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These School Reports Are Proof That Everyone Missed My ADHD in Childhood

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Do you ever look back on your youth and wonder why nobody picked up on certain signs that you were already living with depression, anxiety, or another aspect of your mental health? That’s what made the diagnosis for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) so interesting for me — it was like the final key puzzle piece slotting into place, making everything that’s come before it all the clearer. It’s all I’ve wanted from diagnosis: validation that my struggles are quantifiable and explainable. It makes me feel more human and less like the outsider I’ve always felt I am.

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But there are two sides to this puzzle piece; the other feels an acute sense of betrayal. How could everyone have missed the signs when they were right there, black and white?

I recently chanced upon a scattering of my school reports from ages 4 to 5, ages 5 to 6, and ages 10 to 11. I wish I had more — those are, sadly, with my abusive mother and there they shall remain — but what I found was enlightening. It’s all right there.

I grew up in Northern Ireland in the 90s, when ADHD diagnosis was only just becoming commonplace and hadn’t yet been broken down into its three subtypes (inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type, and combined type). So, perhaps it’s unjust of me to feel betrayed when I was unlucky enough to have been born right at the beginning of our understanding of ADHD. However, as I’ve written before, much of my difficulty with bullying and abuse were missed by those in a position to actually help me.

His main problem at present is one of lack of concentration.

At ages 4 and 5, I was just becoming accustomed to school. My reports showed interest, but my behavior and punctuality were only “satisfactory,” later dipping to “unsatisfactory” as if I became a kind of problem child as the year went on. The report says that “[he] lacks concentration and therefore his writing is careless,” and “[he] is often slow to finish his work.”

Moving on a year, and my work in class was “erratic,” according to a report. “His work is of a good standard,” the teacher wrote. “His main problem at present is one of lack of concentration, particularly in written work.”

“A happy boy in class,” she said, “he loves to chat!”

It tracks. According to Healthline, inability to focus (and often daydreaming), trouble completing tasks without getting bored, and excessive talking are seen to be just three of the signs of ADHD in toddlers. Children can be diagnosed as young as 3 years old; however, psychologists often wait until school age as symptoms must be present in two or more settings, such as home and school. I was certainly known to be talkative; had anyone been asked to describe me at that age, it would’ve been the adjective used on no uncertain terms. I’d talk to anyone about anything; I’d talk when I wasn’t supposed to. I’d daydream. I’d fidget. I’d lose interest, especially with something as boring as writing. (Life can be so ironic, since I’m now a writer.)

I’m missing most of my school reports from here on out, until ages 10 to 11. This was at the height of my bullying, and I was often such a distraction that the teacher took drastic measures, like making me sit in the hallway, to stop me from disrupting the class for everyone else. The report says it all:

“Careless in both reading and calculation causes mistakes.”

“I just feel these marks do not do him justice.”

You might have noticed the word “careless” cropped up again. Carelessness in school work, according to WebMD, is one more sign of ADHD in school-age children.

I wish I had more school reports to share, but I know, looking back, that they all sang a similar tune; I showed interest and focus in the topics in which I was interested, but I was increasingly talkative (until bullying taught me to be silent, at least). My work was careless and didn’t speak to my potential.

Would things have been different had I been diagnosed earlier? I was only diagnosed with ADHD at 30, and by then, I’d finished education. I did well in university, but could I have performed better, had I been given the tools to curb by rampant procrastination at a younger age? Could I have sought accommodations to make education a little smoother?

I’ll never know. I have to make peace with the way my education played out and not lament for the life I could’ve had. I’m glad we live in a world where children and adults alike can seek diagnosis for ADHD and accommodations to help them adjust. I just feel for the kids out there right now, whose ADHD is still being missed because somebody isn’t taking the time to sit with them and learn what they might need.

Getty Images photo via sturti

Originally published: May 17, 2022
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