Ever been frustrated by the media's take on attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) - the many stories about our "Ritalin Nation," about ADD as "just a byproduct of our society," or about "teachers pushing drugs"? Ever wondered what you could do to combat negative perceptions and help others with ADHD?
After hearing heartbreaking stories from people in local workshops and support groups, I felt compelled to take action. Several months ago, I sold my belongings, bought a plane ticket to Oregon, and then rode my bicycle 5,000 miles in 40 days, from coast to coast. My goal? To counter negative perceptions about ADD, educate the public, and show that anyone with ADD can succeed.
I pedaled through the heart of America, talking to people along the way. And I met people with distressing stories. One mom blamed herself for her son's ADD. She didn't know that people with the condition can be a success or that resources are available to help them achieve that goal.
A famous news anchor confided to me that he was diagnosed only a few years ago. Before he understood ADD, he floundered in his career. Yet like many brilliant and successful ADDers, he was reluctant to help others, afraid to mention his condition because of the stigma attached to it.
The mom and the anchorman share a similar story and a powerful message. We cannot live in a vacuum. Only through education and understanding will ADDers succeed and achieve. On my journey, I learned that people are willing to listen, and that ADD advocacy needn't be carried out on a national stage... it starts where you live.
Put a human face on ADD - talk to everyone and anyone about it. The more we talk about ADD, the more we break down barriers. Hold workshops for educators and school administrators, or find someone who can. Learn how to work with the media - offer to write articles on ADD for local publications and get on local radio or TV.
Or start a local ADHD support group. Besides being rewarding, it's also fun and easy to form (see below). Enlist guest speakers for the meetings, and invite the press. A little tip: Tell the newspaper or magazine about the event weeks in advance to increase the chances of getting coverage.
One middle-aged woman I met could have been helped by such an article or by a support group. She told me about bouncing from job to job, project to project, relationship to relationship. Feeling misunderstood, alone, and without hope, she reached the point of contemplating suicide.
Her story, and countless others, inspire me to do more, because the suffering can be helped. We can achieve amazing things, but we need each other.
Support group startup: step-by-step
- Determine whether you'll run the group alone or with a friend.
- Search for a quiet location. Free options include a coffee shop during off hours, church/temple, or a nonprofit organization.
- Decide on the frequency and time for meetings. Monthly is doable for most people, and early weeknight evenings or Saturday mornings are ideal meeting times.
- Call the newspaper to list meetings in the community calendar. Also, post flyers at local hangouts.
- Develop a format. An easy way to start is to give five minutes to each person to share his story, followed by general discussion. Many groups have 20-minute talks on pre-chosen topics.
- Decide whether to charge a fee. I've seen some support groups die out because of the fee, but a nominal fee will defray advertising costs and can be used to pay speakers.
- Keep a consistent schedule - it helps people remember the time and place, and, thus, increases the comfort level of members.