I made a surprising discovery about myself just recently. It would appear that I have ADHD – Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For some of you who know me, this will come as no real surprise. It doesn’t really shock me, to be honest, though it has made me re-evaluate the whole condition and how it is viewed. It is odd I have to say, to be – to all intents and purposes – on the receiving end of a condition I normally have to deal with as a teacher at the other end in the classroom.
Last year, my son was having mild issues with concentration in class at LAMB. I always associated ADHD with bad behaviour and my lad is just not like that. He is the best-natured kid – wanting to please, excited about everything, happy in life and loves cuddles. He is always the first to greet new people staying out the Guest house here and has usually given them his whole life story and invited them for tea before anyone else has even found out their name. He’s lovely – but he doesn’t sit still so well. I was very sceptical then, about the suggestion that there may be some ADHD involved – even if it was most likely borderline.
So, when a friend who is a psychiatrist came over to LAMB last year – as he does every year – to assess children and adults with various learning difficulties or emotional/mental issues, we asked him to give a session with our lad just to see what he thought. He concluded that ADHD was the issue albeit pretty mild and suggested that it might be inherited from his father’s side. I was a little incredulous when I heard this – after all, my son just seemed pretty ordinary to me. Exactly what I used to be like as a kid, in fact!
So this year, when our psychiatrist friend came over, I asked him to give me an informal session and see if he really did think I had ADHD and to figure out if I had it as a kid. Whilst he admitted that this diagnosis was ‘something of an armchair’ variety rather than being given in a formal and rigorous setting, there was no doubt in his mind that I had ADHD when I was young, still had it now and that, somehow, I had actually made it work for me.
The symptoms for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder come in all shapes and sizes and are constantly re-evaluated by the experts but fall into three broad areas: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
Inattention means having difficulty keeping one’s minds on one thing; getting bored with homework or other tasks after a few minutes; making silly mistakes; trouble listening and seeming to daydream. However, sometimes one can concentrate on and complete new or unusually interesting tasks for extended periods of time.
Hyperactivity involves almost constant motion, as if driven by a motor. Squirming and fidgeting at a desk in school and getting up often to roam around the room, constantly touch things, disturb other people, tap pencils, and they will talk constantly.
ADHD sufferers are also unusually impulsive, so that they act before thinking. They may run into the street without looking, blurt out inappropriate comments in class, interrupt conversations, and can be unusually clumsy or accident-prone.
Oh boy – does anyone else happen to think this has just described me perfectly?!
Children with ADHD can have severe learning problems because of their difficulties in paying attention, following instructions, and completing tasks. In addition, their disruptive, demanding behaviour sometimes makes them unpopular with peers. Children with ADHD often receive constant criticism and correction from teachers and parents who believe the behaviour is intentional. The combination of negative feedback, poor academic achievement, and social problems may contribute to low self-esteem and other emotional problems.
Somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to avoid the worst of these effects. I was always bright and self-motivated and maybe this helped. I did always feel different to others but that is not unusual for youngsters. One way or another though, I avoided trouble at school and – by the time I turned 16 – had seemingly turned ADHD into an asset. In fact, if you offered me a way to get rid of it now I would refuse!
This has happened because something inside me drives me to do and to learn. I have umpteen things on the go, rarely stop working before midnight and hate sitting down and just relaxing (unless I can do it whilst reading a book or listening to some language sound files or something!) I permanently have the feeling that I have lost time today that I will never recover and that drives me on.
The downside is that I don’t suffer fools gladly and tend to be impatient with anyone I perceive as not working as hard as me. This isn’t a “look how hard I’m working” kind of thing – I hate that when I hear it from others. No, it’s more a case of “if I myself haven’t done enough today, YOU certainly haven’t!” Now that I have a name (at least potentially) to give to some of my thoughts and behaviours it means I can start to ease up a little on myself and on others. Maybe it’s not unreasonable when others sit down, have a cup of cha and just chat. Maybe that is actually normal. Maybe I’ll even try it…but not tomorrow – too much to be done.
I do have more sympathy with children who have ADHD now though. I was never one to have issues in the first place, though I’ve known some teachers who don’t believe in ADHD and, privately, speak of how “the child just needs a damned good thrashing. That’ll teach him how to behave”. Seeing the results of a child with ADHD take medication leaves little doubt that this is a serious condition. I am in favour of medication though I sympathise with parents who feel they’ve ‘lost’ their child because with medication comes a loss of energy and a little of character too. I’m grateful my son’s ADHD is so minor there is no need ever for medication. But if his condition was so bad he could not function safely I would give up what I know of him as a person in a shot if it meant he could get through growing up normally.
But that last word has many demons attached. Just what is normal anyway? The psychiatrist who assessed me made the point that we were not made originally to sit all day behind a desk. ADHD is not really the child’s problem but ours as a society. Jeffrey Masson’s book The Assault on Truth is a damning criticism of the psychoanalytic world and the whole idea that we can decide what is sane, what is normal and what is ‘acceptable behaviour’. I’m lucky, my mild ADHD has been my asset and my friend for 40 years. I couldn’t live without it. But just a tad more when I was a kid and I could have living a very different life – one filled with fear, self-loathing and bad memories. This is the scenario for many even in the UK where the condition is supposedly better understood. Here in Bangladesh, it’s not far off being a death sentence.
This article is dedicated to my godson who has also recently found he is a little bit special