Monday, August 6, 2007

Welcome to My World - Living With ADHD Part II; School



While I had a lot of behavioral issues, the first experience that comes to mind, when I think about how ADHD effected my education, is from kindergarten. Indeed, this is about the only thing that I remember about kindergarten. My class was supposed to be writing out the alphabet. I knew the alphabet, quite well at this point. One of my brothers managed to teach me to read, when I was only two years old and taught me to write, when I was three. I had even written the alphabet out, several times the night before, to get practice making my letters as perfect as I could, in anticipation of doing it the following day. But when the time came to actually do it in class, I simply couldn't do it. It was a rather hot day and all that I could think about, was getting out of school to climb the tree in my back yard. It didn't help that at the time, we lived right in front of the school, the windows in my classroom looked right out on my back yard, right out on the tree that I so desperately wanted to climb. Too, many of the kids got finished very quickly and were playing just a few feet away, so I was thinking how nice it would be to join them, how nice it would be to climb the tree. Then I got to thinking how much fun it would be to take the book I was reading up into the tree with me and laze around in the shade, with the book about Duncan, the alpine rescue dog - perfect antidote to the hot weather. Did I mention that I was also getting hungry? By the time lunch rolled around, I wasn't even to L yet. The teacher told me, through my tears, that I would not be joining my class for lunch, until I finished the alphabet. I got into a world of trouble, when I decided to put it away, half finished, to join my class for lunch. Twenty-six years have gone by and I can still remember that experience with a clarity that I have trouble focusing on my memories of last week.


When I was seven, I was put on ritalin. This was when I was first diagnosed with a form of ADD, which would later be labeled ADHD. Unfortunately, it was a multi-dose pill. On occasion, a dose would be missed. When this happened I would get severe migraines, very shaky and feel quite nauseous. When it happened at school, I would have to go home for the day. Even when I was on my regular doses, I would often times focus on the wrong things. I don't really remember much of this time, except as a feeling of general dreariness and discomfort. After a few months, it became quite apparent that ritalin, in that particular form, was not appropriate for me. There are two reasons why the ritalin experience was an important aspect of my life. First, it made me very skeptical of medicating children. I am still very reticent to use medication to deal with ADHD. To me, it can only be an absolute last resort. The other reason had a very profound impact on the rest of my education. I believe that this was when my dad really became something of an ADHD denier, at least as it related to me. He was firmly convinced that it would be possible to punish the problems away. It is easy to see why. Not to be arrogant, but I am a very bright person. This was shown when I learned to read at two and in the prolific testing that was done over the years. I had unbelievable potential but consistently failed to measure up. While I was in elementary school, this was mostly expressed through behavioral problems, rather than academic failures.


When I got into middle school, I was tested by the school and they suggested that I might respond well to special education classes. Not for everything, indeed while I was in middle school, it consisted only of taking a study hall that provided special helps, where I was having trouble at any given moment - which was pretty much with everything. The thing that really stands out in middle school, was the introduction of the Math & Science Center, advanced classes for kids who were especially talented in those areas. To make this understood, I was an abysmal failure at math. Not because I couldn't do math - I could. I could even do rather complex problems in my head, which I still can. The failure was in my inability to do math problems the way that the teachers wanted me to. I could do the problems, get the answers right, I could even write down the steps I took to get the answer. The problem was, that they weren't even close to the steps I was supposed to be using. So I failed at pre-algebra, never made it past. When I asked if I could take the test, to get into the MSC, my math teacher actually got annoyed with me, thinking I was just trying to get out of class. I found out later, based in some assessment tests I took as a part of the special ed program, I would likely have passed it. At the same time, it is also probable, that without medication, it would have been impossible for me to handle the curriculum.


I was entirely incapable of doing homework. The biggest problem was, that it was infinitely easy for me to get distracted. Trying to do the banal, pointless worksheets, always led to getting distracted by something in the work and going off on a tangent. I.e. reading up on the answers, might send me off on a reading frenzy, starting with the topic I was looking up and ending God knows where. It was very easy for me to spend several hours on one question - and never actually get the question answered, because by the time I was winding down the tangent, I was so far off I had forgotten where I started. This was made much more difficult by the fact that I had very little problem with quiz's and tests. I knew the material after reading the text (usually within a few weeks of the beginning of the semester) and half heartedly listening in class.

Writing papers was even worse in some ways. Worse, because I actually wrote decent papers, I just rarely managed to keep them on the topic I was assigned. My best example of this, was an assignment to write a three page paper on Thomas Jefferson. In the process of researching it, I went off on a Ben Franklin tangent and ended up turning in a fifteen page paper about him. I actually would have gotten a reasonable grade, had I talked to the teacher about changing the topic and had kept it close to the page limit. Because I did neither of those things, I got a C-. He didn't want to fail me, because it was a decent paper.

There is so much that could be said about school, I may add more another time. However this is getting fairly long for a blog post and I still have adulthood to cover.


Mark said...

Thanks for sharing this DuWayne :)

I wonder if using Wikipedia is anything like the experiences of someone with ADHD. I find it almost impossible to read just one wikipedia entry, and rarely make it through one without opening many many more windows, almost always following those links for an hour before remembering that I was supposed to be looking up something else.

This comic sums it up well I believe:

(incidentally, I love xkcd)

DuWayne Brayton said...

Yes, yes it is.

JuliaL said...

Despite having been sick for several days with a bad cold, I really have to take a moment to comment that your kindergarten teacher needed to be fired. No five- or six-year-old child should be spending more than 15-30 minutes on any task requiring focus and small muscle control. A small child having trouble focusing on a specific task after three or four minutes should be gently refocused, perhaps by a moment of encouraging conversation, or inviting the child to stand up and stretch before trying again or by calmly turning the child's chair to a different view, etc. - something to let the child leave the earlier non-working frame of reference and begin again.

As for depriving a young child of a regular meal at the regular time? Maybe being arrested was more appropriate than firing.

Of course you remember that experience. You were abused by an authority figure who was never punished for it.

Was there no recourse for your parents? When a kindergarten teacher told me she couldn't teach my son because he wouldn't sit still long enough to complete the paper exercises, I told her either she'd let him write while walking around the room or I'd remove him from school and follow through with a public search for a teacher able to teach him. She immediately agreed that she could work something out. She did.

But regardless of whether it was possible for you or your family to do anything about this situation, I don't understand why you now mention this experience only in reference to your own problem, without a word of criticism for the incompetent, cruel, and damaging behavior on the part of the teacher.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Hi Julial,

I am really sorry to hear you're ill. I hope you feel better soon.

Honestly, I am trying very hard to keep my animosity at bay in this discussion. I have a profound and deep seated anger towards a lot of the people involved in my education. In this portion of the discussion I am trying to maintain objectivity. I am calming down a lot now, but the events that led to my decision to address this issue made me very angry and I do not want to go into angry rant mode.

The next post on this, will be about my experience as an adult with ADHD. It will be followed by my experience as the parent of a young child with ADHD and his mothers wish to deny it. In that, I will really hit hard on how the people who made my life rather difficult as a child affected the whole experience. I will be talking in depth about my anger and the pain that these people caused me, including my own dad. I didn't really want to address those feelings while I was so very angry and didn't think it was necessary for this part of the discussion. Have no doubt though, I will be addressing it.

I should add that while this discussion is in large part meant to be part of a larger fight against this very real and very painful form of denialism, it is also meant for my partner.