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10 Things I Wish I Knew As a Kid With ADHD

Growing up with ADHD, I was embarrassed and ashamed. It took me years to find the joy in my life. Here’s what I wish I knew about ADHD then.

I wasn’t officially diagnosed with ADHD until my 30s. My whole life, though, everyone knew I wasn’t like my neurotypical peers. I was always a little spacier, a little more socially awkward. My behaviors haven’t changed much since I was a kid, but my attitudes toward them sure have. I’ve learned to work with my disorder; I’ve learned that some things aren’t my fault. When I think of the awkward, confused kid I was, I want to reach down and hug myself. Being an undiagnosed kid with ADHD is hard. I wish I’d known some things.

1. This is not your fault. You have a diagnosable, quantifiable illness, no matter what Tom Cruise and some pundits say. You are not neurotypical: Your brain doesn’t work the same way that other peoples’ do. That’s not something you can control. It’s not something you can change. You can work with it. You can get help with it. But your ADHD is not your fault. Its effects should not produce moral or spiritual blame. ADHD lapses are not a character deficiency.

2. Just because it’s an A doesn’t mean it’s your best. You can coast by because you’re smart, and because an A- still counts as an A on your report card. But you can do better. Don’t shrug your shoulders just because you got the grade without working. You need to learn to work as hard as everyone else. You can get all the questions right, if you study.

3. Learn how to study-and how to read. You don’t have the foggiest idea of how to study. That’s OK, but you need to learn. This will give you A’s instead of A minuses, and it’ll help once you get to college. You also need to learn to read: Everyone else does not skim vast parts of the text. You have to read every.single.word., without skipping back and forth. This is a skill that will take time. When you go to grad school, you will find that you can’t read Martin Heidegger in skims and skips.

4. It is not normal to spend math class playing with your erasers. Yes, Mr. Unicorn Eraser and Mr. Fairy Eraser can build a house together on your pencil case. But that doesn’t help you learn multiplication tables. Don’t tune out just because you don’t get it. Don’t stick to what comes easy and what seems interesting. You may need medication to help you with this one-or at least cognitive behavioral therapy. That’s OK.

[“What Is Wrong With Me?” ADHD Truths I Wish I Knew As a Kid]

5. There’s nothing wrong with meds. You thought your friend on Prozac was a freak. If you took Ritalin, you wouldn’t have to spend half of seventh period walking the halls while you pretended to be in the bathroom. Well-timed medication can help you, if your parents are behind it (yours wouldn’t be, but they should).

6. You are not a space cadet. You get called a lot of things: an airhead, a dumb blonde, spacey. You are none of them. You have a problem concentrating on things. These things include people and conversations. You have trouble remembering names, faces, and dates (especially for homework assignments). This is a symptom of your ADHD. It’s not a moral failing or a sign that you’re dumb.

7. You will lose things. In kindergarten, you lost your book bag while it was slung over your shoulder. You forget things, like lunch money. You lose locker keys. This is normal, and it will not go away (you’ll lose your debit card more times than you can count). It’s OK. You’re “ADHD normal.”

8. Social stuff is hard. You tend to burst out with something unrelated in the middle of a conversation. You interrupt people. Your contributions to a normal talk may be completely irrelevant to everyone but you. All this turns off other kids, and makes it hard to have friends. You can realize you’re doing this stuff and work on stopping it. It’ll make your life easier. But all this is normal ADHD behavior. It’s not because you’re an inveterate loser.

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

9. Structure makes it easier. When you’re in Catholic school, the homework books, underlining, and strict rules-down to what pen to use-may be annoying. But it will keep the worst of your symptoms at bay. Just writing down your homework in a designated book means you’re more likely to do it. Putting books in a certain part of your desk means you won’t lose them. This might be the easiest way to pull it together without professional help.

10. This all will get easier. One day, you’ll grow up, and people will call you “Luna Lovegood” affectionately instead of slamming you as a dumbo. You will get an actual psychiatric diagnosis and find out coping tips for your disorder. You’ll still lose your keys, and your phone, and your debit card, and you’ll forget garbage day, and you won’t hear what your kids are saying. But you won’t see these things as a moral failing. You won’t waste emotional energy on shame. You’ll know it’s your ADHD. You’ll roll your eyes. And you’ll keep on going.

What do you wish your younger ADHD self knew?

[We’ve Got Your Back: 75 Tricks By (and For!) Women with ADHD]

3 Related Links

  1. I wish I knew more coping strategies that I now use– such as recording long meetings or college lectures and listening to them later to extract information I might have missed. I wish I knew to live and die by the day planner. I wish I knew the importance of routines. Or to take notes to keep my mind focused. More than anything, I wish I knew I had ADD, and that it would explain my skittering mind, or why I lose things or why I hyper focus on things I love, or why I’m predominantly visual. I wish I knew all of it, it would have helped my self-esteem at an age that is so wrought with challenges.

  2. For me the hardest thing was trying to describe what it is like to have ADHD, I came across this a few years ago on the net (Original Author u/TheBananaKing on Reddit – original post has been deleted)

    For those that just don’t understand:

    ADHD is about having broken filters on your perception.
    Normal people have a sort of mental secretary that takes the 99% of irrelevant crap that crosses their mind, and simply deletes it before they become consciously aware of it. As such, their mental workspace is like a huge clean whiteboard, ready to hold and organize useful information.
    ADHD people… have no such luxury. Every single thing that comes in the front door gets written directly on the whiteboard in bold, underlined red letters, no matter what it is, and no matter what has to be erased in order for it to fit.
    As such, if we’re in the middle of some particularly important mental task, and our eye should happen to light upon… a doorknob, for instance, it’s like someone burst into the room, clad in pink feathers and heralded by trumpets, screaming HEY LOOK EVERYONE, IT’S A DOORKNOB! LOOK AT IT! LOOK! IT OPENS THE DOOR IF YOU TURN IT! ISN’T THAT NEAT? I WONDER HOW THAT ACTUALLY WORKS DO YOU SUPPOSE THERE’S A CAM OR WHAT? MAYBE ITS SOME KIND OF SPRING WINCH AFFAIR ALTHOUGH THAT SEEMS KIND OF UNWORKABLE.
    It’s like living in a soft rain of post-it notes.
    This happens every single waking moment, and we have to manually examine each thought, check for relevance, and try desperately to remember what the thing was we were thinking before it came along, if not. Most often we forget, and if we aren’t caught up in the intricacies of doorknob engineering, we cast wildly about for context, trying to guess what the hell we were up to from the clues available.
    On the other hand, we’re extremely good at working out the context of random remarks, as we’re effectively doing that all the time anyway.
    We rely heavily on routine, and 90% of the time get by on autopilot. You can’t get distracted from a sufficiently ingrained habit, no matter what useless crap is going on inside your head… unless someone goes and actually disrupts your routine.
    Also, there’s a diminishing-returns thing going on when trying to concentrate on what you might call a non-interactive task. Entering a big block of numbers into a spreadsheet, for instance. Keeping focused on the task takes exponentially more effort each minute, for less and less result. If you’ve ever held a brick out at arm’s length for an extended period, you’ll know the feeling. That’s why the internet, for instance, is like crack to us – it’s a non-stop influx of constantly-new things, so we can flick from one to the next after only seconds. Its better/worse than pistachios.
    The exception to this is a thing we get called hyper focus. Occasionally, when something just clicks with us, we can get ridiculously deeply drawn into it, and NOTHING can distract us. We’ve locked our metaphorical office door, and we’re not coming out for anything short of a tornado.
    Medication takes the edge off. It reduces the input, it tones down the fluster, it makes it easier to ignore trivial stuff, and it increases the maximum focus-time. Imagine steadicam for your skull. It also happens to make my vision go a little weird and loomy occasionally, and can reduce appetite a bit.

    And this followup on another post also from u/TheBananaKing:
    https://www.reddit.com/r/Parenting/comments/1ox2k2/my_son_just_got_diagnosed_with_adhd_advice/ccwsf43/

    Medication – when required, and when you find the right drug/dosage – is amazing. I didn’t get formally diagnosed until well into adulthood, and I could cry for all the lost years, I really could. Don’t feel guilty for giving him the meds he needs to fully function, any more than you’d feel guilty for giving him glasses if he were shortsighted. If he hates how it feels, seriously consider changing his prescription. One size does not fit all, and it really shouldn’t be unpleasant.
    There are techniques for managing concentration. It’s a limited resource, and he needs to ration it out; expecting him to concentrate on a non-interactive task for an hour is about as realistic as expecting you to hold a brick out at arm’s length for the same period. The pomodoro technique is absolutely brilliant – you use a kitchen timer to mark out moderate periods of mandatory focus (15 – 20 minutes), interspersed with short distraction breaks (2-3 minutes). Three sets, then a longer break, rinse and repeat.
    ADD is basically the brain’s lock-on mechanism being understimulated, meaning that you fail to engage fully with tasks, and are extremely distracted from them. Even things you desperately want and need to do rapidly become as un-captivating as the third hour of some droning lecture that you just can’t care about. Every single passing sensation, sight, sound or thought becomes utterly intrusive, and your ability to keep working at a task rapidly fatigues, giving diminishing returns – the effort keeps doubling while the productivity keeps halving. This is why stimulant drugs work – they increase the stimulation, making lock-on possible.
    The intrusive-thoughts aspect means that we have shitty task-management. Our mental to-do list is utterly infested with spam, and it’s a fantastic day if we manage to keep two genuine items on it without them getting displaced. Actually recalling them at the appropriate time to act on them is a whole ‘nother challenge, and an absolute bitch of one at that.
    As such, don’t give us long lists of tasks at once. Our short-term memory cannot handle it, we’ll forget most of them, and get terribly stressed about the whole thing. If he’s got a corner desk, give him a whiteboard that he can reach from his chair. It doesn’t work if he has to get up or reach to use it – but an in-your-face, instantly-updatable todo list can make a world of difference.
    Honestly, while it’s not a get-out clause, and we have to be held accountable… punishing, shaming, etc us for failing to get stuff done really isn’t helpful. We do try, and we do feel shit about our inability to follow through. Making us feel worse about it just increases anxiety, and anxiety just generates an aversion response to the task, making it even harder.
    Physical activity can help burn off hyperactivity to a degree. And similarly, the best cure I’ve found for mental overstimulation (which can be horribly distressing) is not a relaxing quiet space. The problem isn’t that we’re getting too much input, it’s that our firewall can’t cope with the task of filtering it all. If you just give us ‘quiet time’, we just spin our wheels on our own thoughts, and it’s actually slightly worse. Instead, give us something to let us shut down the firewall altogether, where we can drink from the firehose and notice everything. And the best thing I’ve found for this is Quake 3. Loud, frenetic, requiring all your peripheral vision, split-second responses and no mental filter whatsoever. It’s counter-intuitive, but it really, really works. Playing against bots is fine, and probably better than playing against humans – the patterns are kind of soothing once you fall into them. Half an hour of that does us more good than all the calm-blue-ocean in the world.
    Big crowds can get a bit distressing, in an overwhelmed-new-puppy kind of way. And similarly, we really don’t like being cornered, or being in the middle of a whole web of people’s eyelines. When we go to parties, we’re the ones helping out in the kitchen or perching on the edges of groups, paddling in the shallows instead of diving in the middle.

    All of this really helped me greatly and I hope it helps you too.

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