The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Category: ADHD & academics

ADHD clues: My embarrassing 2nd grade papers

“At least you didn’t do worse than chance.”

I had to laugh. My dad had unloaded a huge, unwanted box of old school papers on me. While most went into the recycling, I found a few gems. Among them, a pattern-recognition exercise where I scored an overall 25% on a four-part multiple choice.

As my husband pointed out, at least I didn’t get below 25%, or I would’ve done worse than blind chance.

What does this have to do with ADHD?

Well, I have a hunch: I can figure out which image doesn’t belong. I think I could’ve done it in second grade, too. But it takes me a while. I’m not a natural visual thinker. The oddball image doesn’t jump out at me. In other words, I have to keep my eyes (and brain) on the pictures long enough to figure it out.

And look at this page of math problems. My accuracy rate was okay, but I left huge chunks blank at the end.

Looking back at my elementary school papers and report cards, I see a trail of ADHD clues.

I see a smart kid who made a lot of silly mistakes on assignments. Who forgot to do homework. Whose attention span was too short to figure out simple pattern recognition exercises. Who got distracted and ran out of time before finishing an assignment. This, on top of the report cards detailing my lack of impulse control or (related, for sure) social skills.And yet, because I was smart — my IQ and advanced reading skills landed me in the gifted program — and a girl, no one suspected ADHD. This was, and remains, common. If ADHD runs in your family and you have introverted, sensitive, academically gifted children, it’s something to watch for.

Grown-ups with late-diagnosis ADHD: do you ever look back at all the clues and wonder how no one knew?

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Just a mom with ADHD, visiting the academic buffet

Tonight, for the first time in almost a decade, I’ll be stepping into a college classroom as a student. Before anyone questions my sanity, not to worry. I’m enrolled in an eight-week, non-credit writing course, not a degree program.

Of course, this temporary shift in my availability presents a new challenge for our family. Working hard is my hyperfocus jam. My household has come to rely on the fact that I self-medicate my ADHD by doing stuff around the house. Most of the time, I’m cool with that, but sometimes I miss the good old days when I could climb every mountain and take every class.

For so many reasons, I can no longer climb every mountain. That’s why I’m looking forward to this bite-size academic adventure.

College: the last place an ADHD girl can do it all

Perhaps you’re familiar with the stereotypical face of ADHD: male, visual thinker, academic underachiever.

Perhaps you can also see why so many women and linguistic thinkers go undiagnosed until adulthood. My school years treated me well because they provided a lot of structure and allowed me to taste-test whatever interested me in the moment. I knew how to get an A in just about anything, and taking a breadth of classes is normal — maybe even encouraged. Taking a breadth of jobs in the real world makes you look like a flake who can’t stay employed.

As an undergraduate, I switched between four different majors and two universities. I took classes in philosophy, geology, early childhood development, calculus, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. I learned to develop photos in the darkroom, use 3D modeling software, and speak a little bit of Russian. I held down jobs as a set painter, sandwich maker, and tech support specialist.

My only regret upon receiving my bachelor’s degree (fine arts, with a minor in art history) was that I couldn’t repeat the process over and over until I’d covered every major my university offered.

Since then, I’ve applied and been accepted to two graduate programs: a master’s in community arts and an online MBA. I actually completed half (or so) of my MBA, until I’d used up my AmeriCorps education award. I was having fun and doing well. However, faced with a few years of stay-at-home parenting followed by self-employment, I couldn’t justify spending $23,000 for me to finish my MBA just for fun.

And now: snacking on knowledge

My brother-in-law coined a term for our family’s approach to learning: snacking on knowledge. And for me, right now, snacking seems like the right thing to do.

I have a young child. My 10-year career goals are muddled somewhere between novelist, professor, personal organizing coach, and pro blogger. I probably could get into a degree program (again) and do well (again), but that doesn’t mean I have to.

Aging with ADHD has required me to learn a brand new skill: slowing down. Technically, I probably can do anything I put my mind to. This doesn’t always make it a good idea to try. The fact is, I still have a solid work ethic, but I get tired now. I’m not happy when I overcommit. Life seems shorter than it once did, and I want to check at least one Big Life Goal off my list.

One of those Big Life Goals happens to be publishing a novel, and I happen to have a complete draft. I’m not only taking a practical bite out of academic life, I’m connecting it to a goal-in-progress.

And maybe that’s the biggest progress yet.

Is homeschooling right for your family?

Last week, we heard from Meg about homeschooling her oldest child, who has ADHD. Figuring out whether homeschooling is right for your family can be overwhelming. Checking in with Meg as we go, let’s explore a few questions you should ask yourself before taking the plunge.

home schooling

photo credit: Lynde Pratt

Do you have time?

ADHD is highly heritable. If a child has it, there’s a 30-40% chance at least one parent has it, too. We ADHD’ers are notoriously time-blind, making it hard for us to look before we leap.

You need at least one full-time homeschooling parent,” Meg warns. She works part-time managing her own business while her husband works full-time. For now they divide teaching duties to form two halves of a whole.

If you’re already feeling frantic, over-committed, or just too busy most of the time, something will need to give. Force yourself to imagine the day-to-day grind of your new homeschooling life. Do this several times, and with as much detail as possible. Fight your natural tendency to say “oh, I’ll figure it out.” ADHD severely impairs your ability to think through long-term consequences of your actions, and it’s your responsibility to counteract that.

“[Homeschooling] isn’t something you squeeze into your day,” Meg reminds us, “it’s a lifestyle.” Make sure that feels okay with you.

Do you have money?

You don’t have to pay for an expensive curriculum, but newbies may appreciate the structure at first, if only to teach them what does and doesn’t work for their child.

Don’t forget the other costs associated with homeschooling, either. Ideally, you’ll want to take your child on regular field trips, many of which cost money. Group activities, like karate or Boy Scouts, provide vital social outlets for homeschoolers.

And there’s that prickly time question again: will you need to hire help for household chores?  ADHD adults often struggle with household maintenance, and adding to your responsibilities at home may force the issue. Meg’s family discovered they’ll need to pay around $300 per month for cleaning help. “We have two other children and a large, old house/property that requires a ton of maintenance,” she explains. “There’s too much on our plates right now.”

Have you included your child in the decision?

If you haven’t read Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting, I recommend it before proceeding with your homeschooling decision. In business and in parenting, buy-in is critical — and too often overlooked. Your child, no matter his age, needs to feel like an important part of the process. Homeschooling is something you’ll do as a team. If he lacks ownership in this decision, you’ll have a very hard time indeed.

How’s your ADHD management?

Homeschooling requires some minor red tape, but it’s “no big deal,” says Meg, thanks to copious online resources.

Like so many things, poorly managed adult ADHD will make this easier said than done. In Pennsylvania, where Meg’s family lives,  you must keep records for 185 learning days each year (these can include field trip days).  Many families hire a certified teacher to review these records annually. Parents must also notify the school district of their intent to homeschool via an affidavit at the beginning of the year. These steps aren’t difficult, but you’ll need to remember to keep records and complete time-sensitive tasks every year.

Adult ADHD can also cause impatience, irritability, and strained family relations, not to mention poor social skills extending far beyond your front door. Be honest with yourself: will you be able to work with your child, often enduring intense frustration on both sides, while maintaining a healthy relationship? Will you be able to tolerate being together all day? Are you capable of making the necessary social connections with other parents to cultivate friends for your child?

Is school really the problem?

Even if you send your child to traditional school, you’re not off the hook: just ask any parent who’s tried to get everyone out the door in the morning. Then there’s checking in on homework, fielding teacher concerns, attending disciplinary meetings (my parents especially loved those), and helping your child develop coping mechanisms to succeed in a learning environment that seems utterly incompatible with ADHD.

It’s tempting to throw up your hands rather than tackle these challenges. Just remember, homeschooling won’t make the root issues go away, it’ll just give you a different set of puzzles. (I’m reminded of when, as a beginning skier, I got frustrated with the learning curve and decided a snowboard would solve all my problems.)

“I don’t have leisure or rest anymore,” confesses Meg. This is part of her motivation for hiring someone to help around the house. “It’s an unhealthy way to live…I don’t plan to live this way forever, but for now it is what it is. When you believe you’re doing the right thing, you make it work at any personal expense.”

Meg’s steadfast belief that this is the right thing for her son keeps her going when things get tough. If that’s the case for you, too, that’s great. But do some soul searching before pulling your kiddo out of school. Make sure you’re truly acting in your child’s long-term best interest, not out of desperation to offload a set of overwhelming challenges.

Have you considered homeschooling? What would you like to say to parents considering teaching a child at home?

What’s it like to homeschool a child with ADHD?

home schooling

Some kids with ADHD are lucky enough to thrive in school. The concrete expectations and structure compensate for their executive functioning weaknesses.

Others struggle mightily just to sit at a desk.

I recently caught up with my lovely friend Meg to talk about homeschool. Meg runs her own business in addition to caring for three children, the oldest of whom is seven-year-old Corban. After a frustrating kindergarten year, Meg and her husband Adam decided to homeschool Corban, who has ADHD.

This interview is the first in a two-part series on homeschooling. Next week, we’ll catch up with Meg again to discuss some more practical details for parents considering homeschooling.

ADHD Homestead: Describe the school environment you left behind.

Meg: We live in a fantastic school district and our son’s teachers were attentive, caring, compassionate and flexible. They adhered to Common Core standards and added to that curriculum to make it more rigorous. However, my son spent most of his time at a desk learning reading and math. His favorite subjects — science and history — aren’t Common Core priorities. He daydreamed, got bored and frustrated, and often stood at his desk the entire day. His teacher was understanding, but unsure how to handle him.

A: Talk to me about your process for choosing homeschooling over traditional school

M: We intended to homeschool all along. We love teachers and admire all their hard work with kids. We don’t necessarily think we can do a better job educating our children. However, we strongly believe the school day is too long and the curriculum/education style in this country is too ‘one size fits all.’ When the teacher alerted us to Corban’s problems focusing in class, we felt it was time to offer him an alternative.

ADHD home school pull quote

A: ADHD can cause frustration, emotional outbursts, overwhelm, disorganization, and time blindness. If you have ADHD yourself, how do your own symptoms present themselves in homeschooling?

M: I’m often in my own little world. I daydream and get bored incredibly easily. There are several things in my life that interest me and hold my attention, but homeschooling isn’t one of them!

I have little to no patience for trying to engage my son when he ‘can’t be engaged,’ and while I understand first-hand his frustration with “boring” subjects, I lack the ability to make them fun for him. I’m horrible at organizing projects for him or trying to come up with teaching strategies. We often butt heads and I wish he could see the value in “just getting it done,” but I can’t teach him that.

A: Social skills can be a major issue for ADHD kids. How are you helping your child learn these skills outside the large-group school setting?

M: Corban has excellent social skills, but he struggles to find kids he really clicks with. He’s surprisingly cooperative and flexible with his friends — allowing them to dictate what games they play, etc. However, he gets stuck on a trend and expects the other kids to be as obsessive about it as he is.

For example, he’s obsessed with Pokemon right now. Unless a kid is also obsessed with Pokemon, he doesn’t want to play with them. He has to find a kid who will allow him to go on and on about his latest obsession to really click with that child. Otherwise, he plays politely, but doesn’t seem to find much pleasure in it. It makes me really sad because he’s a great kid. Only a few kids seem to know how to get the best out of him.

We try to arrange play dates with other kids as often as possible, but people are so busy it rarely happens. We’re actively seeking out affordable group activities to provide social interactions with peers. He’ll be joining Boy Scouts later this month and he attends Sunday School. Luckily, he also has siblings to play with. Corban tends to get along best with older kids and even adults, which also presents challenges.

A: What have the biggest upsides been for your family? The biggest downsides?

M: The biggest upside is being with him all day. The biggest downside is…being with him all day! He drives me absolutely crazy! But I adore him.

In theory, homeschooling should be this beautiful parent/child journey of discovery. In practice, I’m tearing my hair out and he’s fighting me on every step. However, every day we gain insight into our son. Every day we tweak our technique with him and find better strategies to engage him. We love that he has the freedom to dive deep into the subjects that interest him. We also love knowing he isn’t stuck in a chair all day, desperately trying to pay attention.

We can feel like we’re failing every day, but when we look at the facts, he’s learning, and he’s much less frustrated and emotional than he was in traditional school.

A: What does a normal homeschooling day look like? Week? Month? Year?

M: We’re just learning our groove. So far, this is what seems to work: Corban wakes up, has breakfast, plays for a bit, and then we do a verbal lesson. We go over multiplication facts and spelling words for about 30 minutes. Then he has a break. Later, we have him read a book of his choice for 30 minutes. He often does math problems on the computer for half an hour as well.

Once or twice a week, we do a history lesson with him for about an hour. He does a science lesson with an experiment for an hour each week. We read to him every day.

We don’t do formal writing because he hates writing and we’re trying not to overwhelm him. We encourage him to write letters or lists several times a week. He also goes outside for exercise at least once a day. It’s not perfect, but we’re learning.

A: How long do you plan to homeschool?

M: As long as it feels like the best choice for each of our kids. We have a daughter who’s currently in public school kindergarten. For now, that’s working well for her. 

But for Corban, homeschool is the best choice for right now. We need to work on getting his ADHD under control before we’d even consider sending him back. We also have much more flexibility to play with different teaching strategies at home. Right now we’re learning about our son and what works best for his education. We may choose to homeschool him through high school. He is a bright kid, and he may be able to advance through the grade levels more quickly at home.

Parents and teachers: how do you feel about homeschooling? Have you tried it? Considered it? Taught kids in a traditional school setting before or after their homeschool experience? Please share in the comments!

Falling through the cracks: one ADHD girl’s story

About the author:

CarolynCarolyn is a single mother of two and a Registered Nurse working in General and Cardiovascular Surgery. She also has a background in Behavioral Health. She’s just started a new blog at www.thedistractedmom.com, where she writes about parenting with ADHD while raising ADHD children.

Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @NurseMallon.

Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing your story!

Missing the warning signs

Do you know what it feels like to be a girl with ADHD?

I do, as do nearly 6% of all girls. But many of us struggle for years before we figure out why things seem so much harder for us.

We expect boys to be boisterous and loud. Even without a diagnosis of ADHD, it surprises no one when a boy acts like a clown, and they give him a pass when he talks back (after all, he’s got to grow up to be confident, right?).

We expect something else from girls.

We want them to follow directions and be tidy, and to be mindful of the feelings of others. There isn’t as much leeway for being messy and haphazard.

As an ADHD girl, you’re forever falling short of everyone’s expectations, never living up to your “potential.” You try to stay organized, but the lists and notebooks just get lost. You forget plans and goof on names. You struggle to fit in with the other girls, and you feel like everyone else has a cheat sheet of social rules.

As an undiagnosed ADHD girl, my childhood and teen years were awful.

I was depressed and crippled by anxiety attacks and a school phobia. At one point I had an ulcer made worse from the meds I was taking for my ‘emotional problems!’

I was only 12 years old. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me!

My older brother had ADHD, but he had the obvious kind — and he was a boy. He was hyperactive and oppositional. He engaged in risk-taking behavior that was hard not to notice. I worked very hard to behave and do well in school, even when it was obvious to me I wasn’t keeping up.

The tragedy was that in working so hard to hide my impairments, I only succeeded in postponing proper treatment.

I was intelligent enough to leave an impression on my teachers. In fact, I was in the gifted program, but I lacked the organizational skills to meet their academic expectations.

If I found a subject interesting, I could do well easily, but if a subject didn’t grab me, I could stare at a homework assignment for hours and still not make progress. I would try to follow the class lecture, but if I lost track of what they were discussing, I might as well have wandered alone in the woods. I just couldn’t catch up.

After a while, I started skipping classes to avoid the shame and embarrassment of having no assignment to turn in or knowing I was going to flunk a test. This contributed to my poor self-image: I felt like a loser and a delinquent.

By 11th grade, I wasn’t in honors classes at all anymore. I was failing remedial math and getting suspended for truancy. I was drinking, experimenting with drugs, and feeling more miserable than I’d been in my life.

This is often the lot of the undiagnosed ADHD girl.

ADHD’s far-reaching effects on women & girls

ADHD is the most common childhood psychiatric disorder, marked by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. While girls often present with those symptoms, they more commonly have difficulties sustaining attention, initiating and maintaining effort, and organizing information. Many struggle with learning impairments.

Left undiagnosed, girls tend to under-perform academically. Each year that goes by becomes a longer history of failure, social problems, and feelings of under-achievement.

More so than with ADHD boys, these impairments often lead to peer rejection. Relationships among girls are sophisticated and require more maintenance. Boys tend to be more forgiving of forgetfulness, hyperactivity, and inappropriate outbursts. Social awkwardness it not as easily forgiven among teen girls. There’s a perception that girls should know what to say and when; how to keep a secret; how to keep their lives in order and make it look effortless.

If they can’t do this, they feel like something is wrong with them.

What Happens When You Can’t Keep Up?

Depression and anxiety are common with ADHD, but even higher in girls, who tend to internalize problems. Whereas boys engage in oppositional behavior, girls more commonly internalize anger and engage in self-injury. Half of ADHD girls report self-harming behavior (Child Mind, 2012).

Perhaps not surprisingly, girls are also particularly prone to substance abuse disorders, possibly related to later diagnosis and high levels of stress as they try to self-medicate.

45% of women diagnosed with ADHD also meet criteria for another disorder.

But it’s not the end of the world, right?

Well, it can be the end for some. 18% of teen girls with ADHD report suicidal ideation (Rucklidge, J.J. 2008), and the incidence of successful suicide is five times higher in those with ADHD (Medscape, 2013).

There are other risks associated with “slipping through the cracks” and not being diagnosed. Left untreated, ADHD increases the risk for driving-related accidents, particularly for teen girls. Adolescent girls with ADHD also have a higher risk for teen pregnancy (30-40%) and a fourfold increased risk for STDs (Rucklidge, J.J. 2008).

As any grown-up girl can tell you, low self-esteem and poor impulse control do not add up to the best decision-making.

I had all the symptoms — how was it missed?

The therapists and doctors saw my anxiety and depression, my sense of never being focused or present, my inner feelings of restlessness, anger, and self-loathing. I also engaged in self-harm, but my impulsive behaviors looked like psychiatric symptoms, and didn’t point to ADHD. They threw around words like “dysthymia,” “generalized anxiety,” and “borderline.”

What they missed was ADHD combined-type — and just enough shame about my impairments that I managed to distract from the issue entirely. Rather than let anyone know how disorganized and forgetful I really was, and because I interpreted that as a personal failing, I focused instead on how miserable I felt. Understandably, they focused on that, too.

In doing so, we all failed to address the symptoms that were contributing to my unhappiness and poor self-image in the first place.

You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to relive my teenage years.

It’s not too late

Dropping out wasn’t the end of my story. I did get my life back on track eventually. But first I had to address the self-image issues holding me back and the ADHD symptoms keeping my life in disarray.

If you know a girl struggling with attention or anxiety issues, whether she’s been diagnosed or not, let her know she doesn’t need to struggle like that. And she’s not alone.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but one intervention that does fit every situation is support. Not lectures, not tough love, not “ignore it; she’s just doing it for attention,” not hollow reassurances. Just support. Let her know that you notice her, and you want to help, and you’re there for her. Then ask how you can help.

References

ADHD Persists in Adulthood, Ups Mental Illness, Suicide Risk. Medscape Medical News, Psychiatry. Wed. 10 April 2015.

Cumyn, L., PhD., French, L., PhD., & Hechtman, Lily,M.D., F.R.C.P. (2009). Comorbidity in adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54(10), 673-83. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/222845215?accountid=3783

Mikami, A. Y., Ransone, M. L., & Calhoun, C. D. (2011, 12). Influence of Anxiety on the Social Functioning of Children With and Without ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 15(6), 473-484. doi: 10.1177/1087054710369066

Ramsay, J. R. (2005, 12). Girl, Repeatedly Interrupted: The Case of a Young Adult Woman With ADHD.Clinical Case Studies, 4(4), 329-346. doi: 10.1177/1534650103259741

Rucklidge, J. J. (2008, 12). Gender differences in ADHD: Implications for psychosocial treatments. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 8(4), 643-655. doi: 10.1586/14737175.8.4.643

ADHD then and now: notes from my teenage self

People sometimes tell me I can’t have ADHD because I’m too smart and organized.

I insist I’m only as organized as I need to be to maintain a base level of sanity, not to mention cleanliness and financial security. It just so happens I need to create a lot of intentional, concrete systems to keep the ship afloat.

good student quote

I still have my rough patches, but it’s easy to forget how ADHD feels for those who are younger, undiagnosed, newly diagnosed, or just haven’t gotten the support they need to start organizing their lives.

Here’s a different perspective, written when I was 17:

…When I have to pay attention in school, sometimes I just can’t. I’ll try with all I’ve got, but it’s like a fog, a force field goes up between me and them and I can’t cut through it.

Most of the time, no matter what, I can’t sit still. My leg twitches, my fingers, tap, I fidget and shift positions, or my eyes just keep darting around.

I find it difficult to do my homework at night because I’ll start staring at something, I’ll pick up objects around me and look at them, my thoughts will wander, I won’t be able to focus or concentrate.

And then there’s my memory. I can never remember books and movies, I constantly forget to perform simple tasks, so much so that it interferes with my daily functioning in life. This is why I write on my hands. I do things in fragments because I get distracted and bounce from task to task. I must perform my morning routine in the same order every day lest I leave something out. I am very absent-minded.

I have trouble not talking when there is someone who I can talk to nearby.

See, I talked to my guidance counselor about it, and I still don’t know what to do. In order to be diagnosed with anything, a test would go out to me, my parents, and my teachers, none of whom I want to get involved. I’ve tricked my teachers into thinking I’m a good student…

I have to constantly stay a step ahead of this, I have to beat it and sidestep it and wrestle it to the ground, all to keep my head above the water. Battling with a condition of your own mind is like nothing else — it is a unique struggle, one that knows you and hits you where you are weak, one that wears you down over time and makes you feel sick inside.

I wish it could be easy, but it sucks.

Already, with ample structure in a minimally challenging academic environment, I struggled internally.

I didn’t cause much trouble at school and I graduated with a GPA over 3.5. Study halls gave me extra time for homework. I was also bright enough to get away with discreetly working on assignments during lectures without falling behind on the material. As a linguistic thinker, I relied on my ability to test well, but forgot most of what I learned shortly after the exam.

Many find this surprising, but it’s a common story for ADHD girls and women.

These are the ADHD cases that slip by until adulthood, when we must create our own structure, goals, and schedules. We must make our own day, and if we haven’t learned to do that, everything begins to fall apart.

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