Why I Haven't Told My Mother's Family About My ADHD

You think you know me. The American. Your oldest daughter’s oldest daughter. The bilingual college graduate…go ahead, fill in the blank.

But there is one thing you don’t know about me. One thing I am terrified to tell you.

I am terrified to tell you I have ADHD.

It’s not because I don’t have the vocabulary for it. It’s because I don’t know how you’ll react. I’m terrified you will judge me. The only representations of disability that I see are on TV specials or soap operas about the physically disabled or terminally ill patients.

Alisa Tanaka.2-001

There is a stigma around the word “disability” in Japan. I don’t want to be seen as an object of inspiration. I want to be seen as a person. I don’t want you to treat me any differently than you have been. I want you to learn about disability from someone you know, rather than just believing what the media feeds you.

I believe every learning difference (as I prefer to call them) manifests itself differently in everyone. Just because I don’t exhibit the stereotypical symptoms of a learning difference doesn’t mean I don’t have it.

A few of you saw me walk across the stage and receive my diploma that sunny day in Oregon, but you never saw the notes other people took for me in class that I pored over, the office hours I went to or the extra time I was given during exams so I could get the grades I did. You might think it was just because I have always worked hard. I did work hard, but there is more to it than that.

So please don’t just say something like, “Do your best,” because sometimes the best thing for me to do is to walk away. Please don’t trivialize things I talk about by scoffing or snorting and saying, “That’s easy!” The truth is, some things that may be simple for you might be difficult for another person.

I’ve always wanted to ask you the question, “When you hear the word ‘disability,’ what do you think of?” I haven’t because I’m terrified of your answer. I’m terrified that if I’m open and honest about it, you won’t be understanding. I’m afraid you’ll put me in a (metaphorical) box labeled “damaged goods.” I’ve found the word “disability” is a label that society puts on others when we don’t do things the way “normal” people do.

I know societies love to categorize people, put them in boxes and sort them away because it’s easier. Labels are easy. I’ve lived with a label for over half of my life, and I usually forget about it. My friends forget about it because they see me for who I am. I don’t usually talk about it because I don’t want my past to define me. You can make it work. You can still contribute to society.

My brain simply processes information differently than others. That’s why I call it a learning difference. I can learn things; I just learn them in a different way than what you’re used to seeing. I can function. I’ve learned how to manage my symptoms. I’ve learned how to work around the roadblocks I’ve encountered. I don’t see it as a disability. I see it as a strength.

If by chance you see this, you might not be able to read it. But even if you do, I hope you will see me as the member of your family who you love and care for and not a disabled individual. I can’t hope to change the culture of the country where you live or how your national media portrays disabled individuals, but I can hope that one day, I can speak to you openly about this part of me, experience acceptance and maybe even challenge your beliefs surrounding disabilities (though I hope that by the time we have this conversation, I won’t have to).

I love you.

Follow this journey on Navigating Life on the Hyphen.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


What This Woman Never Said to Classmates Who Questioned Her Learning Disabilities

Scout MacEachron is a successful writer and journalist who written for media outlets like NBC.com and Marie Claire, but the path to get there has been filled with challenges.

MacEachron, 26, was diagnosed with ADHD, mild dyslexia, a math disability and a language disability as a child. After spending time with tutors, finding the right medication and figuring out a successful system at school, she was able to both fit in and perform in the classroom.

Still, MacEachron needed extra time on tests, and this was not something her classmates understood.

Having a handicap that people can’t see is a constant fight of justification,” MacEachron wrote in an article for Seventeen.com. She went on to describe the embarrassment she felt when she stayed in the classroom after everyone else, and how “everything was a battle.”

Some of her friends questioned the extended time she received on exams while others tried to convince their parents to have them assessed so they might receive the same treatment.

“I never told my friends it took me twice as long to do my homework, that I got so lost in mathematical equations I wanted to cry, and that I still couldn’t list the months in order despite being 16 years old,” MacEachron wrote. “Instead, I let them be jealous and kept my pencil-breaking moments to myself.”

Shooting with Dateline. #DatelineNBC #shooting #TV #muggin Posted by Scout MacEachron on Friday, November 14, 2014


She encourages others to see thing from her perspective and think about her daily life before making a snap judgment. She wrote:

Imagine your thoughts are constantly interrupted. Imagine not being able to do basic math. Imagine spelling or saying things so wrong it’s comical. Imagine being consistently late despite every effort not to be. Imagine having your intelligence and capability consistently questioned because of things you can’t control.

That’s what it’s like to have a learning disability.

Read the full Seventeen.com article here.

I'm Not Embarrassed by My Child's 'Made Up' Diagnosis

I’m angry.

Well, maybe that’s too strong a word.

I’m frustrated.

No, that just won’t cut it.

I’m angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed, surprised…

Over the past week this amalgamation of negative emotions has reached its boiling point. Suddenly I’m on fire. In this past week alone, I’ve read no fewer than seven articles relating to childhood ADHD, and most of them have left me white knuckled and aggravated. All of them, in one way or another, have touched on feelings of shame — both parental and child — associated with this diagnosis. They reeked of an essence of bravery, a feeling that these authors were courageous in publicly admitting their child had ADHD or used medication to control it. Don’t get me wrong, these women are absolutely brave for sending these thoughts into the vastness of the Internet; but they shouldn’t have to be. 

It shouldn’t be this hard to discuss a valid medical diagnosis with very real effects. There’s such an intense stigma attached to this acronym; it’s astounding. Four little letters, that in any other combination could carry a benign meaning, have parents embarrassed into silence — as if something their child was born with, that neither they nor that child had absolutely any control over, was their family’s dirty little secret.  

My son is almost 5. He has a medical diagnosis called ADHD. This disorder results in severe impulsivity, great difficulty waiting for turns, interrupting children’s play activities, interrupting conversations, blurting out answers to questions not directed him, acting recklessly, and so much more. I often try not to air his dirty laundry to the masses; but guess what? This isn’t his dirty laundry. It’s a simple fact. He has brown hair, he loves pasta, he has ADHD, and he has a little sister — all just facts. Would you have felt differently after reading the sentence if it had said, “He loves pasta, he has asthma, and he has a little sister?”   

Boy standing in front of fridge with the door open

I’m not embarrassed by the documented medical condition that causes his challenging behaviors. It seems that most have forgotten or have chosen to ignore the fact that behind all the hype and possible over-diagnosis of the past few decades is a very real disorder with very real taxing characteristics. When people don’t believe in its existence they’re left uninformed. Parents are unaware and uneducated about the signs and characteristics to look for in early childhood. They’re sure their child will absolutely outgrow this. They’re left with family members and friends saying things such as, “All kids have a lot of energy,” or, “You just need to discipline a little better,” and my absolute personal fave, “Boys will be boys.” They’re left questioning their own instincts that something else, something bigger, might be brewing inside their child’s brain.  

I’ve found that unless you’re actually living through it, it’s extremely difficult to grasp just how significant this diagnosis can be, how much it can invade the daily life of an entire family. It really is so much easier to assume a child is defiant, to watch him at the playground dumping sand over everyone no matter how many times he’s reprimanded, to see him running wildly away from his mother into a parking lot while she runs after him calling like a maniac. Then to witness that kid doing the same thing again the next day and the day after that; same kid, same behavior, different day. 

How many of you have seen that child and that parent? How many of you have secretly thought, “What a terrible parent—she can’t keep her kid under control,” or “Won’t that kid ever learn?” and even, “Note to self: steer clear of sand dumping kid.” Stop and consider this for a second: Do you really truly think she wants him to continue to do these things day in and day out? That it’s so much easier to let him just behave that way? That she hasn’t tried everything, everything in her power to help him control himself? That every time she goes out in public with him she considers where the potential pitfalls lie?

It’s time to look harder, to start understanding this mom is dealing with a medical diagnosis, just like the mom of a child who has diabetes. It’s not fair of me to say something like that? Diabetes can cause lifelong health issues and potentially death, whereas ADHD is only a behavioral issue? Guess what, the lifelong effect of social anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem are pretty significant too. Being unable to maintain a job as an adult or to function successfully in society is a colossal problem. Being unable to have the vigilance to participate in a hobby or learn a subject matter that truly interests you is a colossal problem. Having potential difficulty making friends and maintaining friendships while feeling isolated, lonely and misunderstood is not insignificant; it’s an important factor in development and the person they grow up to be.  

I will not begin to tell you there are an infinite number of parents whose kids have medical diagnoses far more challenging than this. I’m in awe of these families, and I give them the full respect they deserve. However, facing a diagnosis most people think is made up comes with its own set of unique challenges. 

It’s time to stop hiding, put the kibosh on the unnecessary shame. The more we bring this into the open, the more we help our children.

Follow this journey on Man Vs Mommy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

To the People Who Think an ADHD Diagnosis Is ‘No Big Deal'

“If you would just focus, you could do this.”

I remember being told this throughout my school years.

So I have to focus, focus on getting the work done. But then I begin to think about focus — why can’t I focus? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? They said, “If I just focus,” but how do I do that? How do I focus? So now I’m focusing on focus and trying to figure out how to focus. It’s like a never-ending horse race of wondering about focus. Horse races are in circles. Me focusing on focus. So I wonder who won the Kentucky Derby last year? That’s a big horse race. I remember going to Derby parties as a kid.

Wait… Focus!

But man, those were some good parties. I miss those kind of parties. Focus… that’s right. I need to focus on my work. Yes, math work. Damn that’s a lot of work. But all I have to do is focus. No, I’m not going to do this. I will do it later. Look, there’s a squirrel climbing the tree. I wonder what he’s doing. Looking for food? Is it a male or female? How do you tell on a squirrel? Focus on math. But the squirrel is over there and he’s cute.

That’s how my brain works about 85 percent of the time. Never does one thought not lead in 10 different directions. I’ve gotten better at reining them in, but there are days it’s exactly like the paragraph above.

So if you think ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder, formerly called attention deficit disorder) is no big deal, that it’s an excuse or a copout for being lazy, please read the above paragraph. Imagine that every single day of your life with every single thought you have during 90 percent of your waking hours. Then you might get a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to have ADHD or ADD.

My brain never stops. Sometimes it overwhelms me, and I get depressed. Depression is commonly linked with ADHD/ADD, as is as anxiety disorder. I happen to suffer from all three of those. It’s hard for people to understand how depressed it makes you feel to know you are smart enough to do something, to know you could do it, but your brain can’t and won’t stop enough to let you do it. I could’ve made straight As in school. I was more than smart enough, but my mind wanted more — it wanted different than the school gave me — so I did the least amount to get by so I had time to dive into what my brain wanted. It’s never stopped, ever. Even as an adult, I still do the same thing.

If you know someone who has ADHD, please don’t discount that diagnosis as “no big deal.” A person with ADHD can struggle just as much with their own mind as some people struggle with real physical pain. It challenges those who have it in ways most people will never understand. Just the fact that our brains won’t work as we want them to can make us sad and feel alienated.

So when we look like we’re listening, but we really aren’t, it’s because our brains might be about 100 miles down the road on 10 other topics. We aren’t being rude, but our brains, well, they have other plans.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

A woman with glasses smiling into camera

Why My ADHD Diagnosis Changed My Life for the Better

I turn 40 this year. I don’t really care. However, I can’t help but fall into the social construct of 40. I cringe when I see a card and party supply company’s trinkets and jokes for 40th birthdays. I can’t afford a Corvette to help quell a midlife crisis. In my paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, I would rather enjoy a hairdresser’s talents and a shopping spree instead.

So, 40. I ponder my life a little. Where have I been and how did I get here? And that’s when I realized I should celebrate my diagnosis of ADHD when I was in mid-30s. That’s right, celebrate. I may even have a little party for myself because it totally changed my life for the better. And as I recently discovered, my birthday month is also ADHD Awareness Month — pleasantly coincidental.

What most people may have dreaded, I embraced. It gave a name to the many questions I had about myself. It gave me a reason why things can be challenging and why I do things differently than others. It gave me confidence. Here are six things I understand about myself after being diagnosed with ADHD:

1. Now I know why at 12 everyone else was reading 32 pages an hour, and I was only reading 15. The snow falling outside the window was just beautiful and more mesmerizing than any book I had.

2. Now I know why I brought home every book from every class every night, rather than get it done in study hall. There were far too many interesting things happening in study hall. Who wants to read about Chaucer when you can watch people pick their nose, do card tricks in a corner or throw notes back and forth across the aisle?


3. Now I know why I waited until the night before a 15-page paper was due to start it. Yes, that’s right. Start it. I usually had the books and reference materials. But the rush of knowing it was due tomorrow allowed me to finally focus. I once tried to do an assignment early to get a head start and be productive. But the instructor gave it back with a big red, “This isn’t your best work, do it again.” Well, that was the last time I would try to be “normal” like everyone else. Whatever I was doing, though stressful and physically exhausting, was working.

4. Now I know why when I try to clean the house, I turn in circles and make a bigger mess. Because that mess on the dining room table (aka the dump station) needs cleaning. That pile of papers on the table needs to be sorted, organized, filed, labeled and color coded. Oh, and the file drawer needs an overhaul…wait. That table is still messy, and it’s 1 a.m. I will deal with that tomorrow, my brain always says.

5. Now I understand why making a list with every little detail of my day wasn’t a bad idea. I’d put “do the laundry” on a list, but I would create specific categories such as wash, dry, fold and put away. This was a more productive way for me to “do the laundry.” I got to see what I was accomplishing, and it encouraged my scattered brain to organize things visually and reward me when I got them done. I still do it.

6. Now I know why I excel at jobs that are anything but cubicle. The more crisis-oriented, the better. The more creative, the better. There is a hyper-focus that allows me to see things clearly. The stress feeds me. My detail-oriented brain can break the situation down, compartmentalize it and come up with creative solutions immediately. And the paperwork that needs to be filed afterwards? Well, I am a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

It’s allowed me to let go (most of the time) of high expectations and rigid social conformities. It’s allowed me to focus on fun times with my kids and worry about the dishes later. It gives me the spontaneity to say in the middle of the afternoon, “Let’s go for a ride and see where it takes us.” It’s supported my notions to be less judgmental of a situation or a person because there may be reasons they do the things they do.

Most importantly, it’s allowed me to lighten up on judging myself. I know that coloring outside the lines is so much more important than being forced to remain inside them. There is a whole world of wonder and excitement outside the box. And no matter how I get there or what road I take or how many times I wander off the path, it will be an amazing ride.

What My Son With ADHD Wants Grown-Ups to Know

I was talking with my 12-year-old son the other day about a girl he likes in school.

“She’s the most popular girl but some people say really mean things about her.”

“What do they say that’s mean?” I asked

“They call her fat and say she’s ugly without any makeup.”

God, kids can be mean. I asked him how he felt when he heard people saying things like that. “It makes me feel bad for her, because I know how I feel when people say mean things about me.”

My mom radar went off. My son is that kid who’s always happy; nothing seems to get him down. He did not seem happy right now. What did he think people said?

“What do you think people say?” I asked expecting him to shrug, “I don’t know.” I got this instead:

“I hear them, everything they probably think I can’t hear. Like the sigh when I tell them I forgot my homework again. I hear them mutter things under their breath when I am fidgeting in class. I hear frustration in their voices. I’d like them to understand I am not trying to make them mad.

“I see things too. Like how you smile less with me than with other kids. I see how Daddy’s forehead gets all creased when he is yelling at me. I see people roll their eyes when I show them a new toy and how they sound all mad when they ask me to stop singing.

“I want people to know I feel like they don’t like how I am. I want Daddy to know I am not stupid and it hurts my feelings when he says, ‘Are you dumb?’ I want you to know I don’t like it when you yell. I hate when I ask someone a question and they say, ‘It’s none of your business. Stop interrupting.’ I’m just curious.

“I just want it to stop. The yelling, comparing me to other kids that are ‘normal.’ How people tense up sometimes when I just walk into the room. I want people to say I am nice and funny and good at drawing. And not follow it with, ‘If only he could focus like that in other areas.’ I just want to feel like it’s OK to be me.”

It took every ounce of strength I had to not crumble under the weight of my shame. Maybe my happy kid was a little less happy than I’d thought. And I’d been so frustrated with him for not being “normal,” I’d missed it.

I took a deep breath and hugged him. My heart hurt. “That was so beautifully said. I’ll make you a promise right now to work to make things different for you. I believe in you, I see your goodness and I don’t want you to hurt.” And I meant this with all of my being.

He hugged me back and looked shy now. Like a typical 12-year-old boy.

So I am sticking to my promise. I want to help people understand ADHD and the struggles these wonderful humans go through just make a place to fit in this world. This is my start. They’re square pegs in a round-hole world. Let’s find ways to make more square holes for them to fit.

boy in glasses holding up colorful painting

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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