Growing Up With ADHD – Have Things Changed…?

As a child raised in a time where not much was known about this “affliction” I went through many years of feeling ‘less than’ and ‘inadequate’ in every sense of both words. My sister Stefanie put my growing up years in very accurate detail in The PedREST Story section. The only thing missing was the ‘help’ I dunceboy-finalreceived along the way in believing I was stupid (teachers, other kids..etc) Every school book I had was filled with my doodles and drawings, but not many notes. I couldn’t understand how to decipher important facts from filler words. Therefore, frustration would set in. When I’d look back over my “notes”, either I had captured one full sentence (including the conjunctions) and missed the next five said, or I had words here and there that made no sense. No wonder I hated school and played sick as often as possible! Every report card said, “Suzanne is very smart, but does not work up to her potential.”

And yet, what is so sad is that I saw a lot of professionals! From school counselors straight on up to a specialist in Manhattan! To emphasize what I said before, this “affliction” was not known to the kind of doctors I went to. Many years later I heard the story from my Mother that she had a friend whose child was diagnosed with hyperactivity. She brought me to my therapist’s office (a child psychologist) and asked him, “Is she hyperactive? Does she need to be on medicine?” He looked at me, crawling under the chairs, than climbing on top and jumping on the seat, than jumping onto my Mom’s lap and hanging from her neck… and said, “It is just a phase she is going through.”

And to make matters worse, the hyperactivity part of the acronym ADHD is usually found in boys, more than girls. So for years I got to hear what everyone was telling the boys – “what, do you have ants in your pants”- and not the girls- “stop daydreaming” – which definitely didn’t help things. Kids who had problems in school back then went to “study hall” which again, translated to being stupid. It was an embarrassment because it was generally known that the ‘dumb kids’ had to go there. (It was literally termed the ‘retarded group’.) Schools were set up in three categories… the advanced, remedial, and slow groups, and being thrown in the slow group meant humiliation.

When I was first diagnosed, at the age of 21, it was as if a huge light went on over my head. But still, information regarding ADHD was still very limited. (Pre-Internet Days) A few years later, a book was recommended to me: Driven To Distraction, by Edward Hallowell MD and John J. Ratey,MD. It was the ABC’s of “growing up Suzanne”. It focused (no pun intended) on all the mislabeling, and explained very clearly the disorganization I felt all of the time. Not only did it give a clear explanation of ADHD, (when I was told I had Attention Deficit Disorder, I took it to mean I hadn’t gotten enough attention growing up) but I was finally able to put some humor and levity to something I had found to be so emotionally painful; all of the projects I had started with such good intentions and enthusiasm that led to my feeling like a failure yet again because they were “one more thing on the uncompleted pile” finally had an explanation.

Unfortunately, once this problem came more into the public eye a few years ago, it seemed like every other child was diagnosed with it, and over-medicated, even when it may not have been necessary.

In the years since my diagnosis I have learned quite a bit regarding this issue…for example, that a huge percentage of kids that go undiagnosed end up turning to drugs to self medicate (…I would be one of them.) I have also learned that people (quite often, teenagers) who are not diagnosed and treated are prone to quite a bit more speeding tickets and accidents than others (…again, I used to fit that bill.) And, I also understand that quite often it is inherited. (Thanks Dad!)

As an adult, I discovered new tactics, or “tricks” to circumvent the problems. I knew I could never sit at a desk for 9 hours; I would go crazy, as well as probably make everyone around me nuts! My early experience with school made going back to one for a career terrifying. So I had to figure out what really caught and held my attention. What kind of career would help me be who I am…not who I should be in others’ eyes. And that was when my career as an EMT formed. That was where my creativity shined!

Recently, while talking to my Mother regarding my nephew, and seeing his inability to focus, and sit still, she said something I have heard so many times before, “if I only knew then what we know now…” Over the years, I finally came to the realization that there really is no point in dwelling on the “what if’s” and “If only’s” (ie: What if I had been diagnosed earlier…how different would my life have been?) The fact is, I can’t change what was or wasn’t done back then, but I have a voice now, and it is so exciting for me to watch my nephew (who, by the way, appropriately, is my Godson) receive special education and get the extra help he needs to enable him to reach his true and full potential.

And so, when I think about my own story, I am quite curious about parents today, who have a child that has ADD or ADHD, and the advances and help they receive now, and the process of how they were ‘properly’ diagnosed. Who picked up on the signs and how early was the child tested? And lastly, those of you who have children with this, did you see early signs because you recognized some of your own traits as a child in him or her?

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


3 Responses to “Growing Up With ADHD – Have Things Changed…?”

  1. Ira says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I know many readers will be able to appreciate and relate to your struggle…..and ultimately feel inspired.

  2. I have a daughter who is ADHD, so i am always looking for info like you have here on your site,thanks!
    .-= barry jennings´s last blog ..ADHD: The Causes =-.


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