The inner life of teenagers with ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects about one out of 12 school-aged children, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you have ADHD, you already know it makes you restless ... it makes it hard for you to stay focused ... hard to pay attention ... and hard to control your behavior, even if you want to.
We’re going to begin, today, by going into the minds of teenagers who live with ADHD. They’re here in San Francisco – part of SAFE Voices, a project by the Parents Education Network, which advocates for students with learning differences. These teens have chosen to mentor other young people who face similar challenges. And they’ve chosen to share their stories with you.
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JAYDEN PETERSON RAY: My name is Jayden Peterson Ray, and I'm 17 years old.
TIM BLAIR: My name is Tim Blair, and I'm 19.
SAM VAN CLEAVE: My name is Sam Van Cleave, and I'm 16.
TED MULKE: I'm Ted Mulke, and I'm 16 years old.
PETERSON RAY: I was technically diagnosed for the first time this year, but we've known I've had it for a couple of years.
BLAIR: I think I was diagnosed in kindergarten...
MULKE: ...diagnosed, I think, around six years old.
VAN CLEAVE: I was diagnosed in third grade. According to my mother, she knew there was always something special about me, but in third grade, it was taking me five hours to finish my homework. And somebody established that there was something wrong with that picture, so they took me to go get tested, and what do you know – I have ADHD.
BLAIR: It was frustrating when anything was boring, which was a lot of school. It was frustrating socially cause you know, I was incredibly impulsive. I missed every conceivable social cue. I mean, I missed all of that, and it was really a mechanical process to relearn all of that when everyone else had kind of learned it in kindergarten or first grade.
PETERSON RAY: I thought it was just a lot of quirky things that I did, like I couldn't remember my homework, I couldn't remember my backpack, I couldn't remember my computer. Last year it became really prominent. I would take walks – during classes, I would get up and go walk around the school and come back and sit down and be able to focus a little better. That was the most apparent thing that went on at school, at least. I mean, I fidget – I'm fidgeting right now – I wear rings, I play with my rings or I shake my foot and tap my foot or tap my fingers, drum on random things. So, I'm constantly moving, but that hasn't ... I lost my train of thought completely.
MULKE: My parents just wanted me to succeed in life. So, they tried putting me in all these different schools. I've been to six schools altogether my whole life – public and private. And so, it's been tough.
PETERSON RAY: I feel like I notice a lot of things that other people don't notice. It grabs my attention, and I'll look over there and mid-sentence, I'll forget what I'm saying.
BLAIR: You know, when it came to “frog and toad” in class, that was a no-go – too boring. I couldn't focus, so it was really tough to learn to read, and all the kiddie books cause it was just too boring.
VAN CLEAVE: I know it definitely caused a lot of trouble in school. I was never very interested in the process, and I think that that affected how I did in school.
MULKE: School's not easy for kids with ADHD, cause you can't really sit still in class, especially when you have to listen to somebody teach. It gets kind of boring for me.
Pharmaceutical companies have developed a number of drugs that alleviate the symptoms of ADHD. None claim to cure the syndrome, but they do claim to make life better and easier to manage. So, is that true?
VAN CLEAVE: Coping with it is always difficult. It's still difficult, but my parents especially helped me with it. They put up with all the day that I forgot three binders out of three at home. And they put up with me forgetting my lunch every single day.
PETERSON RAY: A lot of the time, if there's like the littlest noise going on in the house, I cannot focus. I couldn't go outside cause there would be way too many noises. That's just for me. So even if my mom is walking in the kitchen or running the faucet in the kitchen or cooking or something, I just can't ... I need her to stop, I need it to be quiet so I can do my work.
BLAIR: Well, the first thing we did was medication.
MULKE: I take medication, and it's helped me do school because they tried me a month without medication – I mean I was getting sent to the principal's office every like, hour on end, because I couldn't sit still. I'd be yelling, I'd be screaming. And then they put me back on medication, and I just realized, they realized that I focus a lot better on medication than I do off of it, cause it just calms the body down, I think. And it sort of helps me focus on that one thing that I need to learn.
VAN CLEAVE: Ever since I was diagnosed in third grade, I've taken a whole cocktail of different medications, and it changes every six months, every year, you know, it'll be a different three pills. Then all of a sudden, it'll only be one pill, and then it'll be two...
BLAIR: Brain chemistry changes dramatically until you're 25, so you have to keep changing the medications in my case.
PETERSON RAY: Sometimes music will help me focus. Sometimes it'll completely distract me.
BLAIR: For math, I would listen to really, really intense metal. For English, I would listen to Celtic folk. Just for some reason, different kinds of music just worked. I have no idea why, I just know what kind of helps me get in the zone, that works.
PETERSON RAY: In class, I said I wear rings, and I fidget with those rings. Even that helps me.
VAN CLEAVE: A lot of the faculty just didn't believe in LD or ADHD. They thought it meant that I was stupid, or that I didn't try, or that I didn't care.
MULKE: Teachers didn't care. Teachers still don't care if you have a learning disability. They say, "Okay, whatever," and just get back to work.
PETERSON RAY: My mom realized that medication for ADHD, it wouldn''t have side effects, and she realized how much it could actually help a kid with ADHD. So she decided it was worth a shot.
Jayden Peterson Ray, Tim Blair, Sam Van Cleave, Ted Mulke and their families have made their own choices about how to treat their disorders. So what do they look forward to in the future and how do they plan to treat themselves?
PETERSON RAY: I actually had a prescription filled today for Ritalin. I haven't taken it yet. But I've actually taken a short-acting Ritalin and realized that it really helps for doing my homework. And so, we have a long-acting one, and I'm going to take it for the first time tomorrow. We'll see how that goes at school and everything. I want to keep my fingers crossed.
BLAIR: I just graduated high school a few months ago. Right now I'm taking a gap year. This is kind of a time for me to explore what I'm really passionate about. Right now I kind of see that in non-profit work. I think for all people, it's good to find something you're passionate about, to become intrinsically motivated rather than carrot-and-whip, paid-or-fired. But for me, being ADHD, it's necessary. That's the way I can focus, that's really the only way I've found to succeed. So this is a year for me to explore my passions.
VAN CLEAVE: I don't feel that right now I'm in the place for me in terms of handling my ADHD. I think that I'm going to just have to continue taking it day by day and try out different things, see which methods of focusing work, which methods of getting my work done are successful and which aren't. How to take tests, and how not to take tests. I just gotta keep taking it day by day.
PETERSON RAY: When I first took Ritalin – short-acting – it didn't really seem like it was helping. I was talking really fast, I was talking about this and then talking about that, and it kind of seemed to heighten it. But the second time I took it, it took my energy and instead of letting it go everywhere, it kind of put it in one place, kind of focused it a little bit.
BLAIR: I also found that being off medication, a lot of my natural curiosity that I used to have as a little kid, a lot of it is coming back. The world's more interesting. I want to know more, I just see something and if it doesn't make sense, I gotta make sense of it. And, like I was talking with my dad, it's something that I can carry me through college, is to really want to figure, just know more and count on that curiosity.
MULKE: You can express anything you want. If you have a learning disability, I mean, there's people out there who think that they have a learning disability, but they really don't. I mean, to us, the community that has a learning disability, we take it as a gift, not a setback.
VAN CLEAVE: As long as I keep taking it day by day and keep remembering that there's more after this, I think I can do alright.
Have you or a loved one dealt with ADHD? How has your family dealt with ADHD? Let us know by commenting on this story here or on our Facebook page.