These stories attempt to put a face on the wide variety of presentations of ADHD symptoms in the hope for better understanding. They do not represent all ADHD symptoms, nor do they represent ADHD at a particular age or in a particular gender. ADHD is a complex and varied condition that manifests in such a wide variety of ways it becomes difficult for people to describe. People with ADHD can under focus and over focus; they can be overactive or sluggish; they can appear to be super-alert or day-dreamy. ADHD symptoms vary according to the subtype, and can also change throughout the lifespan. Although the hallmark of ADHD is that symptoms do not go away in different setting, they can vary from day to day, or throughout the day.
Additional coexisting disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and more can also alter the appearance of ADHD. This is why a thorough assessment by an expert in the field of ADHD is required for an accurate diagnosis. You will notice that these stories all have positive outcomes. While it is true that with the proper help ADHD can be successfully managed, in reality accessing the proper help is not always easy and may be costly.
Charlie is 10. He is an exceptionally intelligent boy with an active imagination. He has a hard time sitting still, struggles to stay focused on his work, often misses what the teacher is saying, and frequently interrupts his teacher and classmates. Charlie usually acts and reacts before considering the consequences, which gets him in trouble with his classmates and he often ends up spending time in the principal’s office. His performance at school is unpredictable and he hates going every single day.
Charlie really wants to control himself, but he can’t, and his life experiences are often focused on feelings of extreme frustration, isolation and confusion. Over time, he has become a lot less expressive, because he is concerned that he will end up embarrassed or in trouble. Because of his impulsive behaviour, kids have recently started to tease him and call him names. Charlie believes they are right. Charlie wishes he had at least one friend.
Many kids like Charlie will have problems with their teachers, but Charlie is lucky. His teacher recently expressed concern to his parents because she noticed he is having an unreasonably hard time staying organized, focusing during class and is expressing his frustration in inappropriate ways. Charlie’s parents have noticed similar issues, but thought that Charlie just needed to try harder. They tried unsuccessfully to get Charlie to go to bed earlier, but he simply lies awake tossing and turning. They also tried to control Charlie’s diet and his sugar intake hoping that it would help with his inattention and hyperactivity.
After meeting with several health care professionals including a physician who specializes in ADHD, and a psychologist who completed psychoeducational testing, Charlie received a diagnosis and his parents are educating themselves on how to best support him.
Charlie has ADHD.
Sally is seventeen. She is quiet, and most people would say she always has been. She has always believed she’s different. Her mom sometimes gets frustrated and calls her a space cadet, because Sally always seems to be daydreaming and can never remember what her mom has asked her to do.
She tries hard at school and has good average grades. In fact, she spends so much time doing homework and working on her assignments every night that she has no time for friends or other activities. She constantly worries that she won’t be able to keep up. Sally always had a hard time focusing compared to her friends at school and often doodles on a notepad while sitting at the back of the room.
Sally was recently accepted to college. But she wonders if she shouldn’t bother going.
She is worried about falling behind, especially without the safety net of her parents. Sally is concerned that things seem to be getting harder every day and often gets upset and agitated. Recently, her parents talked to her about seeing a doctor.
Initially she was told she had symptoms of depression, but visits to a specialist gave her a new diagnosis.
Sally has ADHD.
Kevin was always a popular kid in high school. He didn’t get good grades, but his peers thought he was a lot of fun. Eventually he just went to school to hang out. He dropped out in grade eleven.
A friend of his dad’s helped him to get a job on a construction site. His dad thought it would be good for him to be outside and moving around given that he was always active as a child. Kevin was good at doing the work, but he couldn’t stay focused and forgot some of the important tasks he was asked to do and often couldn’t complete the project. He eventually got fired and bounced from job to job without a vision for his future. Kevin constantly felt “bad” about himself but covered it up by joking. Eventually his parents decided to kick him out of their home, hoping that by forcing him to stand on his own two feet it would make him more responsible.
As time went on, Kevin continued to find jobs and then lose them. He found them all boring and frustrating. He struggled in his personal life to stay on top of things like paying his rent on time, sorting his taxes and maintaining any kind of ongoing relationship. While he was able to stay on track for short periods of time, things always fell apart over a period of time. His friends were getting married and having their own children. He knew something was wrong, and assumed that he must be lazy like everyone had been telling him for the past thirty years.
Two years ago, he saw an article in a magazine. He felt that the article described what he had been struggling with all his life but had not been able to express. The article suggested seeing a doctor so he decided to get some medical advice.
It has taken time but, with the help of his doctor and a support group Kevin’s life is now progressing more smoothly, both at work and home. The first time that Kevin attended the support group meeting, he was amazed that some of the other people with ADHD were young like himself, but others were grandparents. They were all different nationalities and professions: salespeople, businessmen and entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers and some were even community leaders. One woman he spoke to was an IT technician and this gave him inspiration. He has always been interested in computers and maybe now he could go back to school and get a job that he found interesting.
Kevin has ADHD.
Nathan was thrilled to turn 15. He now feels independent, and doesn’t want to have to check in with his parents very often. He was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago, but he doesn’t think it matters and doesn’t want to bother with it any more. He also hates having a label and taking medication. He finds that the medication only works for the first part of the day anyway and gives him too many side effects.
He goes to school mainly to see his friends. The reality is that in class he feels distracted all the time and can never concentrate. He doesn’t enjoy it at all, his teachers either ignore him, reprimand him for not handing in his overdue work, or send him down to the office for making inappropriate comments and trying to get his friends to laugh. When he is in school he gets intense feelings of frustration and anger. He believes there’s no point in trying and although he takes his homework home, usually he can’t remember what the assignment was and can’t focus enough to get it done. He would much rather just spend all his time on his computer playing online games. He doesn’t have any problems focusing on them.
Three months ago he was brought home high, after smoking pot, by an angry parent of his friend Kurt. A week ago his parents found him climbing out of his bedroom window to meet friends. Two nights ago the police brought Nathan home. They found him drinking in the ravine and cliff jumping. He got off with a warning, but his name is now in their system. While he feels guilty, he tells his parents that it isn’t a big deal. He is convinced that using pot and alcohol are the only way that he can feel relaxed because he is always anxious. Behind this reaction are his very real feelings of frustration, a sense of failure, discouragement, and loss of confidence.
His parents have been involved in managing his ADHD since he was young. For the last couple of years, they have struggled to get through to Nathan about the importance of managing the condition. They used their own knowledge to react to this latest incident with empathy for Nathan’s lack of judgment, but felt that some consequences still had to be applied — they know that over-reacting will only make the situation worse. Because of this, Nathan finally agreed to go back to see his doctor and talk about seeing a therapist to help with his anxiety. His doctor also suggested trying a new medication that would last longer and might have fewer side effects. He told Nathan and his family that there were many different treatments to help with ADHD and he would help them find the ones that Nathan felt best about.
Nathan has ADHD.
Suzie is a stay-at-home mom with threekids and is responsible for juggling everyone’s schedule. She wants to be Super Mom, but she has always been poor at keeping things organized. She often misplaces things, and forgets appointments and other things she has to do for her kids.
When she was young, Suzie was described as a bright child who never applied herself consistently. In many ways she sees herself as an underachieving adult, which creates a feeling of frustration and vague feelings of guilt. In fact, she often feels overwhelmed, but still feels the need to volunteer for everything.
Although others see Suzie as always really friendly, even too talkative, she feels anxious and “down” most of the time, especially when she becomes aware that she failed to follow through on her commitments again. Her doctor has diagnosed her with depression and started her on antidepressant medication, but Suzie doesn’t feel that it has helped very much. She just turned 40 and is tired of being pulled in so many directions and being unable to succeed at her own personal goals.
Late last year her son was diagnosed with ADHD and she realized she had all the symptoms he exhibited. It explained why she often couldn’t accomplish much and felt overwhelmed all the time.
Following her diagnosis, Suzie worked with a therapist to help manage her ADHD symptoms. She is now more organized and productive. Suzie now participates in an adult ADHD support group that helps with sharing information, learning coping strategies, and receiving support. Suzie and her son are now proving every day that ADHD can be successfully managed.
Suzie has ADHD.