In the Princeton, New Jersey, household of the McGavern family, Katherine McGavern is in charge.
Katherine has an infectious laugh and a sweet demeanor, but she is a drill sergeant when she needs to be. Katherine has had to call upon her tougher side often: Two of her three grown children have attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD).
The changes that two ADD diagnoses caused at home were significant, and the trajectory of Katherine’s career also was altered. Katherine had been a marketing executive, but she stopped working 16 years ago to be more available to her sons, particularly James and Ted, who were diagnosed when they were in first and eighth grades, respectively.
In 2005, Katherine launched her own ADD coaching service. Her years of strategizing with the boys have given her many tools for the coaching toolbox. Last year Katherine co-founded the Mercer County, New Jersey, chapter of CHADD, and she is a CHADD-certified Parent to Parent teacher.
The closet in Katherine’s office is packed with souvenirs of her early attempts to bring order out of chaos: notebooks, Post-Its, calendars, and every sort of timer imaginable. "I was buying out Staples," she says, laughing. She eventually realized that no one organizational tool held the perfect solution, and that she had to keep changing strategies.
Thanks to the support and dedication of a team of players — including Katherine, her husband, Alan, and their middle son, Tim, who doesn’t have ADD, as well as a number of therapists and tutors — and a lot of hard work on the boys’ part, Ted and James have flourished. Ted graduated from Dartmouth College and now works in financial services in London. James attends Pratt Institute in New York City, where he is a freshman with a merit scholarship.
KATHERINE: Ted’s natural brightness carried him through seventh grade. But in eighth grade, things changed. He was always losing things and earning Cs and Ds. He’d either score 110 on a quiz because he’d done work for extra credit — or he’d get a 5. When setting the table, he couldn’t remember where to put the fork. But he could build a remote-control car with thousands of parts.
Teachers called Ted a “divergent learner.” He would solve math problems his own way and not use formulas. Ted was our first child, so we didn’t realize there was a bigger issue. We just thought he was a quirky kid.
TED: One of the most challenging things was feeling that I was doing something wrong because I didn’t work with a normal routine and structure. With math problems, I just had my own way of solving them. In high school, and later at Dartmouth, I often flew by the seat of my pants. When it came to writing papers, I had most of an outline in my mind, and, when push came to shove, I sat down and wrote it. I pulled a lot of all-nighters.
TIM: As the younger brother, I looked up to Ted. I’d go along with whatever he was into, whether it was remote-control cars, rock climbing, or mountain biking. One year it was fishing, and he’d say, “Let’s get a canoe; let’s get a tackle box.” You’d never know what to expect.
KATHERINE: My husband Alan and I reacted to the situation differently. The worse Ted did in school, the angrier Alan became. I knew that Ted wasn’t failing deliberately — nor being lazy. I sensed that something else was going on.
My oldest brother had trouble in school. It turned out that he was severely dyslexic. He flunked out of high school and was not diagnosed until years later. Our struggles with Ted reminded me of my parents’ struggles with my brother, and led me to wonder: Is there some unseen condition at work here?
This article comes from the October/November issue of ADDitude.