10 October, 2007

This was in my comments box today and I thought I'd reply to everyone.

I have an interesting 15 yr old ADHD son, and I'd love if you could give me some insight.
I love your blog, by the way.
I also work at a library though I'm sure I don't have nearly as much fun at it as you do.

Insights on an ADHD fifteen year old?

Well I was one (for about a year if I remember correctly) So I should be able to string a few words together for what worked (and didn't work) for me.
So, in order to see if my experience has any relevance let me give you a few of the details of my ADHD.

Firstly, I was diagnosed (unofficially, by my step mother [a special needs teacher] in my 20s). I was officially diagnosed only a couple of years ago. But I've known I had it for years, probably since I was about 17 - when I read a bit about it and figured it fit me.

With both the official and unofficial diagnosis there was an immediate assumption I was ADD (no H) because I am highly functional in so many areas (and a librarian).
In both cases it came back that if there were more H's available I could have had more.
Yep I am ADHHHHHD but my hyperactivity isn't always obvious to people (my attention deficit it immediately apparent).

I manage to be a high functioning ADHD 'sufferer' in part because I have a brain the size of planet. that is to say, when I was officially diagnosed I was told that if not for the ADHD I would be a genius. In fact I am a genius in three out of the four measures of genius. So where do I fall down.


Remember I am a librarian, I have a degree in which one of my majors was literature (with a high GPA if you ignore the times I failed because I didn't hand anything in).

So my area of failure is in the area of language.
If I was 15 I'd be saying WTF!
Because I'd always thought that language was a strength (top English class at school etc)

But I still think that it is my strength, it is just that my use of language is not conventional. Also I fall over with an inability to spell or to type the letters of words in the right order (but who cares I have spell-check these days).

I speed read, I have a very high level of reading comprehension, so I don't care too much that my strength is in fact my weakness.

So now,

On to my poster's son. If he shares any (or all) of these characteristics then my experience may well be able to give some insight.

Firstly, I have a very small monkeysphere.

I don't care enough about others to remember their names. I don't make eye contact when I talk to people, so they don't always connect to me either.

I have a few friends and I have to work damn hard to make sure I follow some of the norms of social relationships (like letting them talk occasionally, or listening when they talk, or caring about what they say, or remembering to ask how they are coping with their mother's death, or remembering not to make dead mother jokes...)

it is in some ways a very similar to being a narcissist, but it is not that you are completely self interested it is more that you have to remember to engage with others because it is not as automatic as for most of the rest of the world's population.

Hyperfocus is another one. I can use it to my advantage now, but at fifteen it was damn hard to break away from something once I was focused on it. As such I would resent being called for meals, having to go to school, having to go from one class to another just when I was getting it...

If you can use hyperfocus well, then you are in a damn good place, but finding out how to turn it on is hard and finding out how to turn it off when you've accidentally focused in on something irrelevant is even harder.

Distractions, when you're 15 everything is a distraction, the breasts of the girl sitting next to you, the breasts of the girl sitting behind you, the arse of the girl standing in front of you, the laugh of the girl next to you, the breasts of your teachers. With ADHD it is much more of a problem because if you hyperfocus on the breasts of the girl next to you you're liable to find that she notices too.

But if you hyperfocus on the way the sun shines off the buttons on her shirt (which just happen to be near her breasts) she won't think you're staring at light on her buttons and when you get punched in the arm you won't be able to explain because you're so zoned out and unaware of what the hell you were doing that you wouldn't be able to understand what the hell you were doing.

And buttons can be shiny, but almost anything is a distraction. I nearly failed a major school exam because I spent three quarters of the time staring at a parrot which landed on the branch of a tree outside the window. And when it flew off I was too busy thinking about parrots and trees and flying and then I realised that I was in an exam and had to usee my giant brain to try and do the whole thing in a very short time.

I could go on I guess,
but that'd be the highlights.

So where to now?

I'd say have the boy do a Myers-Briggs type personality test. Then do one yourself, because it does a great job of telling you where the problems are likely to be in your relationship.

it doesn't have to be an expensive psychologist do the test Please Understand Me II by Keirsey is a nice starting point for a self test.

Then, do what you can to help him embrace his ADHD. I don't think of it as a problem but as a gift. Sure it is a gift that causes problems some times, but it's not as problematic as the Midas Touch.

He can think in ways others can't. He can find solutions others ignore. He can respond to crises well, without panic, without being freaked out by everyone else's panic.

He can probably (if the school system hasn't stolen his confidence) manage to work out more of his personal strengths.

Drugs is a bugger of a question. I took them during school, but they weren't the prescribed type.

I've found a lot of problems with the ADHD drugs when it comes to me personally. So, I tend not to take them. Occasionally I'll try some new option or go with the Dexies if I need to function in a particular way, like finish a report or write a conference paper. But they cause problems too.

They take away my biggest strengths and in return make me average at things that I'm usually bad at. So the conference paper which is written while on Dexies, needs to be revisited while off them in order to find the edge. Or better still, if I can focus enough to write it while off the drugs, I can come back later while I am on them and do things like finish incomplete sentences or look for sections which don't make sense.

What a trade, Excellence in some area others don't care about in return for mediocrity in areas your teacher/boss thinks is important.

If he's not going to punch holes in the wall if he goes without ritalin, it might be worth trialling time without it. Letting the creativity counteract the lack of focus, because once school is over there is a lot more need for creative people in so many areas than there is for mediocrity and once you become mediocre it is damn hard to break out of that mould and find the excellence.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

-Henry David Thoreau


Library girl said...

Wow - my head is spinning. Found your blog absolutely fascinating (especially the sideline about monkeyspheres). It explains so much. I think I need to lie down now :)

Maeve said...

My son, now in his 30s, has ADHD. When he was 15 he decided to take himself off Ritalin because he didn't like what it did to him and also he was tired of his teachers treating him as if he were mentally deficient. His big plus is his personality and charisma. He has no difficulty making and keeping friends.

18 Channels said...

When I was diagnosed I thought the goal was to be "normal". I now realize that not only do I not stand a chance of ever really being normal, lol, there's really no need, because I have other strengths that will serve me much better. As you say, screw mediocracy. I do take Strattera, it's helpful for me because it makes me calmer and less reactive, which for me makes it easier to go nuts with my creativity...for me, this is helpful. But I totally get what you're saying about embracing your uniqueness, however you are able, and learning to be productive with it...yeehaw...!