I have a recurring dream. I am six years old and the class is laughing at me. The teacher asks me, “What did I just say?” I have no idea, since I’m lost in a fog. “Are you retarded or something?” the teacher asks, and the classroom roars with laughter.
The dream is based on my experience as a child in the 1980s with undiagnosed ADHD. I have nightmares about being humiliated all these years later. I wasn’t a bad child; I was well behaved and bright, but I could not focus or follow directions. If someone said to “go right,” I’d go left. If I were asked to repeat something, I forgot it as quickly as it was said.
Thirty years ago, in our small town, no one had heard of ADHD. If you had challenges in school, you were just lazy. All of my report cards pretty much said the same thing: “E. does not listen or follow directions.” Spelling and reading were the only subjects I did well in. Although I was a good reader, my comprehension wasn’t the best. The teachers grew annoyed with me, and punished me by sending me outside to “watch the grass grow.” As I got older, I continued to drift through school with OK grades — Bs and Cs — and I spent hours studying to achieve them.
In addition to my problems trying to focus, I talked so fast that people had trouble understanding me. There is a recording of me at nine years old, talking on my dad’s answering machine at breakneck speed.
When I entered tenth grade, I finally had enough. In tears, I went to my mother and told her that something was wrong with me. I got everything confused and backward. There was something wrong with my brain. My mother tried to schedule an appointment with the school psychologist, but she was accustomed to seeing children with severe intellectual disabilities. The school did tests on me that showed that, although I had a normal IQ, I had depth perception problems, got things backward, and did indeed have trouble following directions. However, I did not receive a diagnosis. The tests concluded that I had “some issues.” No solutions were given because the school hadn’t heard of ADHD. They just issued the results and left things at that.
To University and Beyond
I went to a university in 1992, and I flunked out. College was overwhelming; I could not sit in a lecture hall and take notes. My self-esteem was in the basement when I left college, and I lost several jobs. Reckless with my finances, I could not focus or sit still long enough to balance my checkbook. I bounced checks. I cringe remembering the time I received a notice from a pizza shop that said I owed $400 because of several overdrawn checks.
I made and lost friends quickly. I got bored with the people I dated. My attention was scattered, so my friends thought that I wasn’t listening to them.
Then, in 1996, I attended a community college to get my grades up, so that I could re-apply to the university. It had a program for people with learning disabilities; the college…