Saturday, March 12, 2011

Attention Deficit Disorder


Attention Deficit Disorder. I have this disorder. I was diagnosed with it when I was 12 years old - about the same time that the disorder was first being recognized by the medical community.

Pre-diagnosis (and pre-"treatment") I was a C or D student. I would study, pre-test, and pop-quiz myself with the help of my totally (even overly) attentive mother. It never did any good. She tried so hard.

One day, my mother read a magazine article and she took me to Duke University for "free" testing for a newly diagnosed disorder "Attention Deficit Disorder" that my mother was convinced I had. For me, a 11-year-old who was massively unpopular (for numerous reasons, including my yankee accent or my lack of academic or athletic skills) I looked forward to this chance to escape from school. I HATED school.

This was the summer between 5th and 6th grade when I went down to Duke. I am pretty sure I was down there for only 2 or 3 days. I only have a handful of memories from my time there, being tested, but two stand out:

1. Looking at an illustration of an squiggling lines - then being shown 3-4 sets of squiggling lines and being told to select the one that looked most like the first set.

2. Being told to navigate a metal pencil down a narrow set of lines on a piece of paper. I was told I could take as much time as I pleased.

There were a dozen or so other tests, but I don't remember the details of them. I do remember all of my tests taking place in a small room with a rather large mirror along one wall. I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but the senior Duke doctors in charge of the study as well as my mother were in that one-way-mirror room watching me take all of my tests.

In fact, the only time I remember acknowledging the mirror was as I was taking the "squiggly line test" where I tried to memorize a page of squiggly lines and point it out when the page was turned. If I recall correctly, I had gone through the first 6 or so pages of "spaghetti" without error, and I had made each decision in a matter of seconds. It all seemed really easy to me.
My main distinct memory of this test came as I quickly pointed out the last plate of spaghetti (unbeknown to me CORRECTLY) and my test-taker looked at me with bug-eyes and then shifted her gaze to the mirror. It was the first hint I got that there were people behind that mirror watching what I had been doing.

Eventually the tests were over. My mother and I returned home and I resumed my 6th-grade summer activities.

Before school started the next year my mother attempted to explain to me that the Duke University doctors had determined that I had A.D.D. (but not A.D.H.D.) and recommended "Ritalin" as a treatment medication. I was soon put on the medication -- twice a day at 8 a.m. and noon.

Seventh grade held a number of changes for me. I was now thrust into the multiple-classroom setting, where I moved from classroom to classroom during the day, rather than sitting in the same class all day long.

Eventually the first semester of my first medicated year went by - my interim report came home. It read As and Bs -- not a C, D or F to be found.

I am not going to venture a guess as to my parents' thoughts regarding my grades at this time. Suffice to say that I came home to warm encouragement and enthusiasm.

It obviously appeared to be a miracle drug. "TURN A C-D STUDENT INTO AN A-B STUDENT!"

But things weren't that simple. Living the Ritalin life was hard. For some reason it 'reset' my ability to "get" jokes. Sitting at the lunch table caused my funny bone to break. It took years for me to be able to understand A=B=C to make funny comments.

But in the meantime I was getting top grades, and what parent could complain? So I graduated and went to college thankful for my GPA and my recommendations.

What I didn't realize was that my disfunction would follow me after I graduated college and went on to the "real world."

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