What We Want You To Know About ADHD

ADHD is really common— 1 out of 10 teens have it—but still widely misunderstood. Here, three teens tell you what life with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is really like.

LeAndra’s friends enjoy her bubbly personality.

If you’re reading this and you don’t have ADHD, you’re probably not thinking about the bird chirping outside your window or the smell of pizza from the cafeteria or the way your socks feel on your feet or the new text notification that just popped up on your phone. That’s because your brain automatically filters out most of the non-important information it receives so you can focus on one thing at a time.

But if you do have ADHD, your brain thinks everything is important, all the time: this article, but also the bird, the pizza, the socks, and the text. If that sounds overwhelming, it is. “If I made a pie graph of all the things that I think about in a day and all the things most other people think about in a day, I’m pretty sure my pie graph would be a lot bigger!” says LeAndra Booker, who has ADHD. That’s why it’s so easy for kids like LeAndra to get distracted. With all those thoughts competing for attention, it’s hard for their brains to pick just one and stay with it.

So what exactly is ADHD? Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a medical condition that affects the brain’s ability to solve problems, pay attention, and practice self-control, explains Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, a pediatrician who specializes in ADHD. “In a person with ADHD, the brain cells don’t communicate the way they’re supposed to,” she says. “Messages that help the brain complete tasks get interrupted. That’s why it’s hard for a person with ADHD to be able to complete a task like getting dressed in the morning, solving an equation, boiling an egg, or anything that has multiple steps.”

But just because someone has ADHD, that doesn’t mean they can’t focus long enough to accomplish anything. In fact, with help from things like therapy, medicine, and even phone apps, people with ADHD can do anything they choose. Here, three teens share what ADHD feels like for them, how they cope—and what they wish people without ADHD knew about their condition.

I'm not a bad kid

—LeAndra Booker, 16

Drawing and writing are LeAndra’s passions.

Growing up, I got in a lot of trouble because I was always bouncing around. My teachers gave me behavior charts tracking whether I was good or bad for that day. I hated those charts—it made me feel like teachers thought I was choosing to be a problem kid. I struggled for years to try to follow the strict rules and structure that come with being in elementary and middle school.

Now I know that was because I have ADHD. My brain moves a lot faster than I think most other people’s brains do. I’ll be thinking about one thing, and then I’ll start thinking about something else, which turns into eight other things . . . and then before I know it, I’ll be like, “Wait, what was I thinking about?”

In high school, everything changed for the better. My teachers are more flexible—they let me take a walk if I can’t sit still. I also see a therapist, and working with her has helped me realize how important it is to have healthy outlets for my restlessness. I love to draw, write, and listen to music. I play volleyball. I take a nap after school to help me relax and recharge. And I have an app on my phone that’s like a to-do list so that I can make sure I finish the things I start.

Not that I don’t still struggle. I do. ADHD isn’t easy, but I no longer let it get in the way of my confidence. I have great friends, who like that I’m loud and funny—they don’t want me to be any less “me,” and they appreciate me just the way I am.

I may be different, but I’m not weird

—Max Somers, 18

Max likes to relax by listening to music.

Throughout most of elementary school, I was bullied for having ADHD. My classmates would say things like “Max is so weird—it’s his ADHD.” It hurt to hear them call me annoying or to be left out of things, because I wasn’t trying to bother anyone. I just had really strong impulses, like to blurt out things that sounded rude or say weird stuff just to see the other person’s reaction. I knew it was irritating, but I couldn’t help myself—the urge to do it was overwhelming.

The other thing that made it hard for me to make friends easily? Like the majority of kids with ADHD, I have a learning disability. Mine is called dysgraphia, and it affects my handwriting and eye-hand coordination. Because of my dysgraphia, I never excelled at activities that require strong fine-motor skills, so a lot of traditional hobbies where you’d make friends—like sports and video games with controllers—are a bad fit for me.

Magic: The Gathering helped Max find friends.

Making friends hasn’t been easy, but it’s not impossible. I’ve found that other kids with ADHD actually make great friends—I have three friends with ADHD who are the most chill people ever. They like me for who I am and don’t judge me. I also love playing Magic: The Gathering, which is a card game involving strategy, and Dungeons and Dragons, which is a role-playing game. Both games have helped me find friends—with and without ADHD.

Having social support helps me cope with my ADHD, and so does taking medicine, which I do every day to manage my urges and impulsivity. Looking ahead, I really want to do something positive—I’m applying to college to be an engineer or a scientist. More than anything else, I want everyone to know that just because someone has ADHD, it doesn’t mean they’re weird. People with ADHD have legitimate challenges, but we have good intentions and are trying our best.

I can focus intensely—I just need the right conditions

—Gusto Oprisch, 18

Gusto loves being physically active.

The thing most people don’t realize about kids with ADHD is that it’s not that we can’t learn—we just learn differently. For example, when I was in a school where we had large classes and were expected to sit still for the whole time, I really struggled. I needed more attention than one teacher can give in a big class. I learn best by doing things, not just sitting there listening while the teacher lectures. Not being able to keep up in class had a ripple effect at home—there were nights when I’d stay up until 3 a.m. trying to make sense of assignments I hadn’t gotten the hang of during the school day. My GPA fell to a 2.1! That was the most frustrating because I knew I wasn’t dumb.

But while I struggled in school, I felt like I could learn anything when I did it in a hands-on way. I taught myself how to play hockey by setting up a wall of cardboard boxes in the basement and blindly whacking at the puck until I figured out how to take a slap shot—two years later, I was on a team and scoring goals. I also taught myself to play lacrosse, and I’m teaching myself Korean and Spanish by watching online videos—I hope to become fluent in both.

When my parents and teachers figured out that traditional school wasn’t right for me, I switched to a school that has smaller classes and lets kids learn at their own pace. Now, my GPA is a 3.4! It’s not that things are perfect, but I’m in a place where my teachers can give me one-on-one help, and I feel comfortable asking for support when I need it. After high school, I want to go to college to major in marine biology. Once I get there, I’ll make sure I take time to meet with my professors when I need extra support and find classes that include hands-on learning.

I want other kids with ADHD to know that as hard as ADHD can feel, you are not your condition. ADHD is just one part of me—and I won’t let it hold me back.

Additional vocabulary word:

socioeconomic

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