ADHD is real, and I am a real living example. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was an adult who was teaching kids with ADHD. My family could attest that I was hyper, bouncing off walls, and could barely sit still. However, I was a good student, even though my teachers claimed I was highly disorganized (a common feature of those with ADHD). I struggled during my childhood and early adult years, and my self-esteem took a huge hit.
I knew there was something wrong with me, but there wasn’t a word for it. I would constantly lose things, and completing a simple task took a lot of effort. I would come to class with papers and books falling out of my book bag. My 6th grade social studies teacher even called me an idiot. During boring classroom lectures, I would draw pictures of monsters, and I certainly felt like a monster myself. I specifically remember my mom (jokingly) calling me “stupid” when I went to my little league game and forgot my baseball glove.
I successfully finished my bachelor’s degree, although it was a struggle. I couldn’t concentrate, became bored easily with my studies and, at one point, almost dropped out. Getting my master’s degree for teaching was a lot easier since most of my classes relied on creativity — something I excelled at. Actually, creativity is something most people with ADHD excel at. When asked to come up with an idea for an essay or a lesson plan, my problem was that I had too many ideas and had to narrow them down.
In 1997, I became a middle school English and social studies teacher. I was informed which of my students were diagnosed with ADHD. There were two, in particular, who were very similar to myself at that age level — obedient but confused, smart but disorganized, and always shaking. Suddenly, a light bulb popped up inside my brain: “Could I have ADHD?” I asked myself, finding out — after several tests from a psychiatrist — that I was.
My diagnosis was a relief. There was a reason for my behavior. I wasn’t a bad person for tying my dog up at the donut shop, walking home, then suddenly realizing I left her there. I wasn’t a bad person for constantly misjudging time and being late. There was a reason I was so impulsive and would drive to McDonalds in another state during the middle of the night. There was a reason I would zone out when my parents were trying to talk to me.
Although I knew there were reasons for all of these events, they were not excuses. Having an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t give one the right to do all the things mentioned. However, the diagnosis can help a person seek medication, which truly saved my life. Ritalin is a lifesaver for those who truly need it. Unfortunately, it has become the go-to drug for children who are misbehaving.
In my case, the diagnosis made me stop shaming myself for being disorganized and led me to seek new digital solutions, such as PDAs, to keep all my information at my fingertips. By 2000, I no longer took sticky notes only to never be able to find them. The iPaq Pocket PC, which came with a stylus, let me take notes on a handheld device that fit perfectly in my pocket.
The past 15 years or so have been great for people living with ADHD. Technological advances with smartphones, computers, noise-cancelling headphones, and GPS systems for driving have all made this disorder easier to live with. Sometimes, I wish I had known about my disorder earlier in my life so I wouldn’t develop such low self esteem and fear of social situations. However, no matter how late the diagnosis was, I am happy I was able to use it to help children overcome everything I faced as a child.