A story about ADHD

Today I want to talk about ADHD. It’s something that I love, something that annoys me to no end, and something that I would never want to live without. This week, it did something interesting to me, which I retold in a discussion post for a college course that I am taking on Special Education. I’d like you to read it as well.

Despite meticulously writing down every due date for the semester on a calendar pinned next to my desk, despite updating all my notes and schedules every time a change of due date takes place, and despite all the sticky notes and cell phone timers and every other trick I use to remind my own ADHD brain to do as it’s told, I messed up.

Specifically, my brain couldn’t handle two similar, but crucially different pieces of information coexisting. One of these was that there was a SPED 4000 due date on Thursday (for the regular assignments) and the other was that there was a SPED 4000 due date on Friday (for the midterm). My brain, which likes to simplify things in an attempt to make them “easier”, very helpfully deleted the Thursday due date from my memory and led me to believe that everything was due on Friday. Our professors kindly allowed me to still post a discussion entry even though it’s too late to get a grade on it, but I thought I’d open with that real-world case study for you. Sometimes ADHD just does really weird things to you.

But in general, ADHD is something that I love. It’s really frustrating and really wonderful at the same time, so even when it makes things harder, it always makes them more interesting. My advice for any of you who have ADHD, know someone with ADHD, or work with someone who has ADHD is that you recognize it for everything it can be: good, bad, delightful, frustrating, and everything in between.

Being a student with ADHD is really hard, but good teachers have the power to make it really fun. People with ADHD are really great at getting things done when it’s something their brain naturally focuses on, though since personality affects what the brain prefers it’s really a case-by-case situation to learn what works best for each person. In my case, what made the most difference was letting me do assignments that are both creative and structured. Anything too open-ended is terrifying, such as when the prompt was something like “make a physics experiment” or “tell a story in Spanish” with little other instruction. But when it was more specific, like “use a visual aide to tell about themes and motifs within the story of King Lear“, I did great. Deadlines should be frequent and regular, but with some forgiveness allowed for not having everything perfect at every checkpoint.

Also, when you are teaching a child with ADHD, never ever tell them that they “talk too much” or “make other students uncomfortable”. It makes them anxious and self-conscious, and intensifies the already-real sense that they are irredeemably different from everyone else. I had some teachers say that to me, and it messed me up horribly, until I finally got old and mature enough to realize what had happened. I recognize now that they were trying to help and improve my social skills, but they were asking me to change something that was extremely difficult without offering any real solutions. All I knew at the time was that my brain was moving a mile a minute and my mouth was moving twice that, and the brakes weren’t working, but the only solution they were offering was “push harder”. Social anxiety is awful, and people with ADHD are already prone to it without needing help from the people they are supposed to be looking up to.

My family is awesome, though, so I’ll pass on some solutions that we’ve figured out that might help you:

My mom is really great at listening, and always makes sure to ask meaningful questions so I don’t feel like I’m ridiculous and all the ideas swimming around in my head are just things that nobody else cares about.

My mom also knows exactly how to get me back on task. She never comes across as dismissive or uncaring. Instead, she reminds me that things happen on a schedule: there might be a great time to focus really intently on my hobbies, but right now it’s time to do homework, or make dinner, or clean the house, or go to bed, and I can get back to the fun stuff later.

My brother and I have a lot of the same interests, so he is great at having long conversations about whatever my brain loves to talk about. ADHD brains crave this. People think of us as being inattentive and scatterbrained, which is only half of it. The other half is all the times that our brain only wants to think about one thing, and if we don’t get an outlet for that every once in a while, life gets pretty miserable.

My sister developed a great strategy for making sure I understand her when she’s telling me something important. It’s really simple, too: instead of asking “Did you hear what I said?” she asks “What did I say?” In the former scenario, I might entirely believe that I was listening but realize fifteen minutes later that I had no idea what was said and it’s too late to ask. But in the latter scenario, I get the chance to force my brain into reproducing the same meaning, and the words stick.

My dad and I have a lot in common, including but not limited to our interests, our goals, and various quirks of personality. This has its disadvantages, since sometimes being too similar to someone leads to the two of you butting heads too frequently, but most of the time I feel like it strengthens our relationship. We have a sense of what to expect from each other, and I have a really wonderful, successful person to look up to. I think finding someone who experiences the same challenges that you do, and overcomes them well, is key to achieving success, no matter your life situation.

One thing that is very important to remember is that because ADHD has a mind of its own, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in what your brain wants and forget what you want or what you need, or importantly what the people around you want or need. I find that living with ADHD can mean constantly having to re-evaluate yourself, which can be stressful but helps to make huge breakthroughs in how to better your life.

When managing myself, I use some tricks to make my brain think it’s getting what it wants. Since my brain loves video games, scifi television, and sewing, I mix those in with the important things I have to do. For example, if I do 30 minutes of homework followed by 10 minutes of video games, my brain gets tricked into paying attention to the homework the same way it paid attention to the games. Or if I work on my sewing projects while also watching the lectures for my classes, the lectures suddenly aren’t boring anymore. It’s all about manipulating your situation so you can be in charge of the brain, instead of letting it run amok.

If any of this helps you when living with or around ADHD, that would make me very happy. And if you have any more questions, here’s my favorite Youtube channel.