I am a neat freak who feels anxiety at the sight of clutter. When the culprit of the clutter is my 16-year-old daughter, my anxiety turns into anger. Merely catching a glimpse inside her room is enough to cause my inner Hulk to emerge. As you can imagine, this has led to some family conflicts.
I’m not just talking about her room. I know the exact path she traveled from the front door to the kitchen to her room. Instead of dropping breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel, she marks her way with a jacket, sneakers and rice cake pieces. As if that’s not enough, the pantry door will be left open and all the lights along the way will stay illuminated.
I used to get angry. I felt like she did not care that her messes strewn throughout the house upset me. I felt like a failure for not being able to teach her how to be neat. But when anger didn’t change anything, I stopped getting angry at her and instead thought about it more.
I’d always suspected that she had an ADHD diagnosis like her twin brother. Besides the disorganization and messes, she is always losing and forgetting things, and she feels the need to keep busy or else she becomes bored. Most of these behaviors may sound typical of a teen, but she has struggled with these tasks since she was young. She was never the type of kid that could be entertained by a screen; instead, she liked socializing or doing physical activities like swimming.
When I filled out the paperwork for my son’s ADHD reevaluation several years ago, I remember thinking, ”She has way more of these symptoms than he does.” I decided to get her evaluated by requesting that her teachers fill out the Conners Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scales questionnaire. They identified no symptoms of the disorder in their responses. Since she received straight A’s in her honors classes and did not have any behavioral problems, I decided not to pursue it any further.
Then, three years later, two different circumstances happened around the same time. I saw Jessica McCabe’s TEDx Talk, and the pandemic began. Jessica McCabe is a woman who has ADHD and considers herself an advocate for the ADHD community. As I listened to her speak, tears streamed down my face because her struggles mimicked my daughter’s struggles in every way.
She also reminded me of my daughter with her quick wit, intelligence and engaging personality. Even though Jessica is gifted, she was unable to graduate from college. After researching ADHD, I learned that often, people with ADHD struggle in college since they need to be able to excel in time management, organization and perseverance, which are areas that are challenging for them.
The pandemic meant that my daughter was learning remotely instead of in-person. A lot of the remote learning relied heavily on email communication. For the first time, she struggled with being able to complete her assignments and keep up with the emails. At one point, she had over 100 unread emails.
The lack of structure and routine that she normally had in school made it difficult for her to pay attention and remember what she needed to do. Staring at a screen is also much less engaging than listening to a teacher speak in person.
One reason her teachers never noticed any ADHD symptoms is because all the times she forgot her Chromebook or homework or project, I brought them to her. I also helped her with organization and time management. Her plan is to attend college in three years and live on campus. After watching Jessica’s talk, I thought about the ways I helped her with her forgetful and disorganized behaviors and how I would not be there to do that when she goes to college.
For both reasons, I decided to have a more formal assessment of her behaviors and emotions. During the pandemic, she completed a virtual neuropsychological exam, which consisted of over three hours of psychological testing. And then she finally received the ADHD diagnosis I always suspected she had, eight years after her twin brother was diagnosed.
Unfortunately, my experience with the diagnosis of ADHD with my boy/girl twins is common. Boys get diagnosed with ADHD earlier and more often than girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls (12.9% compared to 5.6%). Girls are not less likely to have the disorder — rather, they are less likely to receive a diagnosis since their symptoms are different than boys. Research studies show that boys tend to present with hyperactive behavioral issues that teachers notice, whereas girls are typically inattentive and their symptoms may go unnoticed by their teachers.
Since my daughter was doing well academically and socially, I didn’t think having an ADHD diagnosis mattered. But I realized that it can be helpful in preventing future problems and understanding why she struggles with organization and time management. When a person has a diagnosis of ADHD, they can receive school accommodations like a 504 plan or an IEP. A 504 plan can also be used in a college or workplace setting. You can also receive prescribed medication and counseling when you have an ADHD diagnosis.
I also changed my perception of why she has a messy room. Instead of thinking she’s lazy or doesn’t care (common misperceptions of people with ADHD), I now realize it is because it’s challenging for her to be neat due to her disorder.
Her ADHD diagnosis has helped to improve our relationship, and I no longer feel extreme anger when I see her messy room. Instead, I’m now able to joke with her about it. She even laughs; it’s much better than yelling at one another.
Like Felix and Oscar in “The Odd Couple,” we are never going to see eye to eye on our housekeeping efforts, but that is OK. I think I might even miss the messes when she goes to college.