Thursday, June 12, 2014

Day 311 of 365: Thankful in Retrospect

From Kindergarten to about Grade 3 or 4, my teachers all had one thing to tell my mom at parent-teacher conferences: "She's smart, but she's exhibiting signs of ADD. We advise you to get her evaluated."

Now, anyone who has spoken with me on a personal level already knows this. I'm not exactly known for my linear train of thought and intense attention span. My elementary school life was one gigantic, "Get A on the test, then get in trouble for doing random and disruptive stuff." Now, that may have been purely because I was bored in school and, instead of being the oldest in the class, I should've been bumped up a grade (and subsequently the youngest in the class -- something you could do in my hometown in the early 90s if you were born within the last few weeks of August or first few in September). That may have been because I didn't have the most stable of home bases and my acting out was my subconscious trying to sort out what a 7-year-old's mind cannot sort out consciously. Who knows. All I know is that my parents poo-pooed the idea of me having ADD, even though, two years later, my then-kindergartener little brother would get the same parent-teacher conference result -- and, within that same year, be diagnosed with ADD and ADHD.

I remember growing up and finding that so unfair. Like a proper firstborn, I couldn't get why certain things were just expected of me, while my little brother was getting his hand held every step of the way.

But, the second I got out into the real world, I realized that, in hindsight, my parents refusing to believe their firstborn had issues with attention and auditory processing was a gift in disguise.

In a perfect world, I would've been given the proper guidance and tutelage, perhaps seeing a specialist to help keep things on track. But this was 1991 - 1996 -- a world where were doctors not only handed out ADD diagnoses like Oprah hands out cars, but personality-changing drugs to boot. I think about how quickly my fellow ADD students were put on Ritalin, and I think about all the issues that came with it. Granted, many of them genuinely needed it, but it made me wonder how many could've gone without it -- how many of them would've been spared the complicated side effects if they had seen specialists and given interpersonal treatment instead of chemical.

But, even then, even if going on medication at the astoundingly young age of 5 or 6 would've been beneficial to me, I think about the attitude that surrounded children with that diagnosis in the 90s: please excuse their behavior, they had ADD/ADHD.

What would my life have been like if, growing up, I had been given that excuse? Please excuse this disruptive behavior; I have ADD. Please excuse this shoddily-done project; I have ADD. Please excuse my inability to Know How to Adult; I have ADD.

And this is where I shift from me being thankful in retrospect to how kids are raised today. It doesn't matter if they have ADD, ADHD, or any number of diagnosable problems. What do we hear from parents these days? "Please excuse my daughter's behavior; she's bored in your class." "Please excuse my son's poor test scores; he doesn't test well." I know one teacher who tried to have a sit-down with a parent about a son's disruptive behavior, only to be told to, "Stop sending these notes home. You are upsetting my son when you do that."

I know so many Millennials who had such a rough transition to the real world -- not because of their ADD, but because their every action had been excused from Day 1. Suddenly, they're in territory where no one cares about their "inability to take tests" or "being bored" or even having ADD/ADHD. People only care about what results you can produce for them. And -- the same way a lot of us had to scramble to actually be "college ready" during our freshman year of college, but that's a rant for another time -- they had to scramble to learn how to take proper responsibility for their actions.

Now, I know this is veering off track (what was that about lack of a linear train of thought?), but this turn is inspired by the phrase, "Please don't be mad." I can't think of a phrase that better encapsulates this ideology of, "Yeah I did this, but I believe I should be excused from all reactions/consequences." I honestly getter madder when I see that phrase, even if it's part of a conversation that does not involve or influence me in the slightest. No, that's not how the world works: you screwed up, you did something careless or shitty or selfish, and now you own up. Don't tell the person you offended, "Please don't be mad."

So, in some weird way, growing up in a household where none of my transgressions were immediately excused or explained away -- even if it meant going a little to the extreme and not addressing what might've needed to be addressed -- was one of the best things to happen to me. I couldn't just shrug my shoulders at the 8th grade teacher, tell her I had ADD and know that my parents would back me up if it ever came to a meeting with the school.

I say all this knowing full well that the medical world has changed dramatically -- that I would never in a million years tell someone to ignore a diagnosis and go about life as originally planned. But I am also saying this knowing full well that the parenting world has changed dramatically as well.

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