The Power of Seeing Yourself in Stories

From the moment she could speak, my husband and I knew our bright, highly creative, physically active daughter was “different” so we enrolled her in the local private school; we hoped the small class size and additional resources would provide whatever help she needed.

Throughout elementary school and high school, we heard the same feedback from teachers, medical professionals and family members:

“She won’t sit still when I’m talking to her.”
“If only she’d focus and pay attention.”
“She spends too much time talking and not enough time doing.”
“How do you make her listen, because she doesn’t listen to me.”
“She’s not trying hard enough.”

The first couple years were fine, but Grade 3 was a nightmare. The teacher had spent her career at an all-boys British preparatory high school, and had no patience for my impulsive, disorganized child. Parents started phoning me (this was before texting), concerned my daughter was being bullied by the teacher; in front of the class the teacher called our daughter “lazy” and “spoiled brat” and encouraged students to do the same. After additional unacceptable incidents and many meetings with school administrators, we eventually moved our daughter to another class with another teacher. I took our daughter to a therapist, but the damage was done - our happy, boisterous child became sad, anxious and fearful.

The following year our daughter’s grade 4 teacher was a kind and compassionate soul who coaxed her out of her shell. She also suggested our daughter be assessed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as she recognized the telltale signs (the teacher had family with ADHD). I had no idea what ADHD was or meant, but that was the eventual diagnosis. Few people had even heard of ADHD twenty years ago! I don’t have it, nor does anyone in my family, but I strongly suspect my husband does. Years ago, my husband developed many tools and coping strategies that work amazingly well for him to this day. Studies now show there is a strong hereditary component to ADHD; children are as likely to develop ADHD from their parents as their height.

I did a deep dive into all things ADHD, but back then there wasn’t much research available. I read what I could and attended workshops and conferences. Plus I stayed up to date with the research which finally confirmed ADHD is a neurodevelopmental or brain-based condition, and not a behavioural problem caused by poor parenting, too much sugar or playing too many video games.

About 15 years ago I decided to write the story my kids never had – the funny, chaotic one set in Canada about a ten-year-old girl who doesn’t quite fit in. And like my daughter when she was ten, Queenie Jean gets into trouble and again, with her teacher, her parents and the Very Important Principal at school. And again and again, Queenie feels shame and calls herself a loser.

Tapping into my life-long love of reading, English studies at university, lived-experience with ADHD, and my adult life as a chartered accountant working with non-profits, my goal was to create a totally immersive first-person point-of-view through the eyes of Queenie. The reader sees only what she sees and hears only what she hears. I wanted to clearly portray the magnitude of ADHD in family life – it’s not just a set of behaviours observed during school hours but a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week complicated reality. Queenie Jean is in Trouble Again told in contemporary time, computers, cellphones and all, with the emphasis on now, now, now.

Kids love seeing characters who look and/or act like them in the stories they read. Don’t take my word for it – The Book Trust, the UK’s largest reading charity and researchers at the University of Edinburgh recently published their findings and concluded “children benefit from seeing their experiences, and those of their friends, reflected in the books they read.” After reading stories featuring neurodivergent characters, neurodivergent kids felt more understood and also believed these stories helped reduce stigma and increase peer understanding. (“Why schools need books featuring neurodivergent characters,” https://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-features/features/2023/december/why-schools-need-books-featuring-neurodivergent-characters)

Sally J Pla, the award-winning American author of numerous kid’s books featuring neurodiverse characters, wrote simply and powerfully in the 2024 spring edition of Education Choices Magazine, “Stories teach us we’re not alone.” And just as importantly, “Stories teach us empathy for each other…Yet according to a 2019 study, only 3.4% of children’s books portray a disabled main character.” We know the rate of ADHD is 5-7% in Canada and the US, so when we add autism, dyslexia and other forms of learning challenges, the figures are much higher. (Sally J Pla, “Stories Can Teach Us We’re Not Alone,”)

Clearly we need lots more stories about kids with ADHD!

Although Queenie Jean is in Trouble Again is inspired by the adventures of my daughter almost twenty years ago, the novel is a work of fiction. Queenie has an easier time with school and family than my daughter did. By telling stories like this one, hopefully people will smile, perhaps recognize themselves or perhaps recognize their friend or classmate. And maybe there will be a little less misunderstanding in the world about ADHD and a little more support. I hope you check out Queenie Jean is in Trouble Again and her (my) drawings of her family and other characters in the story including her chocolate lab Coco and see what you think. And let me know. Available in bookstores across Canada.

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