What Are We Really Teaching?

Having ADHD never made me feel uncomfortable. No. The way people treated me because of my ADHD made me uncomfortable, embarrassed and ashamed. Have you ever felt your actions were normal but then had someone make you feel as if you had done something wrong?

I never thought twice about having ADHD. My Dad made it seem normal. I never even saw my way of learning as anything to be ashamed of, even though everyone always seemed to finish tests, exercises and homework a little faster than I did. They were also better at paying attention and following directions.

I learned, though, that my difference was something to be hidden, even punished for. I needed extra help so I was sent for tutoring when everyone else went to the library. I remember the teacher hiding what we were doing when I went to see her, so people would not know that I was struggling and needed help.

I lined up with my classmates when it was time to go to the library, but instead of turning into the library with them, I had to go to the “extra help room.” I do remember the other kids asking if I was going there. Have you ever felt embarrassed because you could tell someone was embarrassed for you? I could tell from the way they asked, they felt there was something wrong with needing extra help. Before long, when they lined up for the library, I slipped out and into the tutor’s room feeling ashamed.

Though my teacher was only trying to “protect” me, I now understand that because my teacher tried to hide the time I spent getting extra help, I soon saw the extra time as something I should hide too. And of course, all my classmates understood that if adults tried to hide it, I should feel ashamed.

I still wonder how my schooling, and my life, would have been different if my teacher tried to explain my ADHD, to me, and to my classmates. What if she had explained that each of us is unique and while we learn differently, we are all uniquely qualified to excel differently too? Perhaps I never would have felt shamed for needing extra help. Perhaps my classmates would not have thought learning differently was a problem.

We have an evolutionary instinct that tells us “different is bad.” Society tries to hide or ostracize those who are different. We need to learn to overcome this instinct as we’ve overcome so many others. We need to be educated about different types of people, not so that we can isolate them or hide them, but so we can all realize the benefits of our unique gifts.

As I pursue my studies, people still see my ADHD as a problem. Some feel it’s unfair that I have extra time on tests. Others complain that I “get to” take ADHD medication, ignoring that despite my medication, I still watch them finish their work before me.

I have had to re-learn not to be ashamed of my ADHD. I have learned to stand up for myself. I have learned to explain that what comes easy for them is not easy for me, just as what comes easy for me may not be easy for them. Perhaps developing the confidence to do that has made me stronger, but I wonder what life would be like if we taught acceptance instead?

    • Sara
    • August 28, 2016

    I don’t know if others have had this experience, but it seems to me that the way subjects are taught in the education system tends to be piecemeal and linear. I struggle to learn that way. I feel as though someone has thrown a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle up in the air, scattering the pieces everywhere. They expect me to put it all together without letting me see the picture on the cover of the box. There is no context. Neurotypicals don’t seem to mind, but I want to know from the start how new information connects to what I already know. I want the big picture first, the details later, so I understand what to do with the details. As for overcoming the stigma, i find that people who don’t have ADHD typically don’t understand it, and can’t relate to the challenges, and mistakenly believe a “disability” means we are not capable of being successful or productive, or that doing things differently is inherently deviant, or that we must be stupid if we work best in ways that would be counter-intuitive for them. It is frustrating. I don’t have an answer, but so far I have better luck with developing compensatory strategies for myself than I do in gaining acceptance from others. I used to have a job where they let me design my own process. The company closed. Ever since, I have been struggling in the workplace to get employers to let me organize my work space the way I need to. If a “disability” is viewed as a flaw rather than as a difference, it’s hard to ask for accommodations. Even when some accommodations are available, as in school, the accommodations offered are not always what is actually needed or useful. The whole system needs an overhaul.

    • Kimberly
    • August 16, 2016

    Amen! It is the same exact situation at work. If you don’t pick up things as fast as others or remember things others seem too, you are singled out and talked down too. I’m 52 and was just diagnosed in March and I can tell you, it is no easy task even with medication. You are encouraged to ask questions, but at the same time if you ask a question more than once, they look at you like you have two heads. It is frustrating enough to have to deal with this, let alone be made to feel like you are a second class citizen.

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