Skip to content

Because differences are our greatest strength

DonateOpens new windowWhy support Understood?

Her intense, restless son harnessed ADHD by climbing mountains (Michelle’s story)

Stay in the know

All our latest podcasts delivered right to your inbox.

Review our privacy policy. You can opt out of emails at any time by sending a request to

Marc-André Leclerc was a skilled rock climber and alpinist who died at age 25 in the mountains of Alaska. He’s the subject of a Netflix documentary, The Alpinist. Marc-André was diagnosed with ADHD and written expression disorder as a child. Through climbing, he found an outlet for his intensity and hyperfocus — and his achievements were nothing short of extraordinary.

Marc-André's mother, Michelle Kuipers, homeschooled him and helped him learn to channel his ADHD. Michelle joins the show to talk about her son and her approach to parenting a child with ADHD. She shares how Marc-André would be more panicked about renewing a passport than about climbing mountains alone and without ropes.

Listen as Michelle describes Marc-André’s loving and generous spirit and how she wants her son to be remembered.

Episode transcript

Michelle: When he was evaluated by a psychologist when he was 7, one of the things the psychologist said was he's being poisoned by adrenaline. Just sitting in a chair, he's being poisoned by adrenaline. And so for Marc-André, it was almost the reverse, I think, of a lot of people. When he was climbing, it was like that calmed everything.

He was very focused and he no longer had that, you know, that adrenaline kind of just rushing through his system. And so he found his way into a life that aligned very well with who he was and how he was wired.

Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!" — a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.

I'm here today with Michelle Kuipers. Michelle is the mother of Marc-André Leclerc. Marc-André is the subject of the documentary, "The Alpinist," which is streaming on Netflix. In the documentary, Marc-André and Michelle talk about his experience growing up with ADHD. Thanks so much for being here today, Michelle.

Michelle: Thank you so much for having me, Laura.

Laura: For our listeners, I want to give them a little bit of background about who you are and who your son was. So your son, Marc-André Leclerc, is the subject of a documentary called "The Alpinist," which is streaming on Netflix. And your son was a solo alpine climber. And I'll describe this and you tell me if I have it right.

That means that he would climb some of the most difficult, the most treacherous mountains. Using no ropes, usually alone. And just did amazing feats throughout the world. He died in 2018 at age 25 during a climb in Alaska, and the movie details his beautiful life. And you are featured in it prominently.

The documentary is wonderful. I highly recommend it to any of our listeners. And I just, I wanted to say, first of all, I'm sorry for your loss. And thank you for being such an amazing support to him. 

Michelle: Thank you. 

Laura: I would love to start by hearing you talk to me about Marc-André and what he was like growing up.

Michelle: To describe him as a child, I used to say, and I still do, he came into this world enraged at being in the body of a helpless infant. He just started out that way. And I recognized very quickly, I had this really intense little person on my hands and it was a journey of discovery. Like, why is this child like this? Is it something I'm feeding him? Is it something I need to do differently? 

And I just recognized as we went through our, you know, our weeks and months of getting to know this child, that it was who he was, it was how he was wired. And that was when I instinctively knew he needed to move. And once he could move, we would both be happier people. And I remember laying on the carpet in front of him and he's sort of starfished on the carpet in front of me because he wants to move and he can't. And I'd have like his hands and feet. And I'd be sort of trying to show him how to alternate moving his hands and feet so he could actually crawl. And then once he got the hang of that, then he was quite unstoppable and he was the child that, you know, if you left the gate open two inches, he was through it and down the stairs. 

And I have a memory that really sticks with me. At the time we were living in the upper floor of this house. And he was crawling around in the kitchen and we had, I think the back door was open a little bit. Somebody had maybe opened it. And I just had that sudden moment where I was like, wait, where's the baby? And I'm looking around on the floor and I don't see him. And something made me stick my head out the back door.

And he was crab-crawling down the back steps. And he was about seven and a half months old at this point. And these were like treacherous back steps. They were like those wood steps that have a run, but don't have a riser. And so there's nothing behind them. And they were open to concrete steps going down into a basement.

So that was probably the one moment, like I'm usually a pretty stoic parent of like, oh yeah, you're bleeding. That's OK. Or we can handle this thing. And I just froze. And I said to my husband at the time, like, please just get the baby. So that was kind of indicative of what our journey was going to look like.

Laura: It sounds like you were already starting to have inklings of how different he was and this need to move. At that early age, were you already thinking about ADHD? Or did that come later?

Michelle: Frankly, I wasn't really labels, diagnoses, and that sort of thing wasn't really on my radar. I was 24 when Marc-André was born. I had a daughter when I was 22. I was a young, busy parent. And I was just like, OK, this is my child. And we'll just figure it out. He was not a particularly happy baby. I think it was that intensity. I remember the baby photographers calling, wanting to make an appointment with me to come in. You know, they take the free photos and then if you like them, you can buy them.

And I just said, "Don't come. He won't smile for you." And it's funny to say that now because he ended up being known for his beautiful megawatt smile. As he got a little bit older, particularly as we started to get into his school years. I think that's when words and terminology like ADHD, you know, learning disability, that sort of thing sort of entered my lexicon. Up until then, he wasn't really in a setting that identified him as somehow outside of the norm. So I understood that he was a busy and active child, both mentally and physically. And he challenged me as a parent in terms of like, how do I raise this child? How do I nurture this child? How do I discipline this child? How do we find a modicum of compatibility together so that I am not exhausted as a parent and we're also able to spread out and meet the emotional and physical and intellectual needs of the other children in the family? 

But really aside from that, he hadn't been in a setting where somebody pointed out your child is different or your child is not able to adapt or participate in this particular environment. Because I was home with them when they were small. So we spent the majority of our time outside. I read my way through mountains of library books because he loved books. So it didn't really become a difficulty until I would say he went into grade one.

So he went into kindergarten. He was a little bit dubious about kindergarten. I remember talking about it a lot. He was young, he was a October birthday. So he went into school at 4 years old. He was already clearly like very, like intellectually capable. He was already reading. Albeit at an early stage, but he very quickly went from like “The Cat in the Hat" to reading the newspaper. He was fairly precocious that way.

But kindergarten was OK. Even though I would get some funny reports from his teacher. Like he did weird things with his artwork, you know, she's like he drew underwear on his duck. Nobody else did. 

Laura: So then what changed in first grade?

Michelle: Going into grade one was when he was required to sit at a desk. And he was in French immersion, which I thought would be like intellectually interesting for him.

But being required to sit at a desk was really difficult for him. And also too, it was apparent that writing was difficult for him. So even though he was well advanced as a reader and understood concepts very well, he struggled to write. And I think at the time it was interpreted as just not wanting to do the work because he was already a restless child.

And then going into grade two, it just — at that point, I felt like it was becoming an untenable situation for him. I could see this, this bubbly effervescent child sort of losing his joy for life. And he just had this heaviness to him that I had not seen before. There always seemed to be a complaint.

And it wasn't a complaint about, you know, he was rude or he was having meltdowns or that sort of thing. But it was always a complaint that he doesn't think like the other kids or he can't sit still. And, and he was chewing holes in his clothes. So he would stand up and sit down and stand up and sit down and then, you know, gnaw on his shirt sleeve.

And I remember one day walking home from school, Marc-André said, "You know, I've been thinking…" — and this was like often a prelude for Marc-André. "And you put in like a rag or something." He's like, "You could light it and it would make a bomb." And I thought, oh my 6-year-old independently thought up a Molotov cocktail. And I wonder where this is coming from. And that sort of implanted the seeds for me of thinking, I think we did an alternative to school at this point. 

And he wasn't threatening violence at all. He wasn't advocating it. It was just like his mind was thinking "Explosives!" And I thought, well, what is like, pushing him in that direction? So that was when I made the decision to school at home. And again, like this isn't an indictment against the educational system. It was just a recognition that it didn't work for him.

So that was when we started homeschooling, and then I could modify his education to kind of suit how he was wired. And that included recognizing that he had dysgraphia. So that's a learning disability where written expression is difficult. And so I took that into consideration as well. And I limited how much writing I expected him to do.

Laura: I'm trying to remember if it was you who told me that when we talked before, or it was Marc-André in the documentary, but someone said that, as you mentioned, when he was sitting in a desk, it felt like incarceration to him.

Michelle: Yeah, it did. And I think that's a part of like, understanding that it's not a behavioral choice. It's not a decision that child is making to stand up and sit down, stand up and sit down, get up and walk around the classroom. I understand as an adult in the company of a child with ADHD, at some point, your brain just wants to cave in. I remember those days where I, it would just dawn on me that I'd been listening to someone drumming and humming for the last few hours. It just seems to be sort of this constant background noise. And, you know, at some point it works its way into your brain and you're like, oh my gosh, like I am just so done right now. I'm so tired.

Laura: I think you mean by the, not a behavioral thing, like it's not a defiance thing, it's not trying to —

Michelle: It is not a defiance. Absolutely. It's an entirely subconscious response to this internal combustion engine that won't shut off, right? And to also, I mean, I think, I believe ADHD is a disorder in our society because we live in a world that requires us to be passive learners. Whether we're children or adults, we're supposed to sit and receive information.

And then we're supposed to reproduce what we've learned via writing or some other kind of mechanism. But in a different world, ADHD is not a disorder. In a world where you have to show what you know through physical expression, it's probably normal. It's probably an advantage. Different societies, their most capable people were people who could do things with their mind and their body.

And I think to have an entire segment of the society be told that there's something wrong with them, that they have a disorder, that they don't fit, is an extremely discouraging thing for a young child to hear. It's discouraging for an adult, very discouraging message for a young child to have to process and internalize.

And I think too, like just a bit of an aside, I worked in corrections for some time for the federal government here in Canada. And one of my positions was sort of this intake position for new inmates for the education department. And I would read through these school records of these newly incarcerated men. And in many cases you could read the underlying narrative that wasn't actually explicitly written in these school reports of like how, you know, little Johnny had arrived in kindergarten, the sort of fun little kid, but had a little bit of trouble sitting still or following direction, you know. And as they sort of went through their school career, you could see how that was becoming amplified and ever more problematic. And then there's this point where you can kind of detect where that kid has now checked out of the mainstream society in a way. Like they don't care to try to please anymore.

They don't care to try to fit anymore. You know, they've been told that they're an anomaly. And that they're doing everything wrong for so long. They don't even care anymore. And so they just kind of check out and found a different crowd to associate with that probably made them feel validated. And unfortunately, the case of these guys who ended up incarcerated, that was gang life or something similar to it. That could be kind of a simplistic analysis because, you know, you want to take into account those other things that lead somebody down to making criminal choices and ending up in jail. There's more things to it. But that message that is delivered to children around a diagnosis of ADHD, I think can be a very mentally, emotionally compromising message for sure.

Laura: How did Marc-André get into climbing? 

Michelle: We did a lot of our schooling verbally. We did a lot of hands-on exploration. And he would do like his spelling while he was hopping back and forth over the couch. Or we would discuss history lessons while we're riding a bike around the block. And we would spend as much time outside and giving him the opportunity to move as much as possible while still feeding his need to be stimulated and fed intellectually. And it was actually while we were homeschooling that we discovered climbing. So I had taken him to the mall one day. And in that store, they had built this climbing wall. And you could just go and click into this harness and it was one of these automated belay things. You didn't need someone to belay you in, and they could climb it.

And so I said, "You want to try this?" Which he did, of course. And up he went like a little spider on these different routes and the person working at the store said, wow, like you should probably get your kid into this. I thought, well, that's a good idea. As active as he was, he hadn't ever really found his way into team sports.

Partly because he was so distractible and also too, he was actually kind of uncoordinated. And that was a part of the dysgraphia at an early age. So for all that he loved to move, team sports hadn't been a good fit for him. So for his birthday, I bought him a belay course. And he took the belay course, and right away, the person delivering the course said, "Wow, your kid's really good at this. You should get him into this as a sport." And he just, he just loved it. So I signed him up for the monthly membership. And he went to his first indoor climbing competition when he was 10, probably within a month or so of taking his first belay course. And he placed third. And then from there he placed first. 

And as he approached 12 or 13, we had moved to another community. We had changed climbing gyms, and he was finding the indoor climbing competition circuit stressful. He had been recognized as sort of a bit of a prodigy, and he was no longer allowed to climb with the kids in his age group.

So he was then put in with the older age group, with the men age 21 and up sort of thing. And he was this, like, 85-pound 12-year-old. And I think he was just finding the pressure a lot. And we were even more in the mountains than we had been previously. And he sort of connected with some local people and started to go out in the mountains more.

And when he was about 14 was when he worked with his dad for a summer. He had saved some money. So he spent all that money on climbing gear and sort of from there, the rest is history in terms of his journey towards becoming a professional alpinist.

Laura: I mean, Michelle, you did so much to nurture his passions and to also support where he was struggling and find healthy coping mechanisms. And, you know, he had ADHD, written expression disorder, as we would probably call it in the United States, in trouble expressing his thoughts on paper. And he graduated at 16.

Michelle: He did. Yeah. He graduated at 16 and, you know, I think it's also important for me to provide some caveats there. Like this was not always an easy journey and I wasn't always this wonderful parent, this wonderful understanding parent. Like there were moments when I struggled. I was like, I just don't understand what's going on with you right now. And I'm tired and I'm having a hard time navigating this parenting journey. 

I can think of a moment that I'm not necessarily proud of where I was in a dark room with Marc-André's little brother, coaxing him to sleep, as I desperately wanted him to sleep. And I had said to Marc-André, who was about four and a half, "Please just stay in the living room, play with your Legos or whatever. I'm just going to go put your little brother." And clearly some thought had occurred to Marc-André while I was there, and he had to share it right away. Like he just completely of course forgot what I had told him. And he burst into the bedroom, this nice dark bedroom, where I was rocking this baby to sleep standing in the middle of floor. And he raced over to me and he was so excited. He actually grabbed his little brother sort of by the leg and was kind of like swinging back and forth.

He's like, "Mom, guess what?” And something can be kind of broke at that point. And I just kind of got my foot up behind Marc-André, and I sort of propelled him out the door with my foot, saying nothing, and just like shut the door. I'm like, I can't even trust myself to talk to you right now. And that is the reality of living with an impulsive, active child, is like sometimes as a parent, you will not always be Mary Poppins. You will not always have the right thing to say or always do exactly the perfect thing at that moment. And as you navigate this journey with your child, you have to cut yourself some slack. 

You can't — I mean, of course, like we need to always want to do better as parents. Like, we need to be able to look in the mirror and say, "That was not my best parenting moment. I shouldn't have said that. I could have handled that differently." And then take that from there, you know, and try to do better because our kids deserve our best from us. But at the same time, recognize that this is not easy. And I won't pretend for a minute I had it all right or did all the right things or said all the right things. But, you know, you're putting your very best into it and you wholeheartedly love your child. You will figure it out.

Laura: I really appreciate that realness. And I have a feeling, am I right that a lot of people approach you about what is true, which is how wonderful of a parent you were, and does that make you slightly uncomfortable sometimes?

Michelle: It does. Yeah, for sure. Because the movie shows, what, a couple minutes of interviews with me, a little bit of what Marc-André had to say, being homeschooled and his relationship with me. But it doesn't encompass 25 years of parenting, not even close. And there's good days. There's hard days. And then there's all the other stuff in life that the parenting books and all the advice in the world cannot predict. You are in a way kind of building the ship at sea and having to deal with real life as it comes at you. I said to somebody else, like it wasn't like raising Marc-André there was a super highway in front of me that I knew where we were going. I said it was more like constant route finding. Every day, you learn something new about your child as you spend more time trying to understand who they are. And plus looking at what this world has to offer that may be of benefit to your child. You know, you're constantly route finding as a parent.

Laura: I want to talk about Marc-André on the mountain. When I was watching the documentary, one thing that stuck out to me was the difference between him when he wasn't climbing and when he was climbing. There was this tiny little moment when he was in Patagonia, I think, where he was walking down the stairs, and I could tell he didn't want to walk down the stairs. He just wanted to slide his bum down the railing, right? Like little moments like that. He's kind of all over the place. He doesn't want to pose for the pictures. He seems restless. He just wants to go and do his own thing. 

And then I would see him on the mountain. It's just so beautiful and almost relaxing. He moved like water. He just flowed. I'm going to guess that a lot of people walked away from hearing about Marc-André and thought, oh, he's a thrill-seeker. To me. It didn't look like thrill-seeking, it just looked like a need and like a natural instinct. Am I right about that?

Michelle: I'd say you're very right about it. And for climbers, like if you talk to a serious climber, they will tell you that climbing isn't really thrill-seeking, it's not a adrenaline rush. It's a very slow, precise, steady, and focused, um, endeavor. And Marc-André, his girlfriend and I we've talked about this. His girlfriend, Brette Harrington, who's a really accomplished alpinist in her own right. She was a competitive skier before she was an alpinist. And she will say skiing is an adrenaline rush. She says climbing is not, it's not a thrill-seeking activity. And fear is your enemy when you're climbing, because you have to make those decisions. And you have to be able to make those decisions in a place of clarity, not in a place of, like, fear and in a place of where adrenaline is, like, coursing through your brain.

And I think what's different about Marc-André was he had a lot of adrenaline. When he was evaluated by a psychologist when he was 7, one of the things the psychologist said was he's being poisoned by adrenaline. Just sitting in a chair, he's being poisoned by adrenaline. And so for Marc-André, it was almost the reverse of a lot of people. When he was climbing, it was like that calmed everything. He was very focused and he no longer had that, you know, that adrenaline kind of just rushing through his system, giving him "squirrel brain," as he called it. And so it's not like what he did is for everyone. He was kind of uniquely wired. And he found his way into a life that aligned very well with who he was and how he was wired.

Laura: Someone who was interviewed in the film said that he had this headspace that no one else seems to have. That screamed like hyperfocused to me, which can be related to ADHD. The director said filming Mark was terrifying, but he couldn't have been more relaxed. I mean, to me, when I hear people saying that it's like, you have this ADHD brain that's differently wired and something that you're passionate about, you can just, you just channel it.

Michelle: Yeah. I really think that Marc-André would have been more panicked trying to get his paperwork together for his passengers and organized than climbing. But a part of that too, is how do we help our children channel their intensity? I mean, being an intense person isn't either a good or a bad thing. But if you have no mechanism to harness and focus that intensity, then it can become a destructive thing.

And I think, and this is not at all to be critical of parents with children with ADHD. But I think there is a bit of passivity, where if a child has a diagnosis of ADHD and they're clearly an intense, restless, impulsive child, that there's almost this tendency for parent to sit back and throw their hands up in the air and say, well, there's nothing I can do — these meltdowns or these outbursts or this lack of follow-through and so on. And I don't think that's necessarily the case. And I'm — of course this is only my experience with Marc-André. This is not at all some kind of scientific analysis. But you know, when he was little, I recognized his intensity. It was having an effect on our family, having an effect on his relationship with his sister, having an effect on her.

And I just thought we cannot function in a household with a almost-2-year-old who's flinging himself on the floor, screaming over every little perceived frustration. And I was fairly firm. I was like, we're not going to do this. You're going to go into your room until you calm down. You're going to apologize. And when you come out, we're going to talk about how you feel. And I made it really clear. Like you can tell me how you feel. We can talk about how you feel, but you can't dominate our family with these out-of-control emotions either, right? I just refuse to live with an emotional terrorist. 

And this was not based on any kind of parenting book or guidance. This is me as a 26-year-old young mom, trying to figure it out and sort of going with my instinct. But to his credit, he very quickly did respond to that. He did learn to take a moment to pause and turn around and say to me, "Hey, I'm mad about that." And I'd be like, "I totally hear you, bud. That doesn't mean I'm going to go wrench that toy away from your sister and give it to you. But you can tell me that you feel that way." And of course, like all of this is taken in the balance of recognizing this child needs to move. This child needs activity. And making sure we're getting outside, making sure that he has all the other things that he needs to be able to be emotionally balanced.

Laura: We've talked about different ADHD symptoms here and there. I would love to hear directly from you, like, of all the ADHD symptoms, which ones do you think he struggled with the most?

Michelle: I think it was the distractibility. Like when he was focused on something that he was intensely interested in, it wasn't an issue. But when — all the other life stuff, you know, he did have those experiences where he's getting his passport 24 hours before he supposed to fly to Argentina and he gets to Argentina and he realizes he doesn't have pesos to pay for the hostel. And the only way to do that is to go back to the airport to do the exchange, but there's no pesos to pay for the taxi. So it's like a 10 kilometer hike back to the airport, and then he realizes he's in the wrong terminal. And so fortunately he did figure things out on the fly when he had to. But those were probably his biggest challenges — was just like the mundane life stuff.

Laura: It's just so incredible. I know from the documentary that he typically wouldn't practice his routes, so everything was brand new as soon as he arrived. And to be able to remain focused, that's amazing.

Michelle: Yeah. Well, if — he didn't practice those routes, Marc-André would go into these alpine environments and he would solo a mountain that he hadn't seen before. That's not to say that Marc-André didn't practice. So he didn't just walk himself into an environment that he didn't have a reasonable expectation that he could handle what was to come. So when he soloed Mt. Robson, he had spent a couple of years in the Rockies. He had been doing all kinds of ice climbs in preparation.

He had progressively soloed a number of different routes that he saw as like a reasonable buildup to Mt. Robson. So he was very systematic. Somebody had mentioned something about, what, he didn't even know what he was doing. He just went in there and he climbed whatever without practicing. And that just seemed really irresponsible.

But, you know, he practiced continually before he went and tackled these on-site free solo alpine climbs. So he was actually a very systematic and well-prepared person.

Laura: But not about his passports.

Michelle: Not about his passports.

Laura: Did Marc-André ever say anything to you about how his ADHD felt when he was climbing?

Michelle: He didn't specifically say anything to me about that. Although he did say that he felt calm and focused, and I understood that. I actually went climbing with him. He took me climbing. He would just go up the wall in front of me, unroped, and then he would tie himself in, and then he would bring me up the wall. I could see it. Like it wasn't even something he needed to explain. I could see that he was completely focused and completely calm when he was climbing.

Laura: Michelle, what kinds of feelings as a mother did you have knowing that Marc-André's passion was doing something very dangerous?

Michelle: It's not easy. The stupidest things people would say to me was like, "Well, don't you worry?" And I would say, "Well, one, what parent, doesn't worry?" What parent does not worry about their children all the time? You worry about when they go to school, you worry about them crossing the street. You worry about them riding the bike to the store by themself for the first time. You worry are you feeding them the right thing? Like they get a bee sting, you're like, oh my gosh. Are they going to be anaphylactic? Like you worry all the time as a parent. So that's one of the silliest questions you can ask any parent ever. 

And in the case of Marc-André climbing, you know, I had to kind of pick apart what that meant. Did I think he was being foolish? Did I think he was taking unnecessary risks? and the answer to those things was no. I understood that he was incredibly skilled at what he did. I'd seen him invest hours and hours of practice into it while he was still living at home. He ice-climbed the side of our chimney. He ice-climbed the trees in the yard. He would practice the hooking and clipping over and over again until he had that movement absolutely perfected. So I understood he had the skill set. And he was not a wanton risk-taker, either. So did I worry that he was using poor judgment? No. Did I worry that he was looking for thrills? No. 

But did I worry about the environments that he was in — about what he was doing? Of course I did. And we all did. His whole family did. And particularly as a teenager, when he started to go out into these more extreme environments, as a parent, when you're involved with your child's sport, typically, you know, you're driving them to the hockey game or you're sitting beside the soccer pitch, cheering them on. You know, parents are typically very involved. And the more their child gets involved in the sport, the more involved the parent gets, right? So you're like that hockey mom, like you are up at dawn every weekend and you're driving and you're packing bags. 

And what Marc-André was becoming involved in was not something that I could play a part in. I couldn't even drive him to the trailhead. Like I didn't have a four-by-four. I didn't understand what he was doing. He was not doing something with other kids who had parents doing the same thing, where we could all like, get together and talk about what they were doing. So I had to start letting go of him at an age where you wouldn't normally expect to start letting go of your child.

And so he was by 14 connecting with these climbing forums and he would go on these, like multi-day climbing trips, where he was completely incommunicado. There was no communication for several days. And I honestly think that just redefines anxiety. As a parent, it was just like, time was like molasses. It was so slow. And I would just being waiting to hear that phone call, right? Or have him pull up to the house. But I recognized that was my journey. And for me to navigate through and not to put that on him, as to be like, well, I'm worried when you're gone, therefore, I don't want you to do this. 

And he understood that I worried, he understood that I was always just waiting for him to come home and he made every effort to do so. So even at like 15, when they're on a climb where someone says, you know what, it's just going to be way too long to hike out. Let's just, you know, sleep on the trail one more night and hike out in the morning.

He was like, no, I'm going to hike out because I know my mom was waiting up. And so he would hike through the night to get to cell reception, to give me a call. 'Cause he knew I wasn't sleeping anyway. But at the same time, he knew that I wouldn't tell him not to do it. And we entrusted him. And his dad and I had this conversation with him. We said like, this is where you need to think like an adult. When you're a kid, the adults in your life tell you what to do and you take direction from those adults. But now you're in these environments with these other adults, you have to look out for yourself. You have to look out for your own safety. You can't assume that because someone's 10 years older than you or 20 years older than you, that they know better than you do in this environment. Because this is your safety and your life on the line. So you need to make those decisions for yourself. And he did. 

He very quickly became this sort of de facto leader of some of these climbing trips, even though he was by far the youngest on the trip. Because he had the ability to make those judgment calls when they needed to be made. It was very real, but I really do feel like as parents, we cannot let our desire for our children to be safe all the time run roughshod over our children's need to become who they're meant to be.

Laura: Michelle, I've used a lot of adjectives to describe Marc-André and what I've perceived in the two-hour span of time in which I got to observe him, which is nothing in the grand scheme of things. How do you want people to remember your son?

Michelle: I think I'd want people to remember him as someone who just loved life. He was a joyful person and also was just a very loving person. He was deeply generous from the heart and he was just gentle spirited. And in fact, he had one tattoo and that was a benignus animus he had on his arm, which is like gentle spirit.

One of the things that he said to me that's always stayed with me — I think it's very wise for someone who was very young — was that you only visit a place for the first time once. And what he meant by that was like absorb every part of it. And he wasn't talking the first time you visit New York City. He was talking the first time that you're walking down this beautiful trail and you're going into the mountains and absorb all of it.

You know, and for anyone who's kind of navigating a diagnosis of ADHD, whether it's for themself as an adult or a child, sometimes loving life and being joyful can seem really far away from that diagnosis. And so that's what I would want people to take away is that it is possible to become a sort of fully self-actualized autonomous individual, that these diagnoses don't need to mean a lifelong struggle. And it's really not about doing something like what Marc-André did. It's more like doing the thing that is true to you.

Laura: Michelle, it's just been so lovely to have you here. I'm so grateful that you took the time with me and that you shared so much new information, things that I didn't know and things that people who watched the documentary wouldn't know. So thank you. And thank you for your honesty.

Michelle: Thank you.

Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "ADHD Aha!" on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about the show. We rely on listeners like you to reach and support more people. And if you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you. You can go to to find details on each episode and related resources. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G, slash ADHD Aha. 

Understood is a nonprofit and social impact organization. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine. 

Jessamine: Hi, everyone. 

Laura: Justin D. Wright created our music. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And I'm your host, Laura Key, editorial director at Understood. Thanks so much for listening.


  • Laura Key

    is executive director of editorial at Understood and host of the “ADHD Aha!” podcast.

    Latest episodes

    Tell us what interests you

    Stay in the know

    All our latest podcasts delivered right to your inbox.

    Review our privacy policy. You can opt out of emails at any time by sending a request to