“I’ve Been Proving People Wrong All My Life”
When people who look at me differently, talk down to me, or judge me because of “my illness” (as some call ADHD), I push back.
A little girl sits in her third-grade classroom staring at the chalkboard, with butterflies in her stomach. All of sudden she feels a hand grab her arm, hard enough to leave five nail marks on her arm. I didn’t know that this moment would traumatize and, at the same time, drive me to succeed.
I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) when I was 29. Back then, ADHD was thought to be a disorder found only in boys. I wasn’t a behavior problem in school. I was a “social butterfly” as some teachers called me. Others teachers yelled at me to pay attention, or told me I needed to apply myself or that I could do better.
“What is it going to take for you to try in school?” was something I heard a lot. What no one knew was that I was trying my hardest to focus and pay attention. I didn’t enjoy any of this, and I wanted to be normal. I studied for hours for tests and couldn’t understand why I only got a D. I became anxious and depressed, hiding it from others fairly well.
When it came time to “plan” for high school and beyond, the comments became even harsher: “You won’t amount to anything.” I heard it again and again so that it was etched in my memory.
Then I met a wonderful woman who told me not to give up. She said, “… prove them wrong, prove them all wrong. Show them that they don’t know what they are talking about.”
I channeled those words and did prove people wrong. The comment continues to drive me to this day when I encounter people who look at me differently, talk down to me, and judge me because of “my illness” (as some call it).
When I was diagnosed and started taking medication, the psychologist who had evaluated me for ADHD said, “You are amazing! You have graduated high school, earned an associate’s degree, and got a good job.”
The medication made a big difference in my life. I was able to sit on the sofa and read through a book in one sitting. I comprehended what I had read. The first time I did that I cried and cried because I thought I had missed out on so much.
I went back to college to get my teaching degree. I wanted to help students like me and share ADHD success stories. I wanted to be their cheerleader, the person who believed in them, like the wonderful woman who believed in me. The power of one!
Having ADHD gives me an understanding of my students, especially of students taking medication. I understand the side effects, since I deal with them, too: having such a bad case of dry mouth that your tongue sticks to the inside your mouth causing you to fumble over words; needing some time to sneak in snacks during the day because eating a full meal sometimes makes you feel like you want to vomit.
I acknowledge their needs. I make sure that the room is quiet when they take tests. I don’t even work on the computer because I know that some students will notice the clicking on the keyboard, the second hand ticking on the clock, the shuffling of shoes, or other little things that other people tune out. I accept that there will be moments when they get off track and take a little detour for a couple minutes.
I allow students to work in different areas of the classroom instead of having to sit in their chair and work at a table. I balance high academic expectations with letting them be themselves. When I make mistakes, I show students how to handle that without getting down on themselves. I let them know that I am not perfect, and that mistakes help me to learn and grow.
I am honest with my students. I don’t give them “fluffy” comment, but I’m not rude or degrading to them. We talk about the “elephant in the room” because we should not feel shame if our brains function differently than others, even when other people try to make us feel that way.
My students tell me what works and doesn’t work for them. They know how they feel, and if they can’t articulate their feelings, I ask them questions so they can describe their emotions. I make sure that my students learn self-advocacy skills, no matter how old they are.
I remember overhearing someone say, “Those students get up every morning and think of ways to annoy teachers!” I know that my students absolutely don’t to that. We don’t enjoy being “different.” I did not choose to have ADHD, and neither did my students. What we need is to be accepted as we are and for whom we are. After all, each one of us has a lot to offer the world.
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