“An Open Letter from a Smart Kid with ADHD”
ADHD is your diagnosis, not your identity.
First things first: Don’t be spooked by the word “disorder.” I know what you are feeling. Somewhere between the shame and the bitterness, the endless all-nighters and the pre-exam panic attacks hidden behind perfect A’s, the soaring test scores that suddenly (and rapidly) started dropping, you keep asking yourself over and over, Why me?
For all of your life, you have been the “smart kid.” Your teachers and peers thought of you as “the smart kid.” Your identity had been molded by the notion that you were somehow exceptionally intelligent, gifted. Being in accelerated classes since the first grade generated a whole lot of hubris.
So when a school psychiatrist sat you down and said, “You have ADHD,” it took a moment for you to process the words (and not because you zoned out again).
You, the perfect student, the teacher’s pet, could not have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), because you’re the “smart kid.”
“Disorders” just don’t fit into that narrative.
But when you think about it, it was sort of a paradox. You soared above everyone else in academics as you struggled to keep your head above water. You got good grades, but at the cost of your emotional and physical wellbeing.
You didn’t see that. All you saw was a wall full of medals and trophies and certificates telling you that you’re exceptional and above average. You don’t need help. The fear of a chink in your armor — the possibility that you’re somehow less intelligent than you thought — might make you want to run away from treatment. You may reject ADHD therapy, medication, accommodations, or anything that you feel tarnishes your shining image.
Nothing will get better if you continue to live with that mindset. It’s unsustainable. School will get only harder and more competitive. Take back control of your life while you’re still young, so, by the time it really starts to count — in high school and college — you’ll be ready to soar.
ADHD is your diagnosis, not your identity. ADHD does not measure your potential in life, your worth as a person, and certainly not your intelligence. It means brushing your teeth and keeping your backpack clean is harder than it is for most kids. This is a surmountable obstacle.
Accept help while you still have parents and teachers to bail you out when things go south. You won’t always have that support. College professors don’t care if you know you wrote your essay but forgot to put it in your bag. Being “an enthusiastic student” won’t bring up sinking GPAs.
Above all, don’t let ADHD, and the obstacles that come with it, stifle your love of learning. Your brain is beautiful, unique, and full of potential. Don’t self-sabotage and let hubris take that away from you. No one is so smart that they couldn’t use some help, not even you.
You are still the “smart kid.” You are still the person you have always been.