Thursday, April 20, 2017

You don't get it.

I don’t think you get it. I don’t think you understand life with ADHD.

Have you seen the short film “Falling Letters”? Do you think that is what ADHD is like? I don't. Life with ADHD is not slow, or sweet at all. It’s a technicolor, non-stop, exhausting barrage of information that you are expected to prioritize, sort, react and respond to with limited access to will power and self-control. Life with ADHD is not a quiet moment of distractedness. It’s being in front of a Jumbotron broken into the ever-changing scenes of the moment. They are all equally loud, and equally sized. 

Imagine standing in the electronics aisle and every TV is on a different channel. We have to figure out, through trial and (A LOT) of error, which of those TVs are important, which one we are supposed to focus on, which one we should react to, and which one we should ignore. It would be so incredibly nice to turn a few off, or even down, but we can’t. WE CAN’T!!! And it’s exhausting.

Our thoughts, and writing, and conversations hop from topic to topic, often circling back, because all of the TVs in front of us seem equally important, and if we don’t comment or react right in-the-moment, the scene may change. It seems like impulsiveness, but it's more than that. It is a driving need to process as much as we can before it slips away. Sometimes it feels like we are trying to hold sand in an open hand, sifting through the grains of information as fast as we can as it falls through our fingers.

Think of a child in a classroom. The teacher, the chalkboard, the sound of the air-conditioning , the stain on the shirt of the kid next to you, the worksheet in front of you, the crayon with weird white stuff on it...

To a “normal" child all of these are easy to focus on in three dimensions. You push back and block out the little things without even realizing you are doing it. The teacher’s voice is loudest, the chalkboard the prominent backdrop, the worksheet in front of you the most important thing to work on. The air-conditioning and stained shirt and odd crayon residue are just small things on the periphery that beg no attention or notice.

A child with ADHD, like my son, on the other hand is bombarded with all these stimuli equally. The teacher’s voice is drowned out by the way the hum of the air-conditioning pulses. The child’s shirt stain and all it various color is more mesmerizing than what is on the chalkboard. The need to explore the strange white stuff on the crayon is more interesting and therefore more important than the worksheet.

So we learn to cope. We learn to physically wrench our focus onto the teacher. Sometimes physically putting up a hand to block the view of the stained shirt, or putting a finger in our ear to block out the sound of the air-conditioning. We twist and turn in our seat or click our pen because the movement and rhythm helps us focus. Creating a controlled distraction that we can put on autopilot to drown out others. We start to drift, then pull our attention back, over and over, squeezing the focus from our mind like an athlete squeezes one more shaky rep out of his workout routine. We read the same line over and over, jump from question to question, working in no particular order. As we write, our mind drifts. We pull it back, but it's too late. What were we writing? We forget, so we move on planning to come back to it. Finally, we get to the end, catch our breath. It took everything we had in that moment, but we finished.

Then comes the poor grade from you, the negative feedback from me. “Rushed” “Sloppy” “More Effort Needed”.

My son takes his medicine every morning to help make our jobs easier. I know first hand the calmness it brings. It's like someone hands you a remote. One by one you can turn down the distracting televisions, scroll through the channels with ease, only there aren't as many anymore, and they all have turned black and white. See the medicine helps, but it numbs his personality, and he crashes back into technicolor reality the moment it wears off. It's like jerking the remote away and blasting the volume.

Needless to say, the physical and emotional back lash of being on medication takes its toll. My son struggles to gain weight, and gets little sleep and night, as if his mind is working overtime to get through all those shows he had shut off. But on the days we miss it, he can't do anything right. He's distracted and loud, impulsive and messy, and God knows we let him know it. The barrage of negative feedback visibly crushes him. So I tell myself it is worth it because I yell less, his teachers like him more, and in the long run, he won’t grow up feeling like he can't do anything right, and just give up. 

But deep deep down, I know making him easier to deal with is not truly the answer. ADHD does not have to be a curse, it has the potential to be a gift. These children can be taught to change, or they can be taught to change the world. ADHD has a remarkable place in history. Presidents, prime ministers, actors, artist, musicians, scientists, engineers, some of our best and brightest showed signs of ADHD.

Think back to standing in that electronics aisle. While you can only focus on a one or two televisions, and digest the world directly in front of you, ADHD children can take in dozens of channels at once. And when they find a TV that is playing something they like, they are able to focus on it at the exclusion of everyone and everything. They will notice every detail of the program, and re-watch it over and over, memorizing the lines. Taking things apart, building, constructing, creating, inventing, rehearsing, LEARNING.

Yes that's right, my ADHD son can learn. Yes, he is harder to teach, and frustrating to talk to, and difficult to keep engaged, but he does not think like you. He thinks bigger and broader and smaller and deeper. He tries harder and worries endlessly. He is bright and has so much potential. What do you do with it? Do you dig deeper and find a way to ignite the spark that unlocks it. Do you nurture and encourage that drive or shove it in a box in the dark where it is less distracting? Do you understand how much your actions impact him? 

So please, I beg of you, do not give up on us. Do not give up on my son. Because here's the thing, he's not failing, we are. And the sad part is, you don't get it.