Today at work I was told to “Stop using a fake children’s disability as a crutch” and that people like me are “the reason half of the kids these days are on crazy prescription drugs” because I warned my boss that I was going to run out of medicine for a couple of days so they might see a slight decrease in productivity from me next week. So I’ve decided to write this post instead of work today.
I’m talking about ADHD. Mostly in regards to children and how it affects them.
It is horribly over-diagnosed, and everyone knows it. Between pill-farm doctors (who receive gifts, trips, and money from pharmaceutical companies) and parents who are too lazy/busy/tired/whatever to spend time with their (maybe a little overly) energetic children. The problem with this, because everyone knows that like 80% of ADHD diagnoses are bullshit, is that the other 20% of kids who actually suffer from ADHD don’t get the help they need. So many parents and kids use the diagnosis as an excuse for laziness, lack of discipline, etc. Since i have been in school, ADHD has become the new “the dog ate my homework!” And I can’t blame the teachers for not believing this excuse any more, but the problem is sometimes the dog really did eat the homework. This is a genuine problem because not only are teachers less likely to make the concessions that the kids need, but the kids who genuinely need help are afraid to ask for it because they are worried people will think they are just lazy.
Before I go on, I want to share the most accurate description of ADHD i’ve ever come across. Its fairly long but I encourage you to read all of it.
ADHD is about having broken filters on your perception.
Normal people have a sort of mental secretary that takes the 99% of irrelevant crap that crosses their mind, and simply deletes it before they become consciously aware of it. As such, their mental workspace is like a huge clean whiteboard, ready to hold and organize useful information.
ADHD people… have no such luxury. Every single thing that comes in the front door gets written directly on the whiteboard in bold, underlined red letters, no matter what it is, and no matter what has to be erased in order for it to fit.
As such, if we’re in the middle of some particularly important mental task, and our eye should happen to light upon… a doorknob, for instance, it’s like someone burst into the room, clad in pink feathers and heralded by trumpets, screaming HEY LOOK EVERYONE, IT’S A DOORKNOB! LOOK AT IT! LOOK! IT OPENS THE DOOR IF YOU TURN IT! ISN’T THAT NEAT? I WONDER HOW THAT ACTUALLY WORKS DO YOU SUPPOSE THERE’S A CAM OR WHAT? MAYBE ITS SOME KIND OF SPRING WINCH AFFAIR ALTHOUGH THAT SEEMS KIND OF UNWORKABLE.
It’s like living in a soft rain of post-it notes.
This happens every single waking moment, and we have to *manually* examine each thought, check for relevance, and try desperately to remember what the thing was we were thinking before it came along, if not. Most often we forget, and if we aren’t caught up in the intricacies of doorknob engineering, we cast wildly about for context, trying to guess what the fuck we were up to from the clues available.
Perhaps you’re getting an idea of why we have the task-management skills of a five-year-old – and why we tend to have an “oh fuck” expression on our face whenever you interrupt us in the middle of something.
On the other hand, we’re extremely good at working out the context of random remarks, as we’re effectively doing that all the time anyway. I’ve lost count of the times my wife has said “Hang on… how the hell did you know what I was talking about?”
We rely *heavily* on routine, and 90% of the time get by on autopilot. You can’t get distracted from a sufficiently ingrained habit, no matter what useless crap is going on inside your head… unless someone goes and actually disrupts your routine. I’ve actually been distracted out of taking my lunch to work, on several occasions, by my wife reminding me to take my lunch to work. What the? Who? Oh, yeah, will do. Where was I? um… briefcase! Got it. Now keys.. okay, see you honey!
Quite often, if there’s too much input, we can get kind of overwhelmed, like a new puppy surrounded by excited children. It’s a flustery, unpleasant state to be in, halfway between excitement and anxiety, with no emotional component either way, but all the pacing and twitchiness of both.
Also, there’s a diminishing-returns thing going on when trying to concentrate on what you might call a non-interactive task. Entering a big block of numbers into a spreadsheet, for instance. Keeping focused on the task takes exponentially more effort each minute, for less and less result. If you’ve ever held a brick out at arm’s length for an extended period, you’ll know the feeling. That’s why reddit, for instance, is like crack to us – it’s a non-stop influx of constantly-new things, so we can flick from one to the next after only seconds. It’s better/worse than pistachios.
The exception to this is a thing we get called hyperfocus. Occasionally, when something just clicks with us, we can get ridiculously deeply drawn into it, and NOTHING can distract us. We’ve locked our metaphorical office door, and we’re not coming out for anything short of a tornado. I’ve sat reading a book on a deathly-quiet country train platform, and not noticed a honking great train pull in about a foot from my nose, until someone tapped me on the shoulder. The same can happen with certain video games – what the fuck, it was light, now it’s 4am.
I was in 3rd grade when i was diagnosed and i’ve been on medication ever since (I’m 24 now). I had a very limited IEP (Individual Education Plan) with the school district that basically only said that I will probably get off-task fairly often and I should be gently reminded to get back to work. Not a huge deal, just say “Hey Bob, is your class-work done?” Or “Bob, please wait till you’r classmates are finished with their work to talk to them” when I would start talking.
The problem is, there were always at least 2-3 other kids in my class with ADHD diagnoses and I would always hear from teachers “Well Jeff also has ADHD and he can focus through class, why can’t you?” I’m sure you can see where this is going. Jeff doesn’t actually have ADHD, he never did, he was just kinda “twitchy” when he was 7 years old and his parents and doctor decided to put him on legal meth to “even him out”. But now if he doesn’t take his medication he presents symptoms of ADHD but if he does take it, he is just as capable of focusing as any “normal” person. People who actually have ADHD don’t become “normal” when we take our medicine. In the theme of the above description, taking medication is like hiring a secretary, except she’s not very good at her job. She is better about keeping the whiteboard clean, but its still half full of irrelevant crap because she doesn’t quite understand how to tell what deserves a place on the board.
Since most diagnoses are wrong this creates a false norm for the way ADHD and medication works. Most of the people you see who say they have ADHD are like Jeff, and its not their fault, but that means that teachers expect the medication to fix the problem completely. I was once told by a substitute teacher when I was in 7th grade “ADHD doesn’t actually exist, its just an excuse to be lazy and I’m not going to molly-coddle you just because your parents think you’re special.” When my mom found out this happened she was obviously, and rightfully, livid. She immediately went to call the school district and complain. I freaked out and tried to stop her from calling, because even though i knew that it was wrong what the substitute said, I was terrified it would make it worse. My mom explained to me that an IEP is a legally binding document and not only is it illegal to ignore it, it is even more illegal to even bring up a student’s disability in class let alone shame a student about it and promised me that there would be no issues with the substitute ever again. I found out later but apparently many other parents had complained about this substitute but the school district didn’t want to fire her because she was going to retire the next year anyways. The next time I had that substitute teacher I decided I wasn’t going to give her any reason to say anything to me so I kept quiet and did my work. It was a test day in my favorite class at the time so it was easier than usual to focus and be quiet. I was (as usual) the first one done with my test and i walked it up to the substitute and handed it to her. She took it from me without a word and started grading it right there so i went back to my desk and started doodling in a notebook. After everyone was finished she stood up at the front of the class and said “I want everyone to give a round of applause for Bob, because despite his disability he was able to get 100% on this test and turned it in first!” with a sickening smile that will forever be burned into my mind and then looked me directly in the eye and said “You wanted special treatment, you got it“. The entire class started cheering wildly and she just sat back down at her desk looking smug.
The point of this story isn’t to make you feel bad for me, the point is that this happens every day in schools all across the country and so many of those kids won’t say anything about it. I didn’t tell my parents about either incident, my mom found out because she worked at the middle school i was at as a secretary. And as I said, I begged and cried and freaked out because I didn’t want her to call and get me the justice I deserved.
Sorry if this went off the rails or was hard to follow, I just kept typing because I kept thinking of more to say. I imagine the quality will get better as I do more posts and I’m looking into options to help me with the grammar and punctuation.
TLDR: ADHD is misunderstood and over-diagnosed, which causes problems for kids who genuinely need help. Please read the whole thing though, it’s very important to me that people understand this.