's stim toys arrived. Eric maybe should have thought of bringing his own stim toys to this appointment, but he's pretty accustomed by now to Jack being the organized and prepared one in this relationship.
"Cool," says Jack, and then he turns to his history reading while absently playing with his own stim toy.
The paperwork that Eric has to do in the waiting room isn't long. When Eric finishes it, he returns it to the receptionist and then scrolls through Twitter on his phone until he gets called back. As he stands to head in to the appointment, Jack looks up at him and smiles. Eric's pretty sure the smile is a conscious effort on Jack's part—the two of them have had some conversations about Jack's facial expressions and vocal inflection, and those conversations have given Eric the impression that Jack can sometimes communicate using those things if he has the spare mental capacity to think hard about them, but that it's very rare for him to do much with his face or vocal tone without trying. Eric smiles back nervously and then follows the doctor into her office.
When they arrive at the office, the doctor pulls back the chair on one side of the small table. Before she sits down, she turns to Eric and sticks out her hand for him to shake. "I'm Dr. Smith," she says.
"Eric Bittle," says Eric. "Nice to meet you." He can hear his accent coming out stronger than usual. That often happens when he meets new people.
Dr. Smith smiles, seeming amused. "Nice to meet you as well," she says, and then she sits down. When Eric sits, too, Dr. Smith opens the laptop that's on the table and powers it on. "I've read through all of your paperwork, but I need to ask you some questions that are similar to the paperwork anyway. Try to treat this appointment as an opportunity to add things and make corrections and clarifications to what you've already written. And remember, you'll get the best outcome if you get the correct diagnosis, so it's in your best interest to be completely honest with me."
Dr. Smith starts by asking him questions similar to what he's already answered on the paperwork—how he does with keeping up with his assignments, his frustration tolerance, whether he's been told he talks too much, whether sometimes he focuses too much on the wrong thing, how he feels when people criticize him, and things like that. Eric feels like the answer to the question about talking too much is probably obvious given how much he's rambling in response to each of these questions. Then the questions veer into territory he's not as familiar with from the paperwork or from things he's been reading about ADHD: Dr. Smith asks if his emotions "get the better of him," whether he sometimes doesn't need sleep, whether he goes on spending binges, whether he feels like he's invincible sometimes and then does things he regrets. Eric answers "no" to most of these questions—he always needs sleep, and he isn't always as careful with money as he should be, but he's never been irresponsible in outrageous ways, just in little ones.
That section of questions seems to come to a close, and then Dr. Smith asks Eric if he has anything to add.
"I guess I just wanted to say that I've been using caffeine and stim toys to try to make things better on my own, as much as possible, and they've really helped? Like, things aren't as good as I think and hope they could be, but being able to stim while reading has made it easier to get through my assignments, and I've focused better since I started drinking more coffee, and I think that means something."
Dr. Smith nods. "You've been stimming this entire appointment. I did notice that."
Eric looks down at his hand. He's surprised to find that he's still fidgeting with the winged pencil. "Oh. Right."
"You definitely have ADHD," says Dr. Smith. "The point of this appointment was to make a diagnosis, so we'll only talk broadly about next steps right now. I want you to make a follow-up appointment for two weeks from now. I don't prescribe medication at the first appointment, but we can talk about that in future appointments if you're open to it."
"I'm definitely open to it," Eric says, and then he realizes that Dr. Smith wasn't done talking.
"Good to know," says Dr. Smith. "I think you'd benefit from therapy as well. I'm guessing that what would work best for you would be really practical sessions—not delving into your feelings as much as learning life hacks and tricks to work around your brain. There's a therapist here who I think might work well with you. His name is Dr. Green."
Eric frowns. "So I'm supposed to come back and see you, but also see someone else? Why does this take two doctors?"
"I'm a psychiatrist," Dr. Smith explains. "I diagnose people and prescribe them medication. Dr. Green is a psychologist. He does therapy, but he doesn't prescribe medication."
"Oh," says Eric. "I didn't know there was a difference."
"Well, then, I suppose you've learned multiple things at this appointment," says Dr. Smith. "Now, I think it's important to remind you that psychiatry treats symptoms, not disorders. Each person's experience with a disorder is different, and it wouldn't make sense to try to treat you for symptoms you don't have. Some people with ADHD self-isolate or wind up being kicked out of social groups because they don't understand social norms. This doesn't seem to be an issue for you, so your therapy probably won't focus much on social skills. On the other hand, it seems like you struggle significantly with executive function and keeping on top of your school work, so your therapy and medication will probably focus quite a bit on helping you with that. Does that make sense?"
"Yeah," said Eric. "If I start seeing Dr. Green, will you give him the notes from this appointment?"
"Yes, if you sign a release of information," says Dr. Smith.
"Okay," says Eric.
"Do you have other questions?" Dr. Smith asks.
"Is there anyone you can refer me to who's closer to Samwell?" Eric asks. "My bo—my friend drove me to this appointment, but I don't have a car, and I don't want to make him drive me to appointments on a regular basis."
"I could try to refer you to someone closer to Samwell, but there aren't many people who specialize in ADHD in this area outside of Boston, so I think you'll have the best result if you stay here. Could you see if you could borrow a car?"
Eric thinks. "Yeah, maybe."
"Any other questions?"
Eric honestly feels like his brain has been put through a blender over the course of the appointment, so he shakes his head. He's sure he'll be kicking himself later for things he didn't ask, but he can't think of anything right now.
"Well, make a follow-up appointment to see me again in two weeks," says Dr. Smith. "If you can find a car to borrow, make an appointment with Dr. Green for as soon as you can get in—he's probably booked out at least a few weeks. But even if you can't find a car to borrow, coming back to see me and figure out medication will be important."
"Okay," says Eric, and then he exits the office and makes his way back to the waiting room. Jack looks up when Eric comes back into the waiting room, but Eric doesn't beeline for his boyfriend; instead, he stops by the receptionist and books a follow-up appointment with Dr. Smith. Once that's done, he walks up to Jack and says quietly, "If I came back here for therapy, could I borrow your car?"
Jack looks up from his textbook and says, "Yes."
"Thanks. I need to book a therapy appointment, then. Can you wait a couple more minutes?"
"Sure," says Jack, turning back to his textbook.
Eric makes the therapy appointment. It's for three weeks from now, which might be the middle of playoffs if Samwell doesn't lose right away; Eric doesn't even want to think about what that week might look like. The appointment made, Eric walks back to Jack, who stuffs his textbook and the stim toy he's been playing with into his backpack, and then the two of them exit the office and get in Jack's car.
"So, if you're going back, that means you got diagnosed, right?" Jack asks, turning the key in the ignition.
"Yeah," says Eric. "Sorry. I meant to tell you that right away."
Jack shrugs and starts backing out of his parking space. "It wasn't that hard to figure out. Is there anything else you want to say about the appointment?"
"Honestly, my brain feels a little like mush right now. Is it okay if we don't talk about it?"
"Sure," says Jack. He stops at the edge of the parking lot, grabs the aux cord, and hands it to Eric. "Do you want to put your music on?"
"Jack, you're the one who drove me here. Shouldn't we listen to your music?"
"I mean, we can if you really want to," says Jack. "But I just spent an hour and a half reading stuff for my senior seminar, which is basically my special interest, while you had to dig up details of your life for a stranger. Pretty sure you've had the harder morning, bud."
"This boy," says Eric, and then he plugs in his phone.