Life In The Fast Lane
Dealing With Attention Deficit Disorder In High School
“If you do not do something about your child I will retire from teaching! I simply cannot control him.” My kindergarten teacher spoke these words as she stormed off, leaving my mother dumbstruck and with a terrible feeling of failure. My constant interruptions in class had finally worn through my teachers nerves, further frustrating her because I was sincerely sorry for my actions and wished to correct them but unable to. I sunk into a feeling of frustration and despair, believing that I was, as was termed by my teachers, “lazy and uncooperative.” I was shortly thereafter referred to a local doctor and then a psychologist for testing. My parents’ worst fear was that I had Bipolar (maniac depression) Disorder. As it turned out, this was not the case. Instead I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Read on for more about this disorder.
ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that originates from the central nervous system. This is a result of chemicals in the brain not working to their full capacity. This leads the people affected with this disorder to behave impulsively and be inattentive (Dendy 1). It is believed that about eight and a half million people in the U.S. suffer from ADHD. Roughly four million are children (Wender 3). Many of these children remain undiagnosed and have led troubled lives because of this chemical imbalance, growing up into dysfunctional adults. Because of this I think that better education should be given to educators in forms of federal grants for research into the methods of recognizing this disorder. On top of that, more time and effort should be put into teaching and understanding these students. All educators should be required to take at least one class on teaching these children so that ADHD students can succeed in school and eventually succeed in life living productive and rewarding lives. As far as what these classes would actually teach, I have no idea what the actual curriculum would entail, but that can be taken care of by the grants for research. The first step is in recognizing that this is a real disease and that without some sort of treatment, be it in any form, from medication to therapy, these students (me included) will have a difficult time achieving success. Imagine taking a child that cannot walk or use his arms and requiring him to take a physical education class, but flunking him because he cannot play baseball. This is much the same as what many ADHD students go through in school, striking out many times in schools academic baseball. Unfortunately, because it’s much easier to diagnose a paraplegic than it is to diagnose ADHD, many kids who are just as handicapped as an immobile student don’t receive the help that they need. In fact, many do not know they can get help because of this condition.
Because the symptoms of ADHD are so widely varied, not only is it hard to make a diagnosis, but also the proper treatment is also very difficult to determine. My specific type of ADHD is called ADD/I/WO, meaning that it is attention deficit disorder with inattentiveness being the main characteristic (Dendy 1). Although less severe than ADD/H (primary trait being hyperactivity and impulsivity) it was and is nonetheless devastating to my school career. My symptoms manifested themselves in the form of selective inattention, impulsivity, anxiety, low frustration tolerance, and academic under-achievement. With this to go on and little else, (a reliable way to test for ADHD is yet to be found) my doctor prescribed a drug called Ritalin. He explained to me that it was not magic and would not cure me; it was just a temporary aid, much like Cinderella and her fairy godmother. Once it wore off my pumpkin carriage would disappear and I would once again become my hyperactive self. With this as a warning, I promptly agreed with all he said and the next day I took the medicine. Its effects were evident almost immediately. In thirty minutes to an hour I became relaxed and anxiety free. Much of the chaotic disarray that clouded my mind lifted to reveal order and discipline to an extent I never thought possible. Having never liked medicine, I was still skeptical, expecting some immediate side effect. This was not the case however. I found I thought clearly in a concise manner, arranging events categorically in my head, something that had always been difficult for me (this impacted my ability to foresee consequences for my actions). Unfortunately, this cloud had a dark lining. Weeks later, I began to suffer from stomach cramps, ranging from mild aches to gut-wrenching, excruciating pain. I went to the doctor about a month later and discovered that the medicine had created an ulcer in my stomach and my body was starting to develop a dependency on the drug. My parents didn’t know what to do. They had nowhere to turn. After consulting with another doctor, he prescribed me another pill called Adderall, promising milder side effects and better results but with the same warnings as the previous doctor. Needless to say I was still recovering from the Ritalin and was suspicious of any medicine. I reluctantly took it the next day, more for the sake of my teachers than my own. Once again I received all the positive effects but this time I couldn’t find any side effects. It was several months later that I discovered that my appetite waned after its consumption. I would not be hungry till the effect of the medicine wore off, leaving me with a voracious appetite. I learned to live with this and actually gained from this in that I used to be very overweight but, after taking the medicine and undertaking a vigorous entourage of physical education classes, I found myself in a much better position physically than ever before.
As you can see, this medicine is powerful, and like any drug, can and might be used for harmful purposes. Because of this, anti-medication parents of ADHD (and parents that feel that their children are buying medicine from the ADHD kids) would argue that the drugs should be taken of the market and should not be used to treat ADHD. What these parents don’t see is that it happens with any drug, not just ADHD medication. What I agree to is not the banning of the medication, but the supervision of those taking it. Nurses should be required to witness the actual intake of medicine so that a kid can’t just go out and peddle away the drug like a common drug dealer. Taking medicine is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. In one of my sources, there was an interview with an ADD teenager (she is 19 years old and wishes to remain anonymous) in which she confided the following:
“I started taking Ritalin the summer before third grade. It helped me pay attention but it didn’t help me learn my multiplication tables. I thought I was taking Ritalin to help me do better in math. At first I didn’t mind, but then I noticed Ritalin took away the fun. When I went on medication I was a chatterbox at school. I wasn’t disruptive or hyperactive. I was just talkative. In seventh grade, I finally had a teacher agree with me. He liked me better when I didn’t take my medication. I was such a loner when I was on it. It was like I wasn’t able to feel loose and fun and silly. I started giving my pills away. Sometimes my friends would act like me because they took my pills. (Wender 112)”
This shows that if you don’t need the medicine you shouldn’t take it, and its intake should be monitored.
With this as evidence, many people argue that the risks are too great to release such a drug on the market. Others feel that it’s not needed in the first place. In fact, some people simply do not believe in ADHD. They think that it is simply a crutch that is used only when it is needed. I believe this is untrue, since many ADHD kids care about school, their grades, and even work but suffer from a subtle form of amnesia, which is not the same as the diagnosed kind. An ADHD person (be it adult or child) is assaulted everyday by distractions. I have been told so many times to focus on my work which then frustrates me. It’s different for different cases, but in my case, I’m distracted most by things that I hear. My parents have observed many times that I might be doing something in one room but if other people in other rooms are talking, I will join in the conversation, if I believe I have relevance to the topic (which, in my wrongful opinion I do almost every time) and will yell from one end of the house to the other. The problem is that when I’m (or any ADHD person) distracted I forget what I was doing and not remember till, for example the paper is due. My dad is a computer guy and he jokes around with me saying that I’m like a computer with a lot of hard drive space but not much ram.
To truly try to understand ADHD, one must look at the biological side of it. The brain has many ridges crisscrossing to and fro, and in these ridges, or synapse, where instructions are carried across, by small sparks. The signal, for example, travels from the ear (or any sensory organ) and goes to the different synapses, to nerve ends that transmit these chemical signals across. Now the problem comes when the chemical signal* comes to these nerve endings but doesn’t get carried across. This is the true reason behind ADHD. The trouble is that all children display these symptoms to a certain degree and its difficult to tell where childish impulsivity and distraction ends and ADHD begins. This is why kids seem to be distracted or not paying attention. These neurotransmitters all have different purposes. One of the three primary neurotransmitters is serotonin, which is required for a restful sleep and supply feelings of comfort and well being. This deficiency is common in both types of ADD. The other two neurotransmitters are thought to each be responsible for one type of ADD. Dopamine is responsible for ADHD while, norepinephrine is responsible for ADD/I/WO. The reason for this theory is because Ritalin stimulates the central nervous system to release dopamine, Norepinephrine, and serotonin, the exact neurotransmitters that ADHD children are lacking (Dendy 12-13). That is why when non-ADHD students take Ritalin or any other ADHD medicine they become hyper. Their neurotransmitters are working overtime when they don’t really need it.
With so much against ADHD students one would think that despair would kick in, since so much seems to be missing from them that is standard with other kids. Like the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. ADHD students have enormous strengths that are displayed in many different ways. Many times, kids with ADHD lack fear, and are not afraid to try something new. They always seem to be full of energy, participating in all types of sports and activities. They always seem to find the good side in everything, no matter what the situation is. Once all that energy is channeled towards a positive source, they usually become the best in their field.
In the past few years, I’ve met several ADHD teenagers, and I’ve found that each one is completely different in their likes, but what they all had in common is that whatever they were interested in they usually excelled at it to an excessive degree. My friend Ben (also ADHD) and I are both into computers and so we put our heads together and rigged up an awesome computer system with wireless remote control LED lights circling the Pentium 4 processor. Other times, when I’m by myself, I’ll sit for hours typing up computer code to make a certain program work. My other friend Willie (ADD/I/WO), on the other hand, is into electronics, and went to the swap meet and bought a little disco ball light up smiley face, which he then took home and fixed up all the wiring in just a few days. I have looked for the reason behind such singular interests in ADHD kids and still cannot find one. Once my friends or myself get involved in something we’re interested in, nothing short of an earthquake can shake our attention.
One of the most liberating and important moments in an ADD teenager’s life is when he is diagnosed. You suddenly understand why you cannot focus. The feelings of inadequacy and thoughts of failure exit your mind in a heartbeat. It’s very difficult to describe what it is like to be ADD. Nick, an 8 year old diagnosed with ADD puts it best when he says.
“I have always been curious why it is that so many kids feast at the table of knowledge, when all I get is indigestion.” – NIck, 8 year old child with ADD
Each and every teenager or child with ADD can connect with this feeling. Since we are human beings still, and one of the most basic human urges is to be accepted, then we, the same as anyone else, should be helped if we cannot succeed on their own. A study released by NIMH* stated the following:
“Because schools demand that children sit still, wait for a turn, pay attention, and stick with a task, it’s no surprise that many children with ADHD have problems in class. Their minds are fully capable of learning, but their hyperactivity and inattention make learning difficult. As a result, many students with ADHD repeat a grade or drop out of school early. Fortunately, with the right combination of appropriate educational practices, medication, and counseling, these outcomes can be avoided (Neuwirth 1).”
Finally, as to what causes this disorder, many theories have been put forward but the one that, considering my history, is most likely to be true is the following, yet again part of the previous study released by NIMH: “Other research shows that attention disorders tend to run in families, so there are likely to be genetic influences. Children who have ADHD usually have at least one close relative who also has ADHD. And at least one-third of all fathers who had ADHD in their youth bear children who have ADHD. Even more convincing: the majority of identical twins share the trait. At the National Institutes of Health, researchers are also on the trail of a gene that may be involved in transmitting ADHD in a small number of families with a genetic thyroid disorder.” My father tells me that attention deficit disorder does run in my family, he having a grandfather who also has it.
Being ADHD is not easy. It’s very easy to just label someone as ADHD and think of them as a lost cause. They need more help than the average student because they can excel where others cant and they are still human and still deserving of all the advantages offered to average kids. There are so many famous people out there with ADHD that have offered back to their community. Just a few examples of these people are:
- Bill Cosby
- Danny Glover
- Robin Williams
- Will Smith
- Whoopi Goldberg
- Babe Ruth
- Magic Johnson
- Walt Disney
- John D. Rockefeller
- Albert Einstein
The list above is just a few of the many famous people with ADD (Adams 1). Some of our most influential people, of the past, present, and with a little help, the future, are and will be ADHD.
That is one way to look at the picture. The other way is to look at another set of completely different statistics. ADHD children have an increased likelihood of growing up to be alcoholics and/or drug addicts. This is the case for those kids who do not get the help that they need. This help comes in school, where they are still susceptible to learn from others. As they grow older they become more strong willed, and tend to be very headstrong. This is something that we will have to work on but like I said at the beginning, we cannot do this ourselves. We have no desire to end up on the streets as drug addicts or drunkards. I have many hopes and ambitions. I also have many dreams. Unfortunately, its hard to let go of my dreams and pay attention to reality. I plan to someday have a home, a nice car, and a family. I cannot just say this over and over and hope that it will eventually come to pass. It won’ be easy and ill need help, but as they say, if you shoot for the moon and miss you’ll hit a star. I can hope, but that won’t be all that I will rely on. Hope has very little substance, so I know that if I put hope and hard work together it’ll be just the recipe I need to get me where I want to go on life’s road. If there is one good thing about being ADHD, it is that I will never stop being happy and most importantly, self confident.
Dendy, Chris A. Zeigler, M.S. “Teenagers with ADD, A Parents Guide” Minnesota: Woodbine, 1995.
Wender, Paul H. “ADHD: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adults” New York: Oxford 2000
Neuwirth, Sharyn M.Ed “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (July 01, 1999)
Adams, Paul “No More Ritalin” Nomoreritalin.com (October 23 2002)