LIVING WITH ADHD … BEFORE IT WAS FASHIONABLE – ELLIN CURLEY

My son had ADD and ADHD in the 80’s before the diagnosis came into fashion. He was going to an expensive private elementary school in New York City. He was bouncing off the walls and “disrupting” his class.

stop-the-stigma-of-add-dk-advocates

He spent a lot of time out in the hall, resulting in huge gaps in his basic reading, writing, and arithmetic knowledge … and only exacerbated the situation. Eventually the school called my husband and me into the office and told us our son had a problem. They told us we should get a tutor and a therapist to handle it. They could not (would not) deal with it.

We already had a therapist and didn’t think a tutor was the answer. We decided to move the whole family to our weekend home in a small Connecticut town where the public school system had a Special Ed Department. Shortly after the move to Connecticut, a new therapist diagnosed my son with ADD and ADHD. She put him on Ritalin in its most basic and unrefined form. The drug has come a long way since.

ADHDBlogRitalin was a mixed blessing. It had major side effects and only worked a few hours a day. At least we finally had a diagnosis and knew what was wrong.

The local public school had staff and programs to help my son academically and socially. We were surrounded by caring people who were at least trying to help.

Unfortunately, back then, understanding of ADHD and how to help kids with learning disabilities was very limited. In the end, all they could do was hold his hand and get him through each year. It damaged his self-esteem. He never developed confidence that he could succeed at anything.

We were lucky. We found a college in Vermont. Landmark College is solely for kids with learning problems. There, for the first time, my son was given tools to cope with his issues. He learned ways to work through and around them so he gained a sense of control over himself and his life. He began to function well. The school taught him how to build on each small success.

He learned to tell when he could get things accomplished and when it was a waste of time to try. He learned how to break each task down into manageable steps, to organize his time, work space, and work.

ADD positive attitude concept on cork board

He uses these skills in his job with a hedge fund in New York. He uses them to get the laundry done, to keep his house stocked with essentials.

He’s doing well now, but it saddens me to think how different he might be today if he had learned these coping skills in kindergarten rather than college. He could have skipped years of feeling inadequate, helpless, and hopeless. He might have enjoyed learning, explored other career paths. Above all, he’d feel would have felt better about himself.

Supposedly, schools and parents are better equipped in 2015 than they were thirty years go. Hopefully they have learned to support families and children with learning and behavior issues. I know there are many new drugs, presumably more refined and effective. Hopefully, new approaches to ADD and ADHD are more sophisticated. I hope kids with disabilities are given the tools to take control of themselves and their lives at an early age, before the damage is done.

That’s what I hope. Everyone talks about it, I’m just not sure what the reality is.

22 thoughts on “LIVING WITH ADHD … BEFORE IT WAS FASHIONABLE – ELLIN CURLEY”

    1. There are a ton of successful people who grew up with ADD, currently the most famous because he talked about it a lot being Jay Leno. But I don’t think, when you are a kid, that the benefits are particularly obvious. My granddaughter had an awful time in school — from bullying to really thinking she was stupid because she couldn’t seem to learn the way everyone else learned. I had plenty of problems too, as did my son.

      Despite all the supposed “improvements” in understanding of ADD and ADHD, personnel in schools are unprepared to deal with these kids, many of whom are exceptionally bright. Many of them merely need lots more personal attention and less “sitting still and listening.” If the schools were less over-crowded and teachers able to give individualized instruction, there would be a lot fewer problems. I don’t think it’s getting better, either. I think it’s getting worse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The art of teaching has been lost. In most cases these kids do learn in a differenet manner and the pap they are putting out there is enough to dumb down an Einstein.
        Leslie

        Like

      2. My son was taught an effective way to understand and get around his learning issues when he was in a specialized college. So the techniques are out there. I don’t understand why they can’t be made standard in high schools and even grammer schools. It would be so much better to teach these kids coping skills when they are in kindergarten or first grade. It would spare them so much emotional damage as well as lost learning time throughout their childhoods.

        Like

        1. I think the answer is (a) money and (b) money. Education budgets have been continuously cut over the years. Wealthy suburbs do better than less wealthy, more rural areas or more densely populated urban school systems. They have trouble coming up with enough money to buy textbooks and supplies for the kids, much less supply “problem” kids with special programs. Legally they are supposed to do a lot of things, but actually getting them to do those things is entirely another problem. They don’t have properly trained teachers AND they don’t want to allocate precious resources to “the few” when “the many” don’t have adequate materials to work with.

          In the very early grades, they don’t even know if the kids HAVE a problem, so even had they programs to deal with them, they wouldn’t implement a program until several years and grades later. Been here — recently. Know the drill.

          Like

    2. Hyper focus is one of my son’s ADD super powers. When he is focusing, he can get more done than most people without ADD or ADHD. However, when he can’t focus, he can’t get anything substantial done and he can’t control when he is on or off focus. He just has to make good use of his hyper focus time, which he does.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. My son is 35 now and is very good at working around and through his issues. He has gotten better over time and will hopefully continue to find new ways to make everyday life and work easier for him.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Ellin, this is a wonderful post! I hope it catches the eye of others. You’ve been a terrific Mom. This resonates with me as I’ve struggled with my hearing all my life.

    Like

    1. So many people have some kind of learning issue, you’d think that by now the school systems would have figured out how to help most of them. Thank goodness for specialists. They may be expensive but if you have the money, they can be life savers. If you don’t, you’re screwed.

      Like

  2. Great post. We have a similar problem here in New Zealand where the schools are just not interested in helping those children with extra needs. My son had dyslexia – the teacher had picked it up but the school refused to do anything – I had to pay to get him tested and then had to pull him out of school once a week for his extra tuition. Which I had to pay for as well. Then we found a high school that helped him with his difficulties and now he is at college and doing extremely well. His spelling will always be interesting but that is who he is. He was able to become more confident with each success. I am proud of what he has achieved so far and know he will do well in life.

    Like

    1. It’s wonderful that you also found a way around the system to help your son until you found a school to take over for you. Unfortunately, not many schools have the staff or the tools to accomodate everyone so many parents are left on their own to find ways to get their children through school. You did a good job and should be proud of yourself and your son.

      Like

    1. Thanks! It took a lot of time and effort to get my son through school and we never felt sure that what we were doing was the right thing. In retrospect, some of it wasn’t. But you’re right that the fact that we tried and supported our son no matter what helped more than anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello everyone! I am the 35 year-old “success story,” David, that my mother Ellin wrote about in this blog entry. I put success story in quotes because, like all of us, I am still a work in progress. and frankly, have not let go of all the demons of growing up and living with ADHD.

    I did have a few thoughts I wanted to share.

    1. As mentioned in a response, it is easier as an adult to see the strengths of having ADHD (like hyper focus for example), than as a child. However, and leading into my next thought, it does not have to be that way, at least completely.

    2. Everyone can benefit from what I was taught in college and learned on my own about dealing with having learning disabilities; you do not have to have ADHD or LD to benefit from being embraced and embracing yourself as an individual. I have 7 non-verbal learning disabilities in addition to the ADHD, so there was/is a lot going on.

    a. focus on your strengths and use your strengths to help combat your weaknesses.

    b. No one is good at everything and not everyone can fit a square peg in a round hole. Focus on what you are good at. Make a career out of things you do well and are passionate about. Yes, you must get through school first, but even there, by focusing on what makes you special and unique you can persevere. College more so than high school. In college, they want the answer more than they want you to do it there way. That is where I struggled in high school. I would say, “I can get the answer, but not your way.” That never seemed good enough. In college, and even more so at work, answers are good, and unique answers/perspectives can be good, and profitable.

    3. Organization – however you do it comfortably and effectively, helps everyone.

    5. PEOPLE ARE INDIVIDUALS! However, blanket approaches to organization and allowing children, at younger ages, to be encouraged and rewarded for being good at certain things, would be helpful to all. Further, instead of telling everyone they are a “winner,” which, even to child, seems disingenuous, reward them for what they are good at. Help them develop a sense of purpose and individuality.

    Bottom Line: Everyone should be taught to embrace what they do well and not forced to focus on what they are not as good at, certainly without the two being in concert with each other. You may have to learn math even if writing is your specialty, but to focus on what makes you good at writing to help with math is not necessarily a bad thing either.

    Like

        1. You write well … and this is an important subject about which it is difficult to get sensible information. I try to post at least a few things that have some socially redeeming value. It’s nice to offer stuff with actual merit.

          Like

    1. Focusing on what you do well is key to so much in life. It helps you rack up successes and build on them instead of dwelling on your inevitable failures. It also helps you find effective ways for you to do difficult things, like organize, plan time and break down large, unwieldy tasks. There is the way most people do something and then there is your way of doing it, which will always work best for you. Once you find what “your way” for doing well is, that’s half the battle.

      Like

Talk to me!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.