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At the first college I attended, I struggled mightily. As a result of my ADHD, I was accustomed to the frustration that came with underperforming in high school. I was constantly getting grades that did not reflect the effort I put in to my work, or my interest in the subject material, because I truly love to learn. I actually really loved most of my high school classes I got C’s in. My senior year I took AP environmental science and while I scored a 5 on the AP exam, I received a C for the course, one of my favorites from my entire four years.

When I got to college, things only got worse. I went to a demanding and academically rigorous high school, but college was so much harder. Furthermore, I had no idea how to manage my time with all of this new freedom and a substantially heavier workload. I thought I was supposed to just sit and focus and get my work done, and could never figure out why that was impossible for me. I would become so frustrated trying to get my work done, I would often just give up. Either that, or I completely forgot I had homework until right before it was due and I was left to come up with some flimsy excuse to give my professors. I was constantly explaining I had left my homework in my dorm—sometimes I had truly forgotten. Other times I needed to buy myself more time. I once woke up late on the day of a test and emailed my professor to say I was sick, 10 minutes after the test had begun. I actually withdrew from a class because I had a paper due the next day that there was no way I would finish in time.

My professors thought I was a complete screw up. They thought I was lazy and irresponsible. I didn’t pay attention in class because I didn’t care. That girls don’t have ADHD so I must just be unmotivated. Or unintelligent. They never knew that in fact, I missed that last sentence because I was paying attention to everything. That I wanted so badly to just sit and listen like my classmates could. To get my work done in timely manner. But I couldn’t.

Eventually, I did figure out how to succeed. It took a long time, but it started with acceptance. It started when I realized it was OK that I couldn’t finish my homework in one sitting, and rather than try, I needed to build in enough time to take constant breaks. That I needed to write a detailed outline before starting a paper. I’m in graduate school now, set to finish with straight A’s, a feat I never thought possible of myself. I got here, however, on my own and with the love and acceptance of my family. During my first two years of college, it would have meant so much to me if just one professor had reached out to ask, “What’s going on?” It would have meant even more if any of them had seen me as more than the student who was chronically late and struggling to stay afloat.

For the past year, I have had the great privilege to teach some amazing undergraduate students as a graduate student instructor. I never ever want my students to feel like they’re worthless because they need an instruction to be repeated, or they forgot to answer a question on their homework or spaced on something really obvious on the test. They are such fantastic kids, all bright and interesting in their own unique way. I see them for who they are, and not for their grades; I know all too well what it feels like to be a number. The struggle is a gift, and because of my own challenges, I’ve made a huge effort to get to know my students and to put myself in their shoes, because I really see myself in them. I feel lucky to know these students as well as I do, and if my own challenges can help me to raise them up, then I feel lucky to have those too.

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Each day begins with a bang. Not a gentle, “time to get out of bed,” and then the rest of the routine just comes. Each day and each morning require routine and reminders. And words. Constantly. At 9 years old, my son is capable of dressing himself, getting his breakfast and getting out the door, but he requires prodding and reminders at each step. Things must often be repeated. Tasks that might seem simple to some can take more than 15 minutes to accomplish when your brain is in constant alert mode.

The world is full of stimuli to my son who has ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). There is so much going on in his mind that even tying his shoes can be besotted by constant distraction. To him, there are just so many other things he could be doing or seeing. Why can’t the shoe tying just wait?

The thing I wish more people understood is that he is not doing these things to be difficult. He is not purposely taking longer to tie his shoes, or eat his breakfast, or choose a treat at the store. His 9-year-old brain is just full of so much more! He is in almost constant “go” mode. I believe he sees the world as full of possibility, as many of us do, but he sees it all at once. And he does not understand yet why he must wait to see or do it all.

I also wish more of us understood all that ADHD encompasses. It is not just hyperactivity and inattention. It is also emotional dysregulation, anxiety, difficulty interacting with peers, emotional immaturity, difficulty adjusting to new things and so much more. Most days my son enjoys being with friends and learning new things at school. Other days he cries with frustration because his mind won’t allow him to concentrate enough to learn a new idea. Don’t get me wrong. My son is very bright. But for him to learn a new idea requires more effort and patience.

ADHD means we do a bit more for our son. I spend some days on the phone for an hour or more seeking the best providers in our area we can find. It means I spent almost a full year getting him into a behavioral and mental health center at a top-notch children’s hospital in our city. It meant I made call after call to get that first appointment. It meant that he stayed behind with his dad when my grandmother passed away this winter so he could attend that appointment we waited eight months to get. But I would do it all again. And more. Because this specialist at this top-notch children’s hospital has been wonderful and amazing and kind, and my son is thriving.

I have a son with ADHD. I have a son who also is loving, kind, caring, funny and bright. And I wouldn’t change him one bit.

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In second grade I would kick my feet under my desk. This wasn’t a light paddle kind of kick, but wildly kicking the desk up with my feet, causing a commotion and a lot of noise. It would completely disrupt the class and I would get yelled at. I would have to stay in for recess because of something out of my control. I remember my regular ed teachers putting heavy books on my lap to try to get me to stop, but I had so much energy my legs would just kick. There was also a time they put tape on my legs (I could easily break the tape) that would lightly tug on my clothing as I started to kick, trying to act as a reminder. But still, my feet swung.

As much as I tried to stop, the second my mind lost focus (which as a child with severe ADHD was literally every three minutes) my legs would start going again. My special ed teacher found a solution, a piece of fabric I could play with in my hands, and suddenly my legs stopped kicking. Over the years I’ve tried different things to get the relief, and I have found nothing more helpful than my fidget cube.

Students with disabilities need these cubes and spinners, but non-disabled students have now taken these objects and are treating them like toys instead of what they were actually invented for: therapy. Kids with anxiety, autism, sensory processing issues, ADHD, and many other cognitive and even physical disabilities really benefit from these tools. While they might be fun for some, they actually serve a purpose to many. They’re now being banned in schools because students who don’t need these objects are misusing them.

Please talk to your kids/friends/family about disabilities, and how some students/fellow employees may get items or services they do not get. Many kids in elementary school are angered by this, but if these kids are informed of the reason for these differences, they are more likely to accept them and help create a better environment for students of all abilities. The fidget “toy” is a great place to start a conversation about ability and disability.

I don’t mind when non-disabled people use fidget tools, but please talk to your kids, siblings, and peers about the importance of them. Teach them to use them appropriately so those who need them don’t have to suffer the consequences from those who use them for fun. For you, they may be a toy, but for me, they are essential in my everyday life.

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Having adult attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a constant battle in the brain, like two opposing sides fighting each other.

My anxiety wants everything to be clean and organized. My ADD wants a disorganized mess.

My anxiety hates myself for being such a “slob.” My ADD can’t keep me focused on cleaning.

My ADD always wants to go out and be doing something. My anxiety tells me something is always going to go wrong and I’m safer in bed.

My ADD makes plans often. My anxiety always makes me bail.

My ADD wants to make lots of friends and be social. My anxiety says they all secretly hate me and they’ll hate me more when they get to know me.

My ADD makes studying very difficult. My anxiety tells me I will fail and disappoint myself and everyone around me.

My ADD tells me I should make a Facebook tab and scroll through it until I get bored. My anxiety knows I should be studying.

My ADD wants to make plans with friends. My anxiety makes me want to be alone.

My ADD wants to be spontaneous in relationships. My anxiety tells me every day that he will decide to leave me.

My ADD keeps me talking to him, maybe more than I should. My anxiety thinks I’m annoying him and that he’s going to leave me because of it.

My ADD has me talking more and more. My anxiety uses those words to look for constant reassurance.

“Do you hate me?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you ignoring me?”

My anxiety causes me to break down because my worries become a reality. My anxiety and ADD have ruined every relationship I’ve been in. My anxiety and ADD has destroyed many of my friendships. My anxiety and ADD dropped my GPA so low there may be no way out.

My psychological disorders will not win, even though they have in the past. I’m taking control of my actions, not being afraid to get help and not get frustrated when my medication cocktail fails. Taking control is being patient and knowing those who care about me will keep me moving forward.

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Every year we received the email. And every year I’ve been able to ignore it. Until this year. In the state where we live, the first year standardized testing is mandated is the 3rd grade. Our son is now in 3rd grade. I could not ignore the email and attachment this year. The attachment was a letter stating the steps to take to opt out of the testing for your child.

I was afraid. I was anxious.

What does it mean that my child would not be participating? Would he have to stand in the hall while the other students took the test? Would he be berated with questions from his peers about why he wasn’t taking it?

As a parent of a child with an ADHD diagnosis, I often worry how he will be treated at school. He has a 504 plan, which gives him special accommodations that other children may not receive. He is able to move around more, is given the choice to sit closest to the teacher, can take tests in a smaller group outside of his classroom and other supports which allow him to be successful in school.

Children can be cruel and a parent always worries. As a parent of a child who is unique, I worry more.

In the end, our decision was based on our own feelings about how this would affect him and also the opinions of his teachers. Without our addressing it, a teacher brought it up. Taking these tests would not be beneficial to our son. She sees him daily and knows him in the school environment. How could we go against our gut-instinct and her professional opinion? We wouldn’t and we didn’t.

Even if you do not have the support of your child’s teacher — which we are enormously grateful to have — know your rights in your state. The pressure to meet the 95 percent federal guideline for standardized testing is intense. States that receive federal Title I funding can have their funding withheld if they fall below the 95 percent mark. This means the school district can lose funding if less than 95 percent of their students take the test. But changes to the law in 2016 gave discretion to the states in dealing with those who fall below this benchmark. How this plays out is yet to be seen. But know your options. Your loyalty is to your child, not to a school district.

For our family, this wasn’t about whether or not we agree with standardized tests on the whole. What it was about was our child. And he is our ultimate responsibility.

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Coming out with ADD feels sometimes a lot like coming out the closet. There is a nervousness when I’m about to tell, a vulnerability and question in my mind if the person will think differently of me. People often feel a need to contradict me when I tell them I have adult ADD and offer their own theories about what could be going on with me. So I have created a small guide for what to (not) say if someone tells you they have been diagnosed with ADD.

1) Don’t say this is a conspiracy of the pharmaceutical industry to over-medicate me.

I am aware ADD can be over-diagnosed in schools. I am aware of the pharmaceutical industry’s love of placing profit over people. This response doesn’t help me at all and is very patronizing, for it suggests I am a sucker who hasn’t devoted careful and pained thinking to all of these matters. If I am choosing to communicate that I have the diagnosis of ADD, it is because I have chosen to accept this diagnosis.

2) Don’t tell me “everyone” is distracted sometimes and this is just part of my personality.

Very similar to response one, this suggest I have foolishly run off to medicate myself with no real basis or thought. It also puts me in the awkward and difficult position of having to defend myself to you and “prove” my diagnosis. It’s similar I think to the “you’re not depressed, you’re a bit blue” response. It’s shit.

3) Don’t start suggesting cures unless I ask you for advice.

Believe me, no one spends more time thinking about how to treat what is going on than the one experiencing the condition. I have chosen which coaches/peers/blogs/websites to consult. Your telling me to down cod-liver oil while swimming six laps every morning isn’t going to help me.

And now for the do:

1. Do respond sensitively and recognize I have chosen to tell you something I feel vulnerable about.

2. Do ask questions.

Things like “How does this affect you?” “What was the process that led you to seek psychological counseling?” and “How is it going?” are all great questions. They all show me you respect my judgment and are interested and want to find out more about my experience.

3. Do ask how you can help.

Follow this journey on 1ADDPHD.

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