A paper in this month’s edition of the Journal of Pediatric Nursing describes ADHD from the perspective of college students who have it and have learned to cope.
The subject is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which because it features 16 adults recalling how ADHD affected their lives as children. Plenty of research exists on child and adolescent ADHD, but there is little out there on how the condition affects and has affected adults.
The study, from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Wake Forest University, is poignant in interviewees’ descriptions of how it feels to have ADHD — being called “stupid” or “slow,” not having parents understand why things don’t get finished.
The study noted common feelings among the group of loneliness and isolation.
“Can’t anyone see I’m struggling,” one study participant lamented.
Common threads through participants’ lives were:
- Trouble getting along with parents
“In their view, children with ADHD have more trouble than others,” the authors wrote.
One’s adolescence is rough no matter what, “but it tends to be a little rougher on people with special needs,” a participant noted.
Another participant described the “mass chaos fights” with parents and siblings — often due, participants said, to failing to perform chores within an expected time frame.
“Because of their distractibility and hyperactivity, participants said that they had difficulty completing tasks, causing problems with their parents,” the authors wrote.
Some parents provided support, but it was tough for them as well.
“My parents did provide support … with homework; making sure I was on top of things. But it kind of got to the point where it was nagging, but that’s how they got the actual answer from me,” a participant recalled. “They had to play 20 questions. I wasn’t trying to withhold information; it just took 20 questions to get the full description.”
- Missing a lot of material at school
Trouble paying attention and hyperactivity affected participants’ ability to learn.
“In class, I had a kind of lag time, ’cause in-between me figuring out what had been going on, the entire class moved on, so I missed out on information. So that was one of the biggest things — missing out — taking a longer time to get the entire idea,” a participant explained.
Participants learned to cope: They allowed help from their parents, asked for more time on tests or took them in different formats, recorded lectures and re-copied notes after class.
- Feeling different
Children with ADHD felt different in school, and situations such as sitting still and grasping concepts quickly made these differences clear.
“Other kids at school would call them retarded, slow, or stupid, and then ostracize them,” the authors wrote.
As such, they often had trouble making friends, and wondered why people didn’t like them. Social difficulties sometimes persisted into adulthood.
“Not only do I have a tendency to interrupt … but the main problem I have is, you need to think before you say something that can offend other people, or when you ask too many questions … they’ll say it makes them feel uncomfortable,” one participant said.
- Feeling misunderstood
“Friendships for children and adolescents with ADHD were fraught with misunderstandings,” the authors wrote.
One participant described how her friends kidded her about her problem.
“I have friends who say, ‘Oh, it’s my ADD and I don’t want to do my work. It’s my ADD kicking in.’ … and they’ll say it in front of me when they know I have it … and I’ll have it the rest of my life. I’ve gotten very mad at them,” the participant explained.
One participant suggested those with ADHD find friends who understand and will call out their names or tap them on the shoulder when they’re “zoned out.”
In 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 8 percent of school-aged children were reported to have ADHD.
I don’t mean to suggest that the themes in the study are unique to those with ADHD, but I do think the research provides a window into how adults with ADHD think and the difficulties they face.
Parents of children with ADHD ought to take a look at it to see what their kids may say about their upbringing a decade from now.
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Jeff Raymond, Medical Writer