I was an exuberant child; quick-witted, smart, messy, noisy and driven by a very colorful motor. In my earliest years of schooling, my inability to sit still and cease talking, often made me the naughty chair’s number one occupant. Additionally, my bottom was more than well-acquainted with the class paddle. My lack of impulse control regularly made me both the object of my peers’ delight ,when it came to completing their dares, and the blaring object of their ridicule because I was so clearly not cast from the same mold as them. “They” wouldn’t dare get out of their seat to pass a note during a lesson. “They” wouldn’t dare make the noise of a train whistle as our bus crossed a railroad track on a field trip. “They” would never moon someone out of a classroom window, or do a science report on the chemistry of boogers. “They” seemed like dull, complacent control, to my sparkling, unruly chaos. Because I seemed to rapidly zig when everyone else was zagging, as a young child, I usually felt like I didn’t fit in.
Then, came third grade, the worst school year of my life, with Miss Stooky. Miss Stooky was a classic nasty of a teacher. She could easily be compared to Miss Truchbull, from Dahl’s Matilda. Her classroom was run like a tight ship and I was its loose cannon, a fact that she reminded me of nearly every single day. The year was 1973, and teachers could pretty much get away with saying and doing whatever they pleased to make their young charges attend and behave. Miss S took full liberties with this notion. She paddled me, hit my knuckles with a ruler, and made me an example of what not to do to the rest of the class–thus increasing my already nonexistent popularity. Her very favorite punishment was to send me to the special education room to spend the day. This was back in the time when the physically and mentally impaired children were placed in a faraway corner of the school, separate from everyone, as if they didn’t exist. Truth be told, I didn’t mind going there. It was far more of a safe haven than a punishment.The special education teacher, Mrs. Campbell was a kind-hearted lady, who never seemed to mind having me as her classroom “helper” for the day. I certainly didn’t mind helping to feed lunch to a boy with cerebral palsy, or reading stories to Sabrina, a girl bigger than me, who still didn’t know the joy of reading by herself.
One day, while I was helping to put away the large wooden beads that some of the children had been sorting into groups of colors. Mrs. Campbell asked me what my parents thought about me spending my days with her in the special ed. room. I quickly revealed that my parents didn’t know. Like I said, this was 1973, if you got in trouble at school, you got in trouble at home, as well. I’d kept my days in special ed. a secret from my parents figuring that it was a “win-win” situation for me, as well as Miss Stooky.
A few days after that conversation with Mrs. Campbell, my mother surprised me by telling me that I was going to have a day off from school to visit a special doctor in the city. I was delighted to meet Dr. Green, an educational psychologist. Her office was full of interesting toys and she had a plethora of fun “tests” that were relatively easy for me to do. At the end of the day, my parents had answers about my behavior and my situation at school was about to improve for the better.
I had a dual diagnosis of hyperkinetic disorder and gifted-ness. Now at school, I would spend part of my day with the gifted teacher, some of the day a grade up in a fourth grade classroom, and only a small portion of the day with Miss Stooky. I couldn’t have been more overjoyed.
Hyperkinetic disorder is now known as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and even as far back in the 1970’s its diagnosis was controversial. Like today, in spite of neurological and genetic evidence, some people blamed it on poor parenting and deemed it an excuse for bad behavior. It’s estimated that 5-10% of the world’s population has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD. Statistically, most suffers of ADHD are male, so I am a rarity. Treatment in the ’70s involved the use of stimulants, as it does today. My mother wasn’t comfortable with the contraindications of putting me on medication and preferred the use of behavior modification techniques which were somewhat effective. Though I’m sure there are school teachers who blamed their gray hair or baldness specifically on me!
As I got older, self-consciousness sunk in, and I learned to better control my behavior in order to fit in and have friends. I became involve in theatre and found teachers who fostered my love of reading and writing like never before. I figured out things about myself academically and socially. I learned to force myself to pay attention when I needed to, or to at least make myself look like I was attending!
Truth be told, most of the ways that I’ve dealt with having ADHD have been self-taught. I know I can’t stick with the same task for very long before my attention begins to wander. I know that by changing activities frequently and doing a bit of something at a time, that I eventually get everything done that I need to. I know I need to exercise to burn off excess energy and to improve my concentration. I’m also very aware that I can get “carried away” with silliness, in some situations, and I keep myself in check.
The good news is that ADHD doesn’t completely suck. In fact, I think it makes me more interesting and adventurous. I know it made me a much more understanding teacher when it came to helping children with my same disorder. My friends and family are in hearty agreement that my sense of humor and boundless energy give me an extra sparkle–and who doesn’t like a little bling in their lives? 🙂