“I’m Not Supposed to Have ADHD.”
A good girl can’t have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, especially if she’s a high-achieving Asian American, right? Wrong. But the potent stereotypes around ADHD and race prevented those around me – and above all, me – from recognizing my ADHD as such. Here are the stereotypes that kept me in the chaos of undiagnosed ADHD for so long.
You can tell I’m an Asian American woman by looking at me. What’s not so obvious is my ADHD; even I didn’t know about it until this year because, in our American society, people who look like me are not “supposed” to have ADHD.
I was not “supposed” to have ADHD as a girl; the ADHD stereotype maintains that only boys who misbehave have ADHD. My elementary school teachers saw a shy girl who listened to directions. What they didn’t see was that I was trying so hard to keep track of what my teacher and classmates were saying in class that I didn’t have time to consider speaking up, so I defaulted to not talking at all. But at recess, I was so energetic and talkative that my friends often called me “hyper,” which I was.
I was not “supposed” to have ADHD because I’m an Asian American, and the model minority myth claims that all Asian Americans are obedient academic powerhouses. My parents saw an accomplished child who got As on her report cards. What they didn’t see was the steep price I paid for these grades. Every in-class English essay I wrote in high school involved harnessing anxiety to corral my racing thoughts enough to write some semblance of a conclusion in the last five minutes of class. I thought this terror was just a part of being a good student.
In American society, girls — especially Asian American girls — are expected to be obedient and competent. These expectations boxed me into a mold that did not include ADHD. As I tumbled into my college classes late and scrolled down Facebook on my iPhone while “practicing” piano, the possibility of ADHD never came up. I knew I was battling a nippy vulture named anxiety; little did I know that the real monster ravaging my life was a vicious dragon called ADHD. Nor did I know that the dragon was just grouchy that it didn’t get enough sleep and hugs, or a regular morning walk. But how could I tame a beast that society told me did not exist?
One of the many things my ADHD teaches me is that things are almost never the way they’re “supposed” to be. My ADHD is not a part of who I’m “supposed” to be. It is more than that. My ADHD is a central part of who I am just as much as being an Asian American woman is.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a happy ADHD dragon that will fly me to the coolest castles and highest mountain peaks than an irritated dragon breathing fire at me. My hope is that our society can move beyond what ADHD is “supposed” to look like and more toward what ADHD is — in all of its myriad differences, struggles, and strengths. ADHD doesn’t only belong to hyperactive little boys; it belongs to all of us with ADHD who deserve the opportunity to understand, care for, and fly our dragons to new heights.