She’s sitting in the linen closet, stewing. She’s mad because I confiscated her iPod and Kindle Fire. She’s probably also sad, scared and little bit ashamed, too. But, mostly she angry. Which is ironic because I should be the angry one.
There are two D’s and two F’s on her mid-semester progress report.
There are also four A’s.
A high IQ combined with ADHD equals a life of extremes for her, and by default, for all of us.
At school, she easily aces classes in subjects she is interested in, particularly those in which they don’t assign a lot of homework. Subjects that bore her or seem useless (“Mom, when will I never need to know the definition of Plebeians again? Seriously. Vocab tests are stupid.”) and teachers that require a lot of work completed outside of class absolutely kill her.
The biggest struggle for those with ADHD are with what’s called “executive functions” — being organized, completing tasks fully and on time, keeping track of their stuff, prioritizing, and following a schedule — much of this is to blame on impairments in their short term memory that make it impossible for them to accomplish these things. (Nobody lives in the moment more than a person with ADHD.)
It’s not willful disobedience, a lack of intelligence (quite the contrary in L’s case), intentional misbehavior, or a mean streak. These are things I have to continually remind myself.
To the rest of the world, I imagine she looks like an undisciplined, impulsive mess.
Case in point — her disheveled dash to the bus every morning, usually with her shoes half on, breakfast in her hand, homework papers tucked under her arm, backpack wide open and threatening to spill all over the driveway, and no coat.
The bus comes at the exact same time — to the minute — every single school day and has for the past three years. Yet, every day the bus’ arrival seems to surprise her, even with frequent reminders from me to hurry up or pay attention to the clock.
To her teachers (some of them anyway), I would guess that she comes across as inquisitive and charming girl who is, nonetheless, a slacker who needs to “apply herself” and “complete her assignments.”
To other parents, particularly those of older generations who raised their kids with strong doses of the Bible and the belt, she probably comes across as a girl who needs to get her s$%# together, perhaps with the strong hand of a more authoritative parent.
But putting the hammer down will only crush her. It’s what happens to most kids with ADHD. They grow up thinking they are dumb…that they are undisciplined and hopeless….that they are ne’er do wells who can’t stick with anything….that they are failures.
It’s like that old saying: If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid.
The reality is that some of the most successful people in history had ADHD, including John F. Kennedy, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Leonardo di Vinci, Stephen Hawkings, Beethoven, and Sylvester Stallone.
There are a lot of positives to this “disorder,” which I would argue is more of a difference than a disorder.
Here is what I know about my daughter: She is considerate and kind (when not overwhelmed by negative emotions). She is highly intelligent. She is freaking hilarious. She excels at critical thinking (“Mom, I’m so far outside of the box, I can’t even see the box”). And she has, as one ADHD expert puts it “a Ferrari brain and bicycle brakes” that sometimes get her into trouble.
When I open the linen closet door, I want to yell at her. For the thousandth time I want to express my exasperation with her. She expects me to and immediately goes on the defensive and starts shouting at me, which makes me want to scream all the more.
But as I look in her eyes and struggle to keep my cool, I see the hurt behind the anger.
She wants to do well. She means to do well. She doesn’t forget to do her homework on purpose. She doesn’t lose the draft of her Persia paper intentionally. But it’s hard for her to keep track of it all. It’s nearly impossible for her, but she is trying.
How can I pile on?
I do what I wish I had done a hundred times before, and I open my arms. She resists at first, still angry about her electronics, but she eventually gives in to my hug, and the tears fall.
“I know this is hard for you,” I whisper. “I know you’re trying. I know you don’t want to fail. I know that you are smart and you can fix this. I believe in you.”
And I do.
I have never had any doubt that she will be just fine. She’s loaded with things that can take you pretty far in life — confidence, ingenuity, imagination, critical thinking skills, compassion, and charisma. Just imagine how far she can go when she learns how to better handle that Ferrari in her brain.
About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”