I have Attention Deficit Disorder.
This is not a topic I usually talk about. In fact, only a few people know this about me. Anytime you mention A.D.D., you find controversy and debate:
- Is it real or imagined?
- Are we overmedicating kids or not doing enough?
- Medicine or behavior therapy?
I can’t tell you what the best suggestion for you or your child may be. I can only tell you my story.
As a child, I was a daydreamer. I wasn’t hyperactive, just spacey. Whenever something was boring to me, I just switched off into daydream land. It was obvious that I was inattentive, forgetful, and distracted. But my parents knew I was smart. I could forget to do homework for weeks and weeks, yet make A’s on the final tests.
Maybe I was just bored by the curriculum? Maybe it wasn’t stimulating enough for me? Or maybe I was just lazy? What if I had a learning disability? My parents took me for disability testing. Those scores came back showing that I was very bright, but normal. Night after night there were tears during homework time and then C’s on my report cards. We limped along through elementary and middle school, fighting constantly over homework and grades.
It must have been just as frustrating for my parents as it was for me. They KNEW I could get better grades. Why wasn’t it happening? I KNEW I could get better grades, but it was just SO HARD. I would start my homework and look up 30 minutes later to realize I didn’t remember a single thing I read.
I just thought I was lazy and weak and needed to try harder. Or sometimes on the bad days, that I just wasn’t as smart as everyone else.
It leaked into other areas of my life as well. Cleaning my room took hours. I would start cleaning, then find something I had forgotten about weeks before, play with that, and then decide to paint my toe nails, etc. When I turned 16 my parents were afraid of letting me get my driving license. What would happen when I wasn’t paying attention and ran a red light? Honestly, I just thought I was lazy and weak and needed to try harder. Or sometimes on the bad days, that I just wasn’t as smart as everyone else.
It all came to a tipping point when I was in my Junior year of high school. I had just taken the ACT, and y’all, I take standardized tests like a champ. A few hours of highly concentrated focus I could do (although I would pay for it later in the day when I was completely and utterly exhausted). The ACT scores came back, and I scored really high. Like 30+ high. Like no-problem-getting –into-top-tier-colleges high. The irony however, was that my high school GPA was a 2.7 and my parents were having regular conversations that “maybe college wasn’t the right track for me”.
Then the Heavens intervened. My mom happened to be talking to a psychologist friend about my problems. The psychologist asked “Has she ever been tested for A.D.D.?” Nope, I hadn’t. Because A.D.D. is that thing where kids are out of control hyper, right? That wasn’t me. I had the energy level of a sloth. However, we’d tried everything else, so we set up an appointment. The psychologist was able to verify that I had Inattentive A.D.D. Yes, I wasn’t bouncing out of my seat all the time, but I DID have A.D.D.
Then the question was, what do we do about it? The psychologist called my Doctor and together they worked out some prescriptions for medication that could help me. I was lucky that the first thing we tried, Ritalin, worked like a charm. However, I’ve had other family members who couldn’t stand Ritalin but were okay with other medications. Much like treating depression or anxiety, sometimes your Doctor has to adjust the medications until you get the results you want.
I started taking Ritalin about halfway through my Junior year. The results were instantaneous. For the first time ever, I felt like I could think in a straight line. It’s like when you get a new pair of glasses and you realize how fuzzy everything had looked before. I could actually remember things! I wasn’t so exhausted all the time from constant effort it took to concentrate and focus. By the end of my Senior year, I was able to bring my GPA up to a 3.2. I got into a fairly difficult college, kept taking Ritalin and got good grades there.
Then I graduated and started my first real job. I was still taking Ritalin, however, at this point I was starting to notice some side effects. It made me impatient, a little grumpy, and I had a hard time sleeping. Working with my doctor (I cannot stress that enough – anytime you mess with medication have an M.D. involved), we dialed back my dosage, and eventually went off of it entirely. I still have small symptoms of A.D.D. but I’ve learned to control most of them via behavioral methods. Getting a good night’s sleep and keeping even blood sugar levels seem to be most helpful to me. Using those methods, I went on to get my Master’s Degree, completely Ritalin-free. And most of the people I interact on a daily basis with have no idea I have A.D.D.
The Gift Part
One question the psychologist asked me has always stuck with me. He asked, “Are you ever angry about everything you been through – that your A.D.D. wasn’t found and treated earlier?” It’s a question I’ve thought about through the years. If I could rewind my life, would I put myself on Ritalin when I was younger?
Maybe… once I started high school, but not before that. You see, I believe that a large part of who I am, and the beautiful things about my personality (creativity, enthusiastic nature, and abilities to quickly improvise, problem solve, and multitask) come from my A.D.D. I feel that if I had started taking Ritalin any earlier, that those portions of my personality might have been stifled. Honestly, I think it’s different for every person. I know in the great A.D.D. debate of medication vs. behavioral therapy, that answer doesn’t really help. Some might need medication for their whole lives. Some might be okay with just behavioral therapies. It’s important to work with your doctor and your family to determine what the best course is.
There’s a really great book about A.D.D. called Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder by Edward M. Hallowell M.D. The thing I love about this book is that not only does it give tips about living with A.D.D, but focuses on the positives that can come with this “disorder” – including high energy, intuitiveness, creativity, and enthusiasm.
No longer did I look at A.D.D. as a disorder. Now I think of it as a gift. I’m in a profession where I can be highly creative, enthusiastic, and constantly intellectually challenged and stimulated. I don’t believe that I would be as good of a Children’s Librarian if I didn’t have A.D.D.
Do I forget stuff sometimes or misplace things? Constantly. Would I be sunk without my Google Calendar reminding me what the schedule was for each day? Yes. Are tiny details my enemy? Oh yeah. And I still have days where I warn coworkers and family members that “the ditz factor is high today so be patient”. However that’s just my life. You have to accept the bad with the good.
And that’s what I told a dear friend one day. She had called me into her office, in tears because one of her child’s teachers had suggested that her child had A.D.D. I had to reassure her that A.D.D. is not like cancer or a terminal illness. If handled correctly, it’s not going to ruin their life. In fact, there will be many good things that will come out of having A.D.D. What this means: she has a highly creative and capable child who has the potential to do great things in the world. The path they take may be the road “less traveled”, and they will have challenges ahead of them. But they will get through it. And in the end, this disorder which is now causing tears will grow into valuable strengths. The world will be a brighter place for that child (and their A.D.D.) existing.
And that’s a true gift.