As I began to write my first draft of my new book, Embracing A.D.D.: A Healing Perspective, I thought I would introduce the idea of The True You, that innate core within ourselves that reflects the attributes of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD).
So much for first thoughts! Almost instantly, I began to realize that in our linear, western culture, it is impossible to reach adulthood with an ADD brainstyle without being wounded, even benignly. At least we come to realize fairly early that we learn in different ways from others in our classroom and from the way that a teacher is asking us to learn. At worst we feel that our way is wrong and/or that we are less adequate than other kids near us. Or we just plain fail. One way or the other our differences make us feel we are not as good or valuable or adequate as others–even when nothing is overtly said.
With that insight I decided to begin with what seems to come first, “The Wounded You.” Though not a new idea to me, it had slipped into the nether regions of my brain to resurface yesterday into bright awareness.
So, I changed my “where to begin” place for the book to childhood. Though the focus of Embracing ADD . . . is adulthood I want to get us into the feeling of what may have lain beyond our conscious minds for decades. To do this, I want to share a story I wrote in 1998 when I was interviewing people for my book, A.D.D. on the Job. A young man told me about how he couldn’t figure out what was happening to him when strange people talked to him and his parents in elementary school when he was seven or eight years old.
I saw a picture of him in my mind as a child and the following story wrote itself the same evening from my pen. I shared it with him a few days later and I wish to share it with you now. He found it healing at the time as his empathy for himself as a child grew. Perhaps you will find value in it too.
Here’s the story that our meeting yielded.
What’s This Thing They Say I’ve Got?
Jimmy’s forehead wrinkles. He pulls the corners of his mouth back and stares at the threads in his jeans.
“You don’t seem too happy to be here today,” observes Dr. Lynn.
Jimmy stayed after school to meet Dr. Lynn, the lady at his school who helps kids solve problems they’re having in class. Some of his friends say she’s already helped them stay out of trouble. But Jimmy’s not too sure he likes the whole idea of meeting with her. She seems nice enough, but he’s feeling a little nervous.
Besides, he’s missing soccer practice and that doesn’t make him very happy. He tells Dr. Lynn, “Well, my friends are at soccer practice, and I’d rather be with them. It doesn’t seem fair that I have to miss practice just becuase I’m having trouble in school.”
Dr. Lynn jumps right in and tells Jimmy, “I understand. I’m sorry you are missing practice today. I’ll see that it doesn’t happen again. It’s just that this first time, I want to meet you in your classroon.”
“I know your mom and dad told you about being called A.D.D. So, now that you’re here, do you have any questions about it? I’ll bet you’re good at asking questions.”
“Well,” Jimmy drawls. “What is this thing they say I’ve got?”
“Great question, Jimmy. A.D.D. stands fro Attention Deficit Disorder,” Dr. Lynn explains. “But really Jimmy you don’t have a disorder or even a deficit.”
Dr. Lynn smiles and continues, “You have a very wonderful, special way of thinking and learning. The only problem is that sometimes A.D.D. makes it hard for you to learn. It all depends on how something is taught to you. All children learn differently so it takes a lot of ways of teaching to teach everyone”
Jimmy looks up from his pants, right at Dr. Lynn and says,”Oh, I thought something real bad was wrong with me . . . like . . .” Jimmy hesitates, and then finally says, “Like I’m sick or bad, or . . . “
Again Jimmy stops talking and hangs his head.
“Yes, Jimmy,” says Dr. Lynn. “Is there something else you are worried about?”
Finally, he sighs, and continues in a very low worried-sounding voice. “Like I’m dumb.”
At that, Dr. Lynn’s eyes open wide and she gives Jimmy a big, reassuring grin, and proclaims, “Oh, no, Jimmy. You’re not dumb. And you most certainly aren’t sick or bad. You just learn things differently than some kids. You learn some things quickly and some things you learn in your own way. That’s all. Everybody’s like that.”
Dr. Lynn hesitates a moment and then adds, “I’m A.D.D. too, Jimmy.”
Now that really got his attention.
And just in time. When he hears he isn’t dumb, Jimmy feels so happy that he begins to think about his friends at soccer practice. But when he hears that Dr. Lynn is A.D.D. too, he becomes more interested in her.
“Wow!” yells Jimmy. He jumps up and exclaims, “So what is this stuff we got?”
Dr. Lynn explains. “Jimmy, our brains work like a factory–a factory with lots of pathways shipping information back and forth between work areas. Different part of our brains tell us what to do and how to do it.
“When you’re playing soccer, for example, part of your brain tells your eyes to look around the field, keep track of the ball and watch for a chance to kick a goal. It tells your foot what direction to kick the ball, when to kick it gently, and when to sock it.”
Jimmy interrupts, “Yeah, and I kick really good! So I must have a good factory up there. I sure love soccer.”
Dr. Lynn smiles and says, “In school, Jimmy, when your teacher asks you to do a lesson, maybe your ears hear her–but the message gets sidetracked as it travels through your brain.” Dr. Weiss hesitates and adds, “Especially when you’re not very interested in the lesson.”
Jimmy listens, imagining a picture of his brain factory working.
“Sometimes, you get to thinking about soccer practice right there in the middle of a math lesson, don’t you?”
And sometimes you don’t pay attention for other reasons–like when you feel real tired of sitting still. Right?”
Oh yeah, Dr. Lynn. I just feel like I can’t sit still for another minute. Trying to sit still makes me forget what the teacher is talking about.”
“But Jimmy, there’s one other reason you don’t pay much attention in class.”
“What’s that?” He cocks his eyebrow as he gives Dr. Lynn a questioning look.
“It’s the way you learn, Jimmy. You learn best by doing things–not by hearing your teacher talk about them or reading about them in a book.”
With that, Jimmy looks confused.
“Let me give you an example,” Dr Lynn says, seeing Jimmy’s puzzled look. “How do you like math in school? Be honest now. Tell me how you really feel.”
Jimmy hesitates, wondering if he can tell Dr. Lynn the truth without getting in trouble. Finally, he decides to give it a try. Lowering his eyes, he says, “I get real bored in math. I hate doing problems on paper. Then I forget to pay attention. I don’t mean to, it just happens.”
“That’s exactly what I mean. You try to do your math, but you keep thinking about other things. I bet you even try to do homework, but somehow it never quite gets done. Right?”
“Right,” Jimmy nods looking sad.
“But, Jimmy, when you go to the store to buy something and you need to figure out how much is costs, do you get bored and forget to do that math? Or are you able to figure out right away whether or not you have enough money to pay for it?”
“Oh, no, Dr. Lynn. I know exactly what to do and how to figure out how much I can buy. I even know how much tax I have to pay. I figure it out in my head. I know about money and I’m good at math at the store.”
“That’s it. That’s it, Jimmy. It’s hard for you to pay attention to something unless you are very interested in the problem, or you can use it in a real situation. You figure better in your head than on paper. And it’s a whole lot harder for you to keep track of your numbers when you’re sitting down than when you’re able to move around. Lots of us who are A.D.D. are just the same as you.
“So my job is to help you so it’s not so hard for you to pay attention in school. I’ll help you learn some tricks about sitting still. In fact, we’ll start with this,” Dr. Lynn says as she leans over to open her desk drawer, reaches in, and hands Jimmy a leather thong with a bead on it. A knot is tied at each end of the thong so the bead won’t slide off and make a noise falling on the desk or floor.
“Here’s a little toy that doesn’t make any noise and won’t disturb other kids. You can slide this bead back and forth all you want, and it won’t bother anyone. But it will give your hands something to do when you start getting tired of being still.”
Immediately Jimmy takes the thong and starts sliding the bead back and forth, back and forth. He says, “I like it. I think it will help me pay attention and sit still.”
Satisfied, and hopeful he can do better in class with the help of his bead, Jimmy asks, “Can I go now?”
“Sure Jimmy.” Smiling, she adds, “We’ve talked enough about A.D.D. today. You listened very well and you asked great questions. You’ll see me next week again, after soccer practice. And there’ll be other kids like you and me. We’ll all work together so you can learn to use your good A.D.D. brain. And I’ll teach you some more tricks to stay out of trouble.”
“Okay, Dr. Lynn. See ya next week,” Jimmy says with a big smile. “And, oh yeah, thanks for letting me know I’m not dumb.”