Did you know 11 percent of school-aged children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? Left undiagnosed, ADHD can make it very difficult for kids to reach their full potential — in school and beyond. With the right diagnosis and treatment, kids with ADHD can overcome their challenges and be very successful.
The Experience Journal, a project of the Boston Children’s Hospital psychiatry program, interviewed numerous adolescents and parents about their experiences with ADHD. Here are their stories, in their own words.
ADHD: Noticing a problem
During sixth grade, I was getting in trouble in school all the time. I was talking out of turn and yelling and getting in-school suspension, plus my grades were getting bad. So then the principal had a meeting with my mom, and my mom took me to do testing. I had to fill out a big questionnaire … and then they diagnosed me with having ADHD. I kind of understood what it was, but basically I just knew that I had attention problems.
She was disorganized with her belongings, moved quickly from thing to thing and wasn’t able to settle. I think it was when she started kindergarten, when she started to interface with the school and there were organized activities that we began to notice that she had a little trouble concentrating and staying on task.
It really hit us by the time Megan got to high school; that’s when school becomes more complicated … She really started to slip in terms of grades and her ability to do the work. I thought it was because she had some really bad teachers; she’d always done so well in elementary school. I feel like such an idiot when I look back on myself. But I was thinking, “These teachers are doing a terrible job because there is nothing wrong with my child; she’s really bright.” She is, but she couldn’t learn the way they were teaching.
ADHD: Taking medication
I had to write an essay, and my medicine had worn off, and I couldn’t find the Ritalin I take in the afternoon … [My dad] was like, “Just write it. Just sit down and write it in an hour.” I was like “Well, Dad, I can’t write an essay in an hour, even with my medicine.” He was like, “Well write it in an hour and a half.” He thinks that ADHD is something that because I have medicine, I can work past it. Because I can work past most things, he thinks I can work past everything, but I can’t. Sometimes I just wish he would get that.
[When I take medication], I think about what I’m going to say before I go and blurt out something stupid and then get in a fight. I can think about what I say before I say it and can think of the results of what could happen instead of just saying, “You’re blah, blah, blah,” and then get in a big ‘ole fight.
We did have to try different medications before we found the one that fit. It’s kind of trial and error — you do see a difference, and sometimes they do become a little bit more sensitive. And on days they don’t take it, they might become a little bit more moody, which is kind of frustrating, but kids do that, it’s just the age.
ADHD: Advice for parents
For parents whose kids have ADHD, I would tell them to be supportive of their child and to explain everything to them in a way they can understand. I would also say listen to yourself, but also listen to what your child is saying. The effect the medication has may benefit your child even if they don’t want to go on it. Don’t blame them because they don’t do things quickly or they misplace things. Try to talk to them to find out what’s wrong and be inventive to come up with ways to help them pay attention and remember things.
Pre-teaching helps. I always tell Jason a million times before an event or trip what is going to happen. If we are going somewhere that day, and we will be home late, I will tell him that he will be going to bed shortly after we get home. Whatever I know will trigger a problem, I let him know ahead of time what to expect. He has to hear it several times, and I make him look at me and tell me he understands. It works. Yelling does not work. Trying to make them do it the way you want does not work. Sometimes you have to give them the choice.
When you raise children who have a special need, it becomes a rather complicated situation, and it changes every year. It changes at every developmental level. I encourage parents to talk with somebody, as I have, and try to get as many views as possible on how to manage the ADD and when to move in and when to step back. Of course, there is no one way to do it. I just encourage parents to talk to friends, family and professional people and not just think that throwing a pill at it is the whole deal because it really is not.