“Should I Talk Openly About My ADHD in High School?”
Teens with ADHD face myriad challenges — many of them invisible. Would high school be easier if your friends knew about your ADHD diagnosis? Or would they treat you differently? Here are eight considerations and talking points for teens who are considering talking openly about their attention deficit for the first time.
An ADDitude reader recently wrote: “I am a junior in high school, and I’ve been hiding my inattentive ADD from my classmates since I was a freshman. I don’t always take my ADHD medication because I feel like I should be able to get things done without it. It has been tough to keep my diagnosis a secret from classmates all these years, but I don’t want them to think I’m weird or broken…”
“Should I Talk Openly About My ADHD in High School?”
I know that for many teens with ADHD, these high school years are complicated enough, and the challenges of ADHD may add more stress to the confusion. Relationships with your friends are important, and you don’t want the ADHD diagnosis to mess them up! However, ADHD can affect you in high school in different ways.
You may have trouble following the teacher’s lecture, or making conversation with your friends at lunch. Organizational challenges can be embarrassing when you don’t bring the right stuff to your study group or the right shoes to baseball practice. If you are impulsive, you might say things that you think are cute and funny, but that you realize later shouldn’t have been said. The problem is: You don’t want to stand out even more by coming out about your diagnosis, but it may be a relief for people to understand that you are not flaky or forgetful. So what should you do?
Here’s eight points I typically share with high school students who have ADHD:
1. Decide whether you want to tell your friends. There is no right answer, so do whatever feels right to you. But let’s be clear — you don’t have to tell anybody, even your relatives, if you don’t want to. Your ADHD is your business and you can keep it private. However, there are times when you may want to share your diagnosis. For example, if you’re having trouble paying attention at school, or friends misunderstand your behaviors, and you think that your ADHD is the cause, you might want to explain what’s going on. Otherwise, your classmates or teachers will think that you are not interested in what they have to say! Your medication may make you feel funky, so it is helpful to let your friends know that your moods don’t mean that you don’t like them.
2. Be matter of fact — not ashamed — if you decide to disclose. The high school social scene is tough. If you look weak or embarrassed about something, your classmates may harass or tease you. So remember that you have nothing to be ashamed of. You are not, as you said in the question, “weird or broken.” Make good eye contact with the people you tell, and use a matter-of-fact tone of voice and a smile. They will know that you are comfortable with the subject — and that they should be comfortable with it, too.
3. Don’t assume your classmates know what ADHD is all about. Some people with ADHD, like you, may be calm and inattentive. Others may be impulsive and hyperactive. You may have to explain how your ADHD affects you. People get confused if you tell them you have ADHD and don’t display the overt signs of hyperactivity. People don’t “see” ADHD in the way they see a cast on a broken arm or someone’s insulin pump. They may think they know about ADHD because they have heard a lot about it, but this doesn’t mean that their ideas about ADHD apply to you. If you are not comfortable telling someone about your ADHD, don’t do it. Instead, say that you sometimes get distracted or lose focus. Everybody can relate to spacing out from time to time.
4. Tell people, and ask for help. Asking for help is a skill that everyone needs to learn as they get older. Remember when you were younger. If people noticed you struggling to do something, they probably offered to help. In high school, people may notice that you are struggling, but they’re probably less likely to help. If you want help as a teenager, you may need to ask for it. It’s hard to feel different, but it’s worse to be miserable. Perhaps talk with your teachers about your ADHD in order to get help from them (they are not supposed to tell your friends about your condition), or talk to your parents and the counselors or principal at your school about possibly getting formal accommodations.
5. Do not use ADHD as an excuse. If you decide to tell people about your ADHD-related challenges, you will still need to find strategies to manage deadlines and relationships. If your ADHD causes you to procrastinate, lose things, or forget important dates, such as homework due dates or an upcoming test, explaining that you have ADHD should be followed by explaining how you are working to overcome your challenges. People might empathize with you if they know about your diagnosis, but they will respect you if you come up with ways to improve your distractibility and listening skills.
6. You may help other people if you share your diagnosis. You never know, but if you are talking to a friend about your diagnosis, she may be going through her own struggles with ADHD or something else. Honesty is a good thing in a relationship, and people will appreciate your candor.
7. Don’t share your medication with friends. Ever. If you tell people about your diagnosis, some of them may want you to share your medication. For one thing, it means less medication for you, someone who actually needs it. For another, you are not trained to manage the side effects that these medications may cause in a friend who takes it. Some people may have health issues that could affect whether or not they should take medication, or take medications (or other drugs) that do not mix well with your medication. Finally, sharing medication is illegal. There are federal and state laws that prohibit sharing prescription drugs, especially the controlled substances used for ADHD. You might want to have a prepared script ready to help you respond to people who ask for your medication. I recommend something simple and direct like, “No, I don’t do that.”
8. You can’t control how people react. If you decide to tell friends that you have ADHD, most will be supportive, kind, and helpful. However, not everyone will be nice. As someone once said, “A person may break your heart and damage your pride, but never give that person the power to break your spirit.” ADHD is a part of who you are. Embrace it and learn how to live with it!