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What I Wished for as a Child With ADHD

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When I was a kid, I struggled horribly with math. I struggled with many things. Still, math was the one subject that no matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out.

It wasn’t because I was “lazy.” I had ADHD as a child in the 80s, and I remember well how it felt. It felt like chaos and noise. It was hard, and it made my head hurt.

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Ask me to pay attention and get something I didn’t understand anyway with other kids whispering behind me, Johnny shuffling his feet, papers being moved, and a teacher talking?

The struggle is very real, I assure you.

I had a teacher in elementary school who we’ll call Mrs. M., but I promise you, I remember her name. Mrs. M. didn’t care for the fact that I couldn’t complete my work. She made sure to chastise me in class, in front of other students, when I didn’t finish my work. One time, when I didn’t finish my assignment, she declared to me in front of the class, “E is for excuses, and that’s all you’ll ever get.” — we got the letter E instead of the grade F in our school.

Don’t worry, readers. My mother found out from a parent of another child in my classroom. From that point, the school district took pretty swift action.

Why am I telling you all this?

Two reasons:

First, I never forgot her. I remember her name, what she looked like, and how she made me feel. And please, understand, any adult or person could have said this. She is not a reflection on educators as a group — I have met many wonderful ones.

The second thing and what I think is most important is what I discovered as I got older. I struggled throughout my public school career. There was depression, anxiety, and some remedial classes thrown in for good measure with a dash of bullying.

When I got out of school, I pushed forward, taking the advice of others on what I should do, and it wasn’t always good advice. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30s, once my brain had fully maturated and caught up, that I figured something out.

I wasn’t as bad at this math and whole school thing as I thought I might be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no mathematician. I am, however, someone who can perform math much better than I realized. Well enough that I ended up being a Pharmacy Technician, which requires having to do in essence word problems. Also, lots of counting and converting units of measurement.

Maybe your child is “fighting you” every day to do their homework. I get that can be frustrating and exhausting. I deal with this personally as a parent. Or maybe they are just not “doing the work” — that’s what I did as a child. As a child, it was so much easier for me to avoid than it was to fight.

As a person with ADHD, and as a child who lived with ADHD, I want you to know that I wish more people had asked me why instead of assuming. When I asked for help, I wish more adults had sat down with me and took the time to listen and give me that help. I wish people had met me where I was and expanded on that. I wish people had told me I could do it.

There is a reason. There is always a reason.

For a good chunk of my younger life, I thought I was not very smart and there were things I just couldn’t do. Imagine what would have happened if more people had just listened when I said it was too hard or I couldn’t do it and just asked or thought, “why?” Maybe there’s more to this than what others might see on the surface as “bad behavior.”

All I ask of others is to remember what I now know looking back: I could do difficult things with some help, and so can other neurodivergent people. We can do difficult things.

Getty image by Demaerre.

Originally published: October 16, 2021
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