Struggling with ADHD: 'I Almost Didn’t Make It Through High School'

Help arrived in the form of a ADHD coach. But was Rob really ready to make life changes?

Rob Surratt, age 21 in this photo, got help for his AD/HD from a life coach. ADDitude Magazine Rob Surratt (age 21 at time of picture) got help for his ADHD from a life coach.

As a kid with ADHD, you just feel different from everyone else. Drinking can be a common ground with other kids.

Rob Surratt, who stopped dealing drugs and graduated high school against the odds

Rob Surratt, age 21, has struggled with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) for most of his school career. When help arrived a little more than three years ago, in the form of a life coach, Rob was a willing candidate. But was he really ready to make major life changes? In this personal and revealing discussion, Rob, his parents, and coach Jodi Sleeper-Triplett talk about his 16-year-long battle with ADHD, and about the challenges he's met along the way.

Walt, Rob's dad: Rob was officially diagnosed with ADHD as an eighth-grade student in Fairfax, Virginia. As early as preschool, Rob showed some of the classic signs of ADHD. He had difficulty staying still or paying attention for an extended period of time. This behavior prompted his kindergarten teacher to recommend delaying first grade by a year. He did pretty well in elementary school, but in junior high things started to slip. A constant stream of phone calls from the school began. They'd say: "Rob's been disruptive." "He won't stop talking." "He's so easily distracted." "He can't focus." We tried Ritalin and Concerta at different times. They seemed to help, but he often refused to take medication because he didn't like the way it made him feel. We also took him to counselors in junior high school, but they didn't help much.

Sharon, Rob's mom: Because Rob wasn't classified as severe, he was never assigned a teaching aid. During his sophomore year in high school, he started to get discouraged. He was having so much trouble getting organized. He'd forget about homework assignments or study for a test but not do well. I hated being the nagger. I would try to be like a coach and approach things more positively. That worked when he was younger, but it didn't work when he became a teenager. He began to resent me. Sometimes he'd just walk away while I was talking. Other times, he'd stand there with his arms crossed, with a look on his face that said he was merely tolerating me. When I was finished talking, he'd leave without saying anything.

He began to spend a lot of time away from home - he worked part-time for an auto-body shop, he'd go to friends' houses. It was then that he started to make a lot of bad decisions, choosing to self-medicate with marijuana and alcohol. The stress was too much for him. He was close to failing in school, and things got harder each year. We couldn't imagine him going to college. We didn't think he'd even make it out of high school. At the time, I was managing an office for a local psychiatrist, who gave me the name of a life coach. I'd never even heard of such coaches, but we were intrigued because it was a different approach. We figured, why not use a third party?

Rob: Since I first started school, sitting in a classroom has always been a challenge. Instead of listening to the teacher, I'd be banging on my desk, kicking my legs, constantly asking to go to the bathroom. I needed to get up and move.

I was bad about taking my ADHD medicine. It wasn't time-released and I hated the way it made me feel all jacked-up. In high school, things got worse. I was expected to sit at my desk for two hours, take a 10-minute break, and go back to another two-hour class. By the end of my sophomore year, I was smoking pot every day after school to calm me down. I was drinking, too. As a kid with ADHD, you just feel different from everyone else. Drinking can be a common ground with other kids.

By junior year, with a grade-point average hovering around D+, I started lashing out at my teachers when they singled me out for misconduct or inattentiveness. I hated that the other kids were looking at me. I was angry with my parents all the time. When you're a teenager, you already feel like you're alone - having ADHD made me feel more alone.

I went to an outpatient drug rehab for four months during my junior year. Two days after I got out, I started smoking again. In senior year, I began dealing drugs. Around this time I remember my dad saying to me, "Rob, you have so much potential. You're such a bright kid and you're just throwing it all away." That resonated with me. I thought, "What are you doing? You're snuffing your life out."

And then, at the end of my senior year, my best friend's little sister died in a boating accident. The guy who killed her was drunk. I had totaled my own truck two months before. I walked away with a broken nose - I wasn't wearing a seat belt - but no one else was injured. I felt like I'd been given a second life and that God wanted me to do something with it.

Jodi Sleeper-Triplett (a master certified coach in Herndon, Virginia): I was originally hired in early 2001 to help with Rob's academics. It was the usual stuff for kids with AD/HD. He wasn't into school. Wasn't taking his medication regularly. Socially, he was fine. He had a lot of friends. Part of my role is to coach Rob with making choices, like when to go a party, when to do homework, how to keep medication on track. Initially, we spent a half-hour on the phone each week. In the beginning, I'd occasionally talk to his parents. But they let him do his own thing with the coaching.

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