I have always struggled to maintain focus. But it was not until I was in 5th grade that I realized I had undiagnosed ADHD.
As a child, I can remember when something would catch my attention, I would just go toward it. At the time, this was simple curiosity. It was the way I experienced and discovered the world. But you can imagine how that could have gotten me into trouble, too. One instance of this was when I was just a toddler. I left my mother’s side to go crawl in the mouth of a Lego lion at Downtown Disney. I hid there for what my mother claims felt like an hour and took years from her life.
My curiosity has been a double-edged sword for me, but more good than bad. Often my curiosity pulled me off course. While it got me into trouble at times (e.g., Lego lion), it also sparked my interest and helped me focus. I would say my curiosity has been the hallmark of my learning style, although I probably didn’t see it that way from the start.
Realizing I Have Undiagnosed ADHD
I knew I had ADHD before anyone else. I had even googled it while at a friend’s house. And this was when I was just in elementary school! With that simple search, I found a list of symptoms and behaviors, and I knew they described me. This pattern of distraction, the less productive side of my curiosity, was simply something I always had and didn’t think much of. That was until I started school. Gone were the carefree days of just being curious in the world. When I started school, there were more expectations: classroom assignments, listening to teacher’s instructions, following lots of rules, etc. Rather than being drawn to anything I found interesting, I would lose focus on the task at hand when I heard something, saw something, or thought of something that would pull my attention away.
This distraction pattern continued uninterrupted until 5th grade, when a very experienced and attentive teacher, Mrs. White, took note. She saw how often I was distracted and began to suspect that I wasn’t like most kids. She could see that I knew the answers to problems or questions, but that I would continuously make silly little mistakes because I lost focus. This led her to believe that I probably had ADHD.
Undiagnosed ADHD: How to Tell Mom
One major challenge that classroom teachers face when they have a student whom they believe has undiagnosed ADHD in the classroom is that they are not allowed to tell the parents. This is because teachers can only offer their professional opinions as teachers and cannot diagnose medical conditions or tell parents that they believe their child may have ADHD. They can, however, share information with parents about observed behaviors without saying that they believe their child has ADHD.
On the one hand, it is understandable that teachers are not allowed to state that they believe a student has a disability. That is not necessarily the role of a teacher. Nor are medical diagnoses their area of expertise. But, on the other hand, teachers have experience with hundreds, if not thousands, of students and observe the students in the school setting. On the contrary, parents don’t have the opportunity to observe hundreds of students. And they are, arguably, amateurs with each new child. In my case, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who knew the signs of undiagnosed ADHD. And, fortunately, she was permitted to speak openly with my tutor, who could speak with my parents.
Ultimately, my parents did meet with my 5th grade teacher and have a conversation about what the teacher had noticed in the classroom. For instance, they talked about my getting distracted and making mistakes on problems when I knew the answer. Having someone recognize these ADHD traits early on can dramatically alter the individual’s perspective and experience with ADHD.
After My Undiagnosed ADHD Was Diagnosed
Medication and Other Treatments
When people are diagnosed with ADHD, there are many treatment options. Some doctors prescribe stimulant medications such as Adderall, Ritalin or Concerta. However, not all medications are equally effective and there can be adverse side effects.
In my experience, when I was first diagnosed with ADHD, the doctor prescribed stimulant medication. Unfortunately, it caused me to have sudden onset severe depression. As a result, I decided to stop taking the medication altogether and, instead, talked to my parents about other treatment options. Specifically, I had occupational therapy to strengthen my handwriting and note-taking skills. Additionally, ADHD counseling helped me cope with my feelings about the diagnosis as well as how to organize myself successfully.
In many ways, I got accommodations before I was diagnosed. Though my speaking skills were excellent, I had literacy tutoring throughout kindergarten because of my difficulty learning to read and write. Because the one-on-one tutoring was so helpful, I continued to receive tutoring on and off until 5th grade. I found that, in a one-on-one setting where I could ask questions and get instant feedback, I could learn just about anything! I was more attentive to those who were attentive to me. My reading advanced from a failed literacy test in kindergarten to reading at the 4th grade level in 2nd grade. And it only got better from there.
Later on, I received tutoring in math and writing. With this additional support, I began to realize what learning styles worked best for me and what I needed to do outside of class to be as successful as everyone else.
The key to my success was organizing my time and cognitive energy levels. The ADHD counseling I received in 5th and 6th grade helped me understand when and how I was best able to focus so I could organize my time.
The skills that I gained through occupational therapy, tutoring, and ADHD counseling helped me not only in elementary school, but also going forward into middle school. I will share more about that in my next blog post.
ADHD Coaching May Help!
If either you or your young adult child has ADHD, or if you think you may have undiagnosed ADHD, please check out our coaching services and contact us if you want to explore coaching options. We would also like to hear your comments (below) regarding growing up with diagnosed or undiagnosed ADHD.