Chengming, our ADHD daughter, paced back and forth, her forehead wrinkled in concentration, then stopped in front of me. “It was noisy, all the kids were talking at once,” she began. “The teacher said something, but I don’t remember what we were supposed to do.”
Another teenager may have sounded angry, but my 14-year-old daughter only seemed defeated and embarrassed. And why wouldn’t she? She’s had such struggles since we adopted her and brought her home, at five years old. She couldn’t remember what to do to solve word problems, and her essays meandered.
Whenever my husband, Mark, and I tried to help her, we’d often find her in the middle of a daydream. “What?” Chengming would ask, as she suddenly focused. “What were you saying?”
Our Absent-Minded Professor
Boys are much more likely to get a formal diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADHD) — teachers and parents notice their hyperactivity and impulsivity. Shy, inattentive Chengming faded into the background at school. Her sweetness and naiveté were charming; she seemed like an absent-minded professor.
When she caught herself daydreaming in the middle of a conversation, she apologized, if a bit vaguely. Yes, she seemed to be an airhead, but she was respectful, and she could pay attention at times. None of her teachers ever suggested that Chengming might have ADHD.
Those are my excuses now. I have spoken with many parents who told me that their (undiagnosed) daughters were passed from one grade to another, even though the quality of their work hinted at serious learning problems.
Recognizing the Signs
Through the years, Chengming has seen two psychologists and countless school counselors, for diagnosis and evaluation. They all agreed that she struggled with logic and complex reasoning. She was diagnosed as having problems with executive functions, so she was provided with academic support at school.
Even with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place, however, she continued to struggle. Still, ADHD never came up—until a wise and experienced school nurse stood up at an IEP meeting and declared, “If this kid doesn’t have ADD, I’ll eat my hat.”
At that point, we finally saw what we’d been missing — the burdens our daughter had borne from years of living with undiagnosed ADHD. Chengming had come to believe she was stupid, not merely forgetful. She was depressed and anxious over social interactions. My daughter was born without a left forearm and hand, which caused her much grief and embarrassment. Her daydreaming manner left her feeling even more ostracized.
How had we missed ADD in our daughter — and missed it for so many years? She was often at a loss for words, losing her train of thought. She fell apart if confronted by a complex problem. One day, as I was reading a story problem to Chengming, she blocked her ears and cried, “I can’t keep this all in my head! Stop it!” She struggled to focus on what we were saying, but our interactions often ended with her staring at us shyly and asking, “Huh?”
This article comes from the Spring 2009 issue of ADDitude.
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