I thought about valuable lessons I learned in high school while sitting on the couch next to my best friend, Charlie, a Yorkshire terrier. Charlie weighs 10 pounds and is roughly the size of a lunch bag. He's my girlfriend’s dog and he's frickin' sweet.
When I started dating Charlie's owner, I wanted a hunting dog, and I thought I knew which types of dogs were cool. If I had a choice, I would own some Rambo/Lassie hybrid that hunted moose and helped me bang out e-mails. I was dead set on my hunting-typing dog, and I snubbed Charlie at first.
ADHD Teens Are More Than Their Symptoms
A lot of people treat ADHD teens like I treated Charlie. People focus on our wildly colored T-shirt instead of the whole outfit. People look at Charlie and see a lap dog that looks like a furry rat when he's wet. They don't check out the rest of the package, and see that he would protect me from 10 ninjas, has a big bag of tricks he can do, and catches bugs like a pro!
In high school, I wasn't called a furry rat. Instead, I was called lazy or distracted. The problem was that people looked at only one piece of the puzzle. If they saw me in pre-calculus class, they would think I was stupid, but if they saw me in history class, they'd think I was going to Harvard.
As teens, a lot of us ADHDers are treated like Charlie. People look at a small part of the big picture and don't really note our strengths. Having talked with lots of other ADHDers like myself, I know that most of us are good at a few things and not good at a few things, too. In school, if we just focus on how much we suck at math, foreign language, PE, whatever...negative thoughts creep in and make us want to throw in the towel.
Sometimes I wished I was better at science or that Charlie was more like my friend's Labrador. But it's important to never undervalue what we're good at. Charlie's size may make him a pushover at tug-of-war, but it also makes him easy to bring along on car trips. When I was 15, I wasn't great at math, but I was good at speech class and analyzing professional wrestling.
Love Your Strengths
We need to value our strengths more and not get discouraged and defeated when people harp on our weaknesses. One other thing: Don't forget that people change as they get older. Just because you're a little loopy, you're bad at sports, or struggle in Spanish doesn't mean you’ll be that way forever. I'm way better at math and tennis now than I was when I was a teenager.
One other takeaway about Charlie: If I don’t take him for walks or feed him well, he turns into a terror. If he hasn't had his morning stroll, he is restless and grumpy for the rest of the day. If he's overfed or eats table scraps, he gets chubby and has a tough time making it around the block. Like Charlie, ADHDers should exercise every day and have a solid diet. It takes stamina and perseverance to make it through a day of learning, and if you eat junk food, or don't get physical activity, you’ll get grumpy and restless, too.
So, in an ADHD nutshell, here is my survival guide for high school: Don't get discouraged, appreciate your strengths, and don't forget that you have the ability to change.
This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of ADDitude.
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To share your high school experience with other teens with ADHD, visit the ADHD Teens and Young Adults support group on ADDConnect.