When I asked Jane, a mother of three children, who suspected she had ADD, to talk about her symptoms, she told me the following story. “I go upstairs to collect the laundry,” she said. “At the top of the steps, I look into a bedroom and see something that needs to be done. I do it. Then, I remember the laundry, but I notice something else and stop to do that. The laundry never gets collected.”
After further questioning, Jane described a history of inattention. She was distracted by anything she saw or heard. She couldn’t manage household chores and her three children. She was never on time, and she often forgot what needed to be done each day.
I confirmed a diagnosis of inattentive-type ADHD, and I placed Jane on a stimulant. Her life changed. On medication, she could complete tasks without being distracted by other activities. Her life was organized.
Jessica, a tenth grader, was a more complicated case. She had struggled in school since eighth grade, and she was now in serious academic trouble. After a psycho-educational evaluation at school, it was found that she had above-average intellectual ability, but her processing-speed and working-memory scores were below average.
The school suspected she had inattentive-type ADHD. Jessica saw her pediatrician, and was started on a stimulant. Her focus improved, but her academic performance did not. That is when Jessica’s parents asked me to evaluate her.
I discovered that Jessica had been a good student until seventh grade. She had more difficulty keeping up with assignments and completing her work each year. While she comprehended the material, she didn’t retain what she read. She appeared to understand lectures, but she couldn’t organize her thoughts well enough to write them down in a paper.
“I just stare at the page and nothing comes out,” she said. Adding to these difficulties was the fact that she often forgot to write assignments down. I re-read Jessica’s psycho-educational evaluation. Her educational difficulties were not addressed at the school conference. Instead, most professionals concluded that she had ADHD. Yet educational testing showed her trouble with retaining what she read and organizing her thoughts. It was not clear to me that she had ADHD. It was clear that she had learning disabilities. I suggested special-education tutoring, and encouraged the school to provide accommodations. The medication was stopped. Her grades slowly and steadily improved.
Next: Getting the Right Help