I had always considered David a bright kid. He seemed interested in everything and capable of grasping complex topics. True, he made careless mistakes in school. But I was sure that, as he got older — and with a little extra help from me and my wife — he would be more careful on tests and assignments
At the beginning of his third-grade year, the school invited parents to a presentation on attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD). I decided to attend, but only to assure myself that David did not have the condition. Sure enough, as I viewed the film that accompanied the talk, it seemed obvious that I was right. The kids in the film were in non-stop motion, unable to sit still and constantly bothering their classmates. They were clearly hyperactive. David didn’t seem that way to me, and his teacher agreed. She told us that his “lively personality” wasn’t a serious problem. As third grade progressed, though, I became more concerned about David’s academic difficulties.
Not college material?
In Germany, where we live, good marks in the third and fourth grades are necessary for admission to the Gymnasium, the academic program that is a prerequisite to college. My wife began to think that David might not be suited for the Gymnasium. I couldn’t accept that.
Did a few spelling errors really mean David wasn’t college material? I’m a terrible speller, and I went to college. I’ve had a successful career as a system and network administrator, and I have written several books and dozens of articles. Misspelling a few words does not mean you can’t be successful. My wife suggested that I wanted David to go to college for my sake, not his.
The root of my fears
I grew up in San Jose, California, where my mother was a school psychologist. I still remember the stories she told about how kids who were hard to handle were often “branded” hyperactive. They were placed in special-education classes or put on “drugs” — making them easier to manage in the regular classroom.
My initial aversion to considering the possibility that David had ADD stemmed, in part, from my fear that he would likewise be labeled with a “mental disorder.” The possibility that my “imperfect” son might be unable to achieve the things I had hoped for him troubled me. Then, of course, there was the issue of “drugs.” I didn’t want to medicate David just for the sake of his teachers.
At the end of third grade, the school psychologist tested David and concluded that he had above-average intelligence and wasn’t hyperactive, but that he had trouble focusing. The doctor to whom we were referred had a two-month waiting list. I was glad for the wait, as it gave us time to try David on various nutritional and training methods. We saw little change, other than the bad breath from the fish oil capsules.
The wait also gave me a chance to read up on ADD. It was a relief to learn that — far from being a mental disorder — ADD is simply a difference in the way the brain works. Some kids David’s age need glasses because their eyes are “different.” David’s situation was comparable.
One book I read indicated that ADD is hereditary — usually passing from father to child. Suddenly, things became clearer. Aside from being a poor speller, I’ve always taken things too personally. I tend to overreact — or argue things to death. Over the years, I had all sorts of nasty episodes — including some with co-workers — that almost got me into serious trouble. At one point, things got so bad that I began seeing a psychologist. She called my behavior a “defense mechanism.” Now I know that she missed the diagnosis by a mile.
This article comes from the October/November 2006 issue of ADDitude.