Experinences w/ ADHD by your resident inattentive type
I realized I hated – no, despised – school when I was in third grade. I had already been marked by all my teachers as either lazy or stupid by the middle of that winter, but I had yet to acknowledge the general awfulness of the situation. At the time, I still saw the world through the distorting lense of an oblivious, optimistic nine year old. That changed the day that my homeroom teacher, Ms. Burke, became frustrated with me handing in crumpled pieces of paper from the bottom of my backpack. She marched over to my cubby, unzipped my lime green, rolling bag, and dumped its contents onto the floor. I tried to repress the tears as she barked, “You need to keep your backpack more organized. Clean this up.” I stared down at the pile of unfiled paper, pink Legos, Ticonderoga pencils, and unidentifiable gray powder. I squatted down towards it, letting my tears fall upon the already overflowing mess.
My classmates, who were disgusted by what they had seen, stopped talking to me after that. I felt like an alien, a distractible puppy in a world of sensible cats. My teachers, of course, were cat people, so they continued to punish me, doubting both my dedication and intelligence. I was a bit indignant; I was trying hard, and – for a time – I thought I was smart. Despite my distractibility in the classroom and the fact that I couldn’t add single digit numbers, I was able to read books far above my grade level and had taught myself basic programming language. Still, in the scheme of things, the ability to get a mark other than “needs improvement” on a report card seemed far more impressive to me than anything I had ever done.
My sixth grade geography teacher, Mr. M, was the strikingly intelligent and well-spoken principal of the school. He intimidated me at first, but I began to feel excited at the prospect of going to his class each day, wanting more than anything to learn. On my report card, he described me as a bright, strong student, words that I had never before heard in combination with my name. For once, I felt like there was a chance that I might succeed.
That spring, my friend, Sidney, bragged to me that she had been accepted to CTY, explaining that it was an academic camp that admitted students based on their standardized test scores. Boosted by Mr. M’s confidence in me, I decided that if she got into the program then so could I. When I approached my parents about the camp, they agreed to let me try out. About a month later, I received a letter from CTY informing me that I received their award of high honors and was admitted to the program. I returned to school feeling more self confident than ever.
My confidence, however, was short lived. A few weeks into seventh grade, my advisor and history teacher, Mr. O told me to stay after class. “I need to call your parents,” he informed me. “Your science teacher is complaining that you laugh too much in class and take everything as a joke. Your math teacher tells me that you never pay attention in class. Your French teacher says that you never appear to be listening when she speaks, but always know the answer when she calls on you. You always talk to other students during class during Latin. You are one of the best students in my class, but it seems that it is the only one you are trying in.”
I felt so horrified that I couldn’t swallow for the rest of the day. I told Sidney what had happened, and she said, “You might have ADHD.”
When I got home that night, I googled the symptoms. “Forgetful, misses details, difficulty focusing on one thing, unorganized, seems not to listen when spoken to,” I read. That’s so me, I thought.
My mom, on the other hand, did not think that was me at all. “Are you kidding me?” she rolled her eyes. “You don’t have ADHD. Those kids really can’t sit still. I have seen you spend the entire day reading Harry Potter. Of course, it is hard for you to focus on things you’re not interested in.”
“I don’t think you have ADHD,” my dad agreed with her.
I was nothing if not persistent, so by the time I went for my annual check up in June, my dad agreed to ask the pediatrician about how I could get tested.
“Educational testing is expensive,” she informed us, “so I wouldn’t do that unless you really think you have it. I can give you some forms to hand in to your teachers. They can evaluate you, then we can diagnose you if you have it.”
The next September, I handed the forms into the administrative assistant at my school, Ms. Blackman. The leaves turned red and orange, then fell off trees as September turned into October, then November, then December. Winter break neared, and I would be moving to California in a few weeks. Finally, I asked Ms. Herlein, the academic resource coordinator, what had happened to my forms. “Your teachers have them,” she snapped angrily at me. “We will return them to you when they’re done.” They never gave them to me or my pediatrician.
My closest friend in California, Mia, had ADHD, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. She was a member of SAFE (student advisors for education), which aimed to “educate, mentor, and support students, parents, and teachers regarding the challenges and strengths of learning disabled (LD) and ADHD students.” Convinced that I had ADHD, she brought me to a few meetings. The members of SAFE discussed ways to change the educational system to make it more LD friendly. At the time, I felt awkward because I didn’t know if I had an LD. If I could rewind time, I would share what I know now: that teachers should recommend students for testing, respect accommodations, and listen when a student comes for help.
The next fall, I moved to DC and started at a new high school. Since I did well on the placement test and in my eighth grade science class, I was recommended for Honors Biology. I got a 56% on the first test, so I asked my mom to get me a tutor. She agreed and asked the teacher, Mrs. C, if she had any recommendations at Back to School Night. “No,” Mrs. C responded, “students in this class don’t need tutors. Lauren belongs here, she will be fine.” Unfortunately, she was wrong, and my performance in the class only went downhill from there. Guiltily, Mrs. C agreed to meet with me every day in order to help me review the material we learned in class. She was able to help me raise my grade to an 80%, but my confidence was severely depleted.
That summer, we moved back to Baltimore, and I started at another school the next fall. It was an easy transition socially, and I quickly fit in with my classmates, who invited me to parties, sleepovers, and hangouts almost immediately after meeting me. However, although there was decidedly less work at my new school, I still felt hopeless. My worst class was Ecology, which everyone else claimed to be an easy A. The first quarter, I got a 70% in that class. I’m glad I like partying so much, I thought bitterly, because that’s all the college I’m getting into will be good for. I complained to my friend Maria about my poor performance, and she responded, “What do you expect? You never pay attention. It’s your own fault for not trying.” Her comment made me feel sick to my stomach, and I started spending much of my free time in the library after that, wanting to prove that I could succeed.
The time spent studying, however, did not seem to help. Near the end of the year, math became particularly challenging for me, as I still struggled with adding and multiplying. Furthermore, I always felt especially distracted in that class. I tried to listen to my teacher, Mr. F, but somehow - driven by some subconscious force that I was unaware of - I always found myself talking to whatever student sat next to me. I began to get C’s on all my tests, so I met with Mr. F after class to ask for help. After getting one test back, I apologized to him, wanting him to know that I really did care about his class. “I know, Lauren,” he said. “Your focus just isn’t always there. Just work hard, we’ll get those grades back where they should be.” I thanked him and quickly ran out of his classroom, trying to hide the tears. As soon as I reached the hallway, I started to bawl.
That night, I told my mom that I wanted to be tested for ADHD again. “I don’t think you have it,” she said, “but if you think you do, then let’s get you tested.” She emailed my dad that night, and - although he was still skeptical as well - he agreed to set it up.
HP, a thin, Asian woman with distinct cheekbones, was a psychologist who would determine what learning disabilities I had (if any). She administered the WISC, an IQ test with problems ranging from adding basic numbers to completing high level math, assembling blocks in patterns to defining the relationship between two words, naming all the foods you can think of in two minutes to remembering pictures and words. The test was a grueling, five hour long process. After we were finished, Dr. P gave me forms for my teachers to fill out about my behavior in the classroom. That night, when I got home, I kept thinking, what if nothing’s wrong? What if this is how I’m supposed to feel? I tried to push the thoughts from my mind, but I couldn’t wait to meet with her in two weeks.
The same night, convinced that the bottle read detergent, I put soap in the dishwasher. I had already done it twice before. My mom tiredly came to my room, telling me to clean up the kitchen full of bubbles. “I’m sorry,” I cringed. “It was an accident.”
“No, Lauren,” she sighed. “You were just being careless.” She then proceeded to explain the difference between making a mistake and being careless. Mistakes are hiccups of fate, things you never could have predicted. Carelessness, on the other hand, is synonymous with negligence. She was right, I could have prevented it … or at least, someone else could have. I felt incompetent and disgusted with myself.
When we returned to Dr. P’s office, she explained the WISC results, “The test has four sections: verbal, nonverbal, working memory, and processing speed. Lauren scored highly in both the nonverbal and verbal section and exceptionally in the working memory section. Her processing speed, however, was very low - only in the 20th percentile. She’s been compensating for this with her high scores in the other areas. Even with the low processing speed, her IQ is 117, which means she is bright. Still, she just processes things more slowly than other people. For example, Lauren, what’s 3 x 4?”
“See how she needed a second to answer the question even though she already knew the answer?” Dr. P asked my mom. “It’s just that second that makes the difference.”
“What’s 5 x 4?” my mom tried me.
“20,” Dr. P interrupted. “See what I mean? We would be able to answer that just off the top of our heads, but she needs a bit longer”.
“So what does that mean?” my mom asked her. “Does she have ADHD?”
“Considering her scores and the forms filled out by her teachers,” Dr. P responded, “I would be inclined to make a diagnosis. I will be writing up an official report with accommodation recommendations, but right now I will go over some options as for what you can do to help her. One option is tutoring and counseling, which means that someone would teach her strategies for dealing with some of the issues that come up with ADHD. The other is medication”.
“I don’t want her medicated,” my mom decided.
That day, on the car ride home, I started crying. Would things be different for me if I had known this years ago? I wondered bitterly.
For the next few weeks, I continually begged my mom to put me on medication. Each time I brought it up, she told me it was not an option. Finally, some time in early-October, I got a text message from my mom, saying that she had spoken to a nurse who put her son on medication. “You can try medication,” she told me later that night. “But if it doesn’t go well, then we’re taking you off of it”.
Even though my mom had agreed to let me try medication, the problem of getting an appointment with a child psychiatrist, which are in high demand, remained. Finally, after two weeks, my mom managed to schedule an appointment with BK. When I met her, she told me, “There are non-stimulant medication options, but they take awhile to build up in your system. You’ve waited long enough already, I don’t want you to have to wait one more day”.
That night, she sent me home with a prescription for Concerta (extended release Ritalin). The pill has a colorful coating (cream at 18mg, gray at 27mg, white at 36 mg, red-brown at 54mg) of fast-acting medicine. This layer dissolves within an hour of being exposed to a wet environment (the gastrointestinal tract). That exposes a semi-permeable membrane, which slowly - over the course of 7 or 8 hours - allows water to enter the core of the pill. The liquid displaces the drug, thus releasing it into the system.
I always hear people talking about the awful side effects of Ritalin, but I don’t really feel that different. The first few times I took it, I felt sick to my stomach, and it still makes me feel less hungry. I do not, however, feel antisocial or aggressive, and I certainly have not slipped into psychosis. Yet, it is not a solution to every problem either. My processing speed is still slow, I’m still a bit careless, and I continue to have impulsive moments. It does, however, make a difference. I can choose what I want to focus on. I can think more clearly. I can succeed, but I still feel the effects of my learning disability.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my science teacher’s classroom, finishing up a test when another student asked, “Do you have ADHD?”
“I don’t particularly believe in ADHD,” he responded slowly and deliberately. Ugh, I thought, he doesn’t understand. There are so many more levels - the processing speed, the uphill battle, the pain - that he just doesn’t understand. I felt like I was going to throw up knives, but I just sat there quietly and tried to focus.
The story of Relisha Rudd has haunted Washington, D.C., for more than two years. On Feb. 26, 2014, the 8-year-old disappeared from the homeless shelter where she was living with her family, and she still has not been found.
She was last seen in March 2014 in the company of Kahlil Malik Tatum, a 51-year-old janitor who worked at the shelter and was known to frequent the company of other small girls living there.
Tatum’s body was found in a D.C. park on March 31, 2014, apparently having died by suicide after killing his wife. He had recently been spotted at a nearby store buying industrial-size garbage bags and lime, which can be used to decompose dead bodies, according to the New York Daily News.