Attention deficit disorder affects 6.1 million kids in America from the ages of 2 to 11. While this number is staggering in size, the knowledge the general public has regarding ADD is limited. This ignorance hurts the very people who struggle with this disorder.
Common symptoms of ADD include short attention spans, forgetfulness, difficulty staying organized and lack of motivation. While these symptoms may be easily ascribed to the everyday teenager, a closer look at behavior could indicate there is more going on underneath the surface.
Those who have ADD have neural pathways that don’t grow at the same rate as others, making it more difficult for them to focus. Not only does it affect their ability to focus, but kids with ADHD brains get tired faster, which can attribute to being perceived as lazy.
Students who struggle with ADD can have a much more difficult time in school, which is again typically ascribed to just them being a naturally unfocused child. They are told to “try harder” or “get it together” when, in reality, they need help and a little bit of a boost. Kids being told that they aren’t doing enough can be detrimental to their self-esteem and cause a cycle of self doubt that can affect them throughout their lifetime.
Kori Hall, a freshman business major at James Madison University diagnosed with ADD, weighed in on the subject.
“I remember always losing or forgetting about my assignments. My grades were usually terrible during the year only to be saved at the last minute,” Hall said. “This was because in regards to testing I was usually pretty solid and before high school and actually even in high school, the teachers usually let you makeup your work until grades were finalized just to help you pass. It was incredibly frustrating because before I knew I had ADD I genuinely felt I was stupid, I didn’t understand what was happening and why I was so unfocused and bad at school.”
Hall also talked about how ADD affected her as a child.
“As a child I struggled with a bunch of stuff that I didn’t even know had anything to do with ADD. For example, I could never focus on anything that didn’t blow me away and really grab at my interest/attention,” Hall said. “I was always getting distracted, always in my head daydreaming, and I struggled a lot with organization and turning my work in. My room and backpack were always a mess of unfinished work and other forgotten items. I could never stay organized despite me and my mom trying almost a dozen different methods.”
“I tried agendas, white boards, to-do lists, accordion binders, normal binders, folders, etc. Nothing really seemed to work.”
Hall elaborated on how kids struggling with this disorder are commonly misunderstood.
“I feel like specifically little kids with ADD can get overlooked simply because of the age group they're in. Kids with ADD are also definitely misunderstood, I think a majority of the kids with ADD are slipping under teachers and parents radars because their symptoms such as lack of focus, fidgeting and unfinished tasks, are being written off as kids just being kids. I think kids need more awareness as to what things such as ADD actually are, especially around when they hit the middle school era,” Hall said. “As far as accommodations go for ADD the school system has this thing called a 504 plan that you can set up, it offers things such as extra time on assignments/standardized tests as well as copies of the teachers notes and a separate testing site that has less distractions then the average testing environment. While it’s great that they have this system in place, not every kid with ADD knows about it. So I think just the school system getting out more information about ADD to kids, parents, or their communities, would be the most beneficial for the kids who are afflicted with it.”
Deborah Smith, assistant director of Student Affairs, shared her thoughts on the matter.
“College students with ADD can pay attention, concentrate and focus on interesting tasks very easily but struggle to maintain attention and focus when the task is challenging or not interesting. Novel experiences are inherently more interesting than everyday repetitive tasks. External sounds like ticking clocks or others’ coughing, movement like a person walking by, and social interactions like other people talking about something interesting will pull attention away from the difficult or boring task,” Smith said.
Smith also suggested ways to help those who struggle with ADD.
“Friends and family members can assist the student with ADD by modeling consistency, being open about their consideration of relevant past events and impact on future outcomes, [and] being open about how their daily planner assists with everyday life management,” Smith said.
Telling students that they aren’t doing enough can hurt their self-esteem, and instead of inspiring them, they will most likely be less motivated to try harder. Of course, we should be careful to not self-diagnose ourselves and others and contact a professional about any concerns we have. Before you label someone as wild or unfocused, consider that there may be more going on than you know.