Once upon a time, there was a girl. Or, as she was called back then, a tomboy. There were lots of other things she was called back then, too. Among the nicer ones were, “wild child”, “spaz”, and “fortheloveofGODwillyousitstill”. There really wasn’t a name for it back in the 70s, but the tomboy child, aka me, had AD/HD. It’s one of the rare occasions in which I have been ahead of the trends. An AD/HD hipster, that’s me. “I was AD/HD before it was fashionable.”
Back then, the brain scans that show the dopamine deficiency in the pre-frontal lobe of the brain weren’t done. And at the time, kids really weren’t medicated. No, treatment for AD/HD was geared toward a much more holistic approach. My parents were told to spank/smack me more often, reduce my sugar intake, put me in sports, and have me skip a grade. Being dedicated parents, they did all of this. Oddly enough, despite such sound advice, my AD/HD didn’t abate. I was intelligent and bored, and the teeny little Catholic school had no idea what to do with me. So I went from being well liked in my class to being bullied by my new class. I was a “baby”, being a year younger and was seen as an invader. My new classmates were pretty clever, not getting caught as they tripped me, hid my books, stole my pens and pencils, and generally made sure that I was in trouble for being unprepared on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, I didn’t react to this with any sort of maturity. I learned to fight.
Being bullied made me hate most of my peers, and made me not trust the rest of them. I had a few friends, mostly boys, as I acted more like them than I did the girls. I related better to people who liked to play, roughhouse, engage in sports, and be genuine than the prissy little China dolls that were in my class. And really, if a boy bullied me and I decked him, he respected that I fought back. Girls, not so much.
My teachers vacillated between loving me because I was a superior student academically to gritting their teeth in frustration at the fact that I was in constant motion, a chatterbox, and bored stupid. But skipping me another grade wasn’t an option; I didn’t have the maturity.
As an adult, I majored in psychology in school. My adviser was a leading researcher in the field of AD/HD, and I sought his counsel on some behavioral techniques I could use in managing it. I have never been medicated beyond the use of caffeine when I had a paper or project or exam, but I also know the pitfalls of Adult AD/HD if it is unmanaged. And now, as an adult, I hear other educators, parents, and even some psychology professionals discussing AD/HD as a cross to bear, a huge burden to be handled, and the bane of the person’s existence. Is it a disorder? A deficiency of a vital neurotransmitter in the brain? Yup. But kids, and even adults, who have AD/HD may as well have their own scarlet letters on their foreheads.
Quite frankly, this pisses me off.
There are aspects of AD/HD that can inhibit my life. I do not dispute these in the least. But AD/HD is not a curse. It is not a horrible affliction in my life, and in actuality, it has some really amazing benefits.
My job requires me to be able to manage multiple projects at once, shifting gears among them several times a day. I am able to do this with ease. I can be reading an article in order to write test items to it, stop to answer the phone, check my email, answer a question from a coworker, and go right back on the page to the word where I left off, without having to reread any of it. The flow of information keeps right on going. I do use organizational strategies such as lists and calendars to keep deadlines straight, and for my home life, it helps me remember dates and important events. But being able to manage the lives of 5 people (when the Kellions were younger)? No problem.
Another beautiful thing about AD/HD is creative thinking. Most kids with this prefer not just to think outside the box, but to live outside the box, and then use the box for a completely unique purpose. This is something that employers can utilize, teachers can encourage, and family members can enjoy. We have the mental capabilities to see new solutions to problems, approach issues with innovative ideas, and create new methods of doing things from the scraps of others’ failures. This, my friends, is not just good; it’s amazing.
AD/HD is comorbid with depression in approximately 85% of those who have it. That, to me, is unacceptable. While depression is largely genetic, there is absolutely an environmental component here that doesn’t need to be. Perhaps if society, especially parents and teachers, learned to rethink their own paradigms about AD/HD, and work with it instead of simply trying to squash it with drugs, those numbers would drop. Children see themselves through the eyes of the adults around them. If those adults are constantly complaining about them, and moaning about having to “deal with” their AD/HD, why wouldn’t they become depressed? They start to see themselves as their disorder. They are no longer a kid who has this unique aspect to their brain, but as a disease, something insidious to treat and hide, since we cannot cure.
It’s long past time that we look beyond the old ways of equating AD/HD to some horrific curse, and start to see it for what it can be. Teach children behavioral accountability, coping strategies, and be their support system. If meds are needed for success, provide them. But remember that first and foremost, behavior strategies and often therapy are absolutely integral to their lives. Encourage the creativity and brain power these kids have, and the results will be far better than what we see today.