Shame on All the Grownups, Teachers, and Kids Who Make Me Feel Ashamed

After Lee’s history teacher announced that he had ADHD, my daughter felt a lot better about herself.
Mom Is the Word | posted by Jennifer Gay Summers
How My Daughter’s Teacher Helped Her to Overcome ADHD Shame

Back in September, when Lee started tenth grade, she couldn’t stop talking about her history teacher. “Just wait until you meet him at back-to-school night, Mom…you’ll really like him. He lets me draw during class!”

This was new. Even though drawing helped calm Lee’s hyperactivity, teachers didn’t permit it right off the bat.

At back-to-school night, I approached Mr. Edwards. “I just want to thank you for allowing my daughter, Lee, to sketch during your lectures. It helps her focus on what you’re saying.”

“Of course,” he said in a loud voice, “…I have ADHD! Drawing’s how I got myself through high school.”

Several parents snuck covert glances our way with an awkward chuckle. I wanted to shout, “Did you hear that? It’s OK to live with ADHD and tell the world. No shame!” Because the reality was, after 16 years of raising a daughter with ADHD, I had rarely heard anyone mention that they had been diagnosed with ADHD.

At every ADHD conference I’ve attended, shame has been a hot issue. One keynote speaker had us repeat after him, over and over again: “There is no shame, there is no shame….” Many people in the room cried. When Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, I felt that helping her come to grips with her ADHD challenges was better than hiding them in the closet and pretending they didn’t exist.

When Lee started high school—the time when children are acutely self-conscious—shame made its nasty presence felt more often. When she forgot to turn in her work due to her low memory recall, she felt the judgment of “You’re lazy,” from the teacher. She felt “stupid” when she forgot her friends had invited her to a movie and she missed out on a fun night. When she followed her impulse and chased a boy who had stolen her friend’s hat across the quad, and crashed into a fence, she felt the barb of rejection as a kid yelled, “You’re crazy.”

In tenth grade, Lee is now coming to see that her challenges are also her strength. Her passion for anime and her artistic talent came from that creative, innovative ADHD brain. Her outspokenness allowed her to self-advocate at school when she had anxiety. “I need you to slow down,” she told her math teacher. “I can’t process that quickly!”

She did what my generation couldn’t have dreamed of doing: She reached out on the Web and found other kids with ADHD, autism, and bipolar disorder, kids who also had differences, just like her, a group from around the world giving support to each other at all times of the day when they needed it the most.

Mr. Edwards continues to be a positive role model to Lee. I could hear his influence the other day when my daughter said, “It’s sad to be ashamed of ADHD because it’s a part of who you are…so being ashamed of who you are is terrible. If parents, teachers, or other kids make you feel this way, they should be ashamed themselves.”

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