I was generally a good kid in high school…besides the constant blurting out stuff.
And never properly understanding the assigned readings.
And the extreme procrastination on essays and projects.
And saying “that’s what she said” way too many times in religion class (I’m still sorry about this one).
Even though I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was in my twenties, in retrospect I can see that the symptoms were there.
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Although I can’t change the past, I do wish I could’ve qualified some of my younger behavior with the knowledge I have now about ADHD and how it affects me.
Here are just a few things I wish I could’ve told my high school teachers back then.
1. “I’m sorry for constantly blurting out what’s on my mind.”
I wasn’t deliberately trying to make your life difficult by constantly interrupting.
I’m sure I was probably the biggest nuisance in class and sometimes a pain to deal with, but I promise I wasn’t doing it on purpose to be a jerk. My ADHD made it feel nearly impossible to hold anything back, no matter how hard I tried.
Sometimes I just got excited and couldn’t keep from blurting out. Sometimes I’d have an important thought that I’d need to convey before I forgot it and that lead to me interrupting people mid-sentence.
Whatever the case was, the detentions were justified and I’m sorry.
2. “I’m sorry… I just couldn’t understand the readings.”
When we were studying Jane Austen in English class, I once misinterpreted a chapter so badly that my English teacher said, “Nerris, I need you to operate on this planet today.”
Here’s the thing: It made complete sense in my head. Honestly, if I were to retake that class, I would probably still have a similar interpretation.
My ability to hyperlink different topics can be a bit uncanny, but sometimes this turns on me and I make connections that aren’t always there.
Most of the time it’s fascinating and can lead to interesting conversations. Other times, you’re taking your AP Literature exam and answer “completely logical” when the correct choice was “absolute nonsense.”
3. “I can’t always solve problems the way you teach them.”
Common Core, the state standards initiative, was my enemy.
I always had weird ways of understanding mathematics. I often struggled to do the problem exactly the way I was taught. I may have arrived at the correct answer, but the way I got there looked a lot different than what my teachers expected.
In fact, to this day, many problem-solving strategies completely elude me. Following equations step-by-step was like kryptonite to me, so I frequently came up with my own methods of solving Algebra and Trig problems with visual charts or flipping equations.
My teachers were unimpressed by these unusual methods. This often meant that I lost points on problems, even if the answers were correct.
I understand my teachers were just doing their jobs when they marked me down, but I wish that there was more flexibility in the education system for students with cognitive differences.
4. “I’m sorry I didn’t do the reading assignments.”
My ADHD made it extremely hard for me to read. You know how sometimes, for whatever reasons, you have to reread the same paragraph a few times before it makes sense? With my ADHD, that’s just the norm.
My history classes had very intense reading assignments, and it was nearly impossible for me to complete them. It wasn’t because I was lazy, and it wasn’t because I was a bad student. On the contrary, I probably tried harder than any other student in my class!
5. “I’m trying to focus, I really am.”
In high school, teens are challenged to intensely focus in class — focus on reading and focus on writing. But I was constantly distracted.
Many adults in my life chalked it up to me just wanting to be on Facebook or be on my phone, but this was (and still is) a gross oversimplification.
Besides, I didn’t even have a smartphone until I was out of high school! My ADHD made focusing difficult, though I thrived in music and drama classes where there was more active participation.
6. “Please keep pushing. Don’t give up on me.”
Many of my friends with ADHD in other schools often told me about how their teachers more or less gave up on them, unfortunately.
For them, senior year came, and academic counselors essentially shrugged them off as students with ADHD, placing them in the safety classes and never scheduling college talks.
Please don’t brush us off because of a cognitive difference. We need you to be our advocates.
While ADHD made my high school experience an interesting one, there were many struggles and points of contention with my teachers. But I’m glad to say that I’m still close with most of them, and there are no hard feelings.
I even graduated salutatorian of my class! I look forward to the day when all schools, everywhere, can support all types of cognitive differences.
Unfortunately, there’s a long way to go — but I hope this short piece will allow for a little more empathy both from teachers and students with ADHD.
For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
ADHD-US-NP-00057 JUNE 2019