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.

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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.

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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.