I was diagnosed officially with Inattentive Attention Deficit Disorder in October 2012 – I was 14 years old and 3 months and had just started my GCSEs. It felt weird to be diagnosed with an actual learning disability (yes, ADD/ADHD is a learning disability). It took roughly 5 months to be diagnosed, which is quite a short time compared to a lot of people.
When I was 13 I began seeing this woman at school who usually helped kids with learning difficulties. I began seeing her because I was just a bit confused about who I was and decided to make drastic decisions in my life, eg. cut my long hair to something that resembled a mix of Donny Osmond and Justin Bieber, and wanted to change my name from Lottie to Charlie (my full name is Charlotte so I can effectively have three names from this, no big deal). Anyway, I spoke a couple of times to this teacher who was trying to help me and I eventually made a list of “symptoms” – no one had asked me to do it, I just done it. It consisted of things such as: not being able to concentrate, difficulty falling asleep, talking out of turn, etc (I can’t remember every single thing I wrote down on it). The next day I showed it to her and once she’d read it, she looked up at me and asked “Have you ever been diagnosed with ADHD?”. Oh.
I always knew I was different from other kids – the earliest I can remember thinking it was when I was about 10. My friend came over from school and we were playing a game in my bedroom and all of a sudden I blurted out “Wouldn’t it be cool to have ADHD?” but I was so wrong. She just looked at me and said “Um… no?”. This was all because a book about a dog with ADHD was read to us to help us to understand a boy in our class who had ADHD and was very hyperactive and quite aggressive. I was very different to him in some aspects – I wasn’t as hyperactive as him and I wasn’t as impulsive, but still, we read that book and that’s when I knew that something was really up. I started to compare myself to him and wondered what it would be like to be him because he had this thing that made his brain wired differently to everyone else – but that’s exactly how I felt. It’s difficult to explain, but I could feel (and can still feel) that there was something up with my brain that made me different from everyone else, and no, it wasn’t an emotional thing that I felt, it was physical. I told my Mum that I felt different to everyone else, but she didn’t say much on the subject. I struggled in school a lot and wanted to move schools by the time I was 9 because of bullying problems which came on very suddenly. On my school report when I was 8 my teacher had written down that I was very popular, but I guess people just change when they’re 9-10. I’d constantly be told off by teachers throughout Infant and Primary school, mainly for talking out of turn and not thinking when I would say and do things – I had a very big shock when I went to Secondary school.
It was completely different – I’d get told off all the time for blurting things out or tapping or not concentrating, but it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t help it. Honestly, I don’t really remember much of school when I was 11-12, I only remember certain things like I tagged along with my old friends from Primary school and didn’t really make a lot of new friends. I do remember some lessons like Maths where I couldn’t concentrate to save my life – I’d turn away for a second and when I’d look back the teacher had done all the working out on the board so at the last minute I’d have to figure out what the formula was to a question. I remember in Art and History I would blurt things out all the time, it was literally non-stop and I couldn’t help it. I’d get sent out constantly, be so loud and disruptive, I’d get up out of my seat and wander around the lesson (this only happened in particular lessons though when there wasn’t already someone else who would do this and pick on me for it, or if the teacher couldn’t control the classroom). And then when I was 13 it was all figured out – I probably had ADHD.
I tried so many things to help me concentrate before I was diagnosed – I went off of caffeine and my Mum bought a massive pack of caffeine free coke to make me feel better about it. All my friends thought it was such a laugh that I might have ADHD – I remember sitting at lunch after I was asked if I had ever been diagnosed and telling my friends about it. They just laughed and then told everyone who came and sat with us that I had ADHD. It actually really pissed me off because I wasn’t even diagnosed, someone just mentioned that I might have it. When I was off caffeine I bought a coke when I was out with friends that had caffeine in it and they all just said “Oh no…” because I was very hyperactive around them. Some of them tried to get me not to drink it “because of my ADHD” (that I hadn’t even been diagnosed with at that point), but caffeine didn’t really effect it that much, it just gave me a sugar rush. I tried tangle toys which I liked for about three days and then bored me to death – everyone else in the class wanted to play with it, and me being the pushover I was, let them. I remember in French once when we were practicing for our FCSE I distributed all of the little bits to everyone around me (how I got a Merit for that subject I don’t know). I tried doodling in a notebook, but the same thing happened, everyone wanted to draw in it, and some teachers who apparently weren’t aware that I possibly had ADHD told me to put it away because I was just drawing instead of listening (except I was listening and that method still works to date). I tried a positive comments book, but it didn’t last long because I would always forget to give it to the teacher and then I ended up leaving it in a Textiles classroom. The idea stemmed from when I was 11 and in my first year of Secondary school – I had got put on report for bad behavior. The school had introduced this red flag system and kids who had a certain number of red flags got put on report for a week, me being one of them. It was so stupid though, I only had 3 compared to the rest of the kids who had about 7 to 10 and all had either ADHD or a behavioral problem. It did work in the long run. I had to give a book to the teachers and they’d report back how I’d be doing in the lessons, but I only had to be on it for three days because I complained that I shouldn’t have it. My Head of House did ask me if it helped getting feedback from teachers, but because I was around loads of older kids in my form, I didn’t want to look stupid so I just made a face and said no as if he was stupid – in truth, it helped a lot.
Here’s how it the diagnosis happened. After I gave the teacher a list of “symptoms”, they began to take me seriously. The list got photocopied so my Mum and I had one, my form tutor had one, SENCo (the Special Educational Needs Coordinator) had one, and the other teacher who was helping me had one. My Mum then had a phone call from one of of the teachers in SEN and said that from what I had written on the list it looked like I had ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, and Dyspraxia. Her son has Asperger’s so she explained to my Mum some of the tendencies and it just seemed to fit. We also had a meeting with her where we went through the list, but I was fidgeting and bouncing my legs up and down whilst we were talking about my inability to sit still, and my Mum just said “She’s doing it now!”. We then got questionnaires to fill out – one for me, one for my Mum, and one for my form tutor. I never had anyone observe me in a lesson for this diagnosis (I know that some people get that), either that or I did but I just didn’t realise. Finally in October 2012 when I was 14, we had a meeting with the Child Development Centre and I was asked a lot of questions from my paediatrician to do with school, how I was at home, and what I was like when I was a baby and child. I can’t remember anything that she asked me, but I know I was in there for a good hour at least. I do remember that she did say during the meeting I was in my own little world and kept daydreaming, and I also remember that I wasn’t answering questions properly because I kept forgetting what I was going to say. By the end of it she said that I have Inattentive ADD, but I didn’t think that that was the formal diagnosis – surely there was meant to be more meetings than just one to get diagnosed with something like that? She was talking about going on medication but I didn’t really understand what she was talking about because it had all happened quite fast and I was in quite a bit of a shock. She told me to think about it because I think she sensed that I was unsure, but when she mentioned medication I knew wanted to go on it because I knew it would help me get through GCSEs.
I wasn’t put on medication though until I was 15 and it was the month before my GCSEs, two years after they suspected I had ADHD. It didn’t particularly help because the damage had already been done. It was a month before my exams and everything was just revision, it wasn’t learning, so I never learnt anything to my full potential because I’d just get bored and want to move on. I ended up revising very little because of this, and because I was missing half of the knowledge, I couldn’t revise what I didn’t know. I told teachers this and that I hadn’t learnt what other people had, and they just insisted that they’d taught every single topic and to just look at the revision textbook if I was stuck. I ended up getting 1 B, 4 C’s, 2 D’s, 2 E’s, and a Pass at GCSE. I could have done so much better in a lot of subjects, but I didn’t because I hadn’t learnt anything to my full potential. The medication just gave me the ability to be able to focus in exams which didn’t help much because I couldn’t see the clock (which probably made no difference because I can’t time keep for exams anyway), and I finished either a lot faster than everyone else (and I mean a lot faster. I would finish 20 minutes in for exams that would last an hour and 30-45 minutes) because I hadn’t learnt what they had learnt, or I would need extra time because I would ramble, wouldn’t have read the question properly, and couldn’t time keep.
The teachers had to keep being reminded that I had ADD and no one really helped me during the two years of studying for GCSEs; it made me quite depressed because I didn’t know how to deal with it on my own. When they did, it would just be the wrong help like instructions being patronisingly explained to me. I wasn’t properly confronted with my IEP (Individual Education Plan) either, there was just at a meeting to say that one would be made for me. I’d still be told off by teachers and some wouldn’t even bother with trying to help me get to my full potential, they’d get me to a C grade (if that) and then just leave me to it. Of course, I’m not going to have the focus and motivation to get the grades I wanted myself, so I done very little homework unless I was really encouraged/liked the teachers I was doing it for. I only really started working hard about 3 weeks before the first exam (which was my Music Creative Task and I think I done exceptionally well in that – I was in a very good mood that day when I woke up and was confident. It was first thing in the morning so I could get it over and done with. I came out of it and the teachers were very happy with what I had done and I ended up getting a B because one of the students in my class told me the day before if I arpeggiate then I’m guaranteed a B, so I remembered what she said and stuck to structure). I revised for the English Literature poetry exam a month before it when I copied everything down from BBC Bitesize and filled my anthology up (if anyone’s doing their GCSEs now, USE BITESIZE!!! It’s brilliant!), but I didn’t revise anywhere near the exam and a poem that I hoped wouldn’t come up unfortunately did come up and I messed up so much because of not reading the question and time keeping. My English teacher changed 6 months before the actual exams and I hated the lessons until she replaced my old teacher. With her I managed to give A Level answers (it was the only lesson I worked to my full potential, I loved English Literature), but I got a C in the exam. This resulted in me not being able to do English Lit at A Level because I didn’t get a B in both English Lit and Language exams. Still, the difference an enthusiastic teacher can make to a student with ADD is wonderful.
I ended up having a prompter for exams which became extremely annoying because if I was trying to focus on a question (especially for Maths which I have a lot of difficulty in anyway) I would think in my head rather than write it down – I found it easier this way. But prompters would just think that I had zoned out so they’d come right up close to me and ask me if I was okay, distracting me from what I was doing before. I also had arranged seating so I could sit by the wall at the back so I wasn’t distracted by what was outside and so I wasn’t self-conscious about people being behind me, resulting in me sitting in seat A20 for every single exam. This wasn’t distracting though, I just liked to be at the back so I could see that everyone else around me was working and that I should be too. As for people not being behind me, one of the invigilators decided to sit on a table literally right behind me and it was horrible.
Now I’m still at school doing A Levels in Philosophy of Religious Studies, Drama, and Film Studies, trying to sort out another IEP, and still explaining to the teachers that I still have ADD, because they’ve yet again forgotten. It’s a very long and stressful process if you’re being diagnosed very late, because unless you were diagnosed in Primary school, teachers will forget. I did go to college for about two weeks before deciding it wasn’t for me because it’s not really what I want to do (not that school is either, but at least I know everyone and everything at school).
ADD/ADHD can be linked with a lot of other learning disabilities such as Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Bipolar Disorder, and Tourette’s Syndrome – for me it’s Autism and possible Dyscalculia. I’m going to be writing a lot more on ADD and also Autism and Dyscalculia, so if you’re interested, then check up every once in a while because I’ll probably be writing blog posts instead of writing an essay that was due 3 weeks ago.
If you think that you might have ADHD, talk to your school/work so they can give you the right support, and talk to your GP so that they can refer you to the right help that you need. When you talk to both your school/work and GP, explain exactly how your symptoms make you feel and how they affect your life. It might take a while, you might get pushed from one place to another (I was. First I went to teachers, then the GP, then teachers, then GP), and it will be stressful, but it will be worth it to get the right help that you need. Good luck.