Lisa Ling has made a career of reporting on pressing global news. The award-winning TV journalist has introduced viewers to war zones and natural wonders. But one of her most famous on-air discoveries was a personal one. And it changed her life.
In 2014, while reporting on the rise of ADHD, she was diagnosed with it herself. (Ling has the type without hyperactivity.) She was 40. Looking back, Ling believes her lifelong attention issues helped shape her successful media career.
A bumpy beginning: Trouble with focus
Ling struggled academically as a young girl. In grade school, her teachers told her parents that she had trouble focusing. As she got older, she developed test anxiety.
“I had trouble concentrating in school, and it really affected my grades and self-confidence. I had to work and try very hard to get ahead,” Ling has said.
Her home life was also difficult. Ling’s parents divorced when she was 7, and she recalls that television was a “constant babysitter” for her and her sister. But over time, she found comfort in watching it. “I thought if I could be on TV, I could have a better life one day,” she has said.
Discovering her path before the ADHD diagnosis
By high school, her attention issues had become a much bigger problem. “I could go through an entire period and not retain a sentence if I [wasn’t] interested in the topic or the subject matter,” Ling has said.
But then a teacher told her class about a unique opportunity. A new syndicated TV news magazine for teens called Scratch was holding auditions. At just 16 years old, Ling convinced the producers she’d be a great host. She spent her junior and senior years of high school traveling the world and learning how to perform in front of a camera.
After high school, Ling joined the team of Channel One, another kids’ news show. (She worked alongside Anderson Cooper, who also got his reporting start there. He, too, has a learning and thinking difference: .)
Channel One sent Ling around the world to cover political unrest and complex global issues. When she wasn’t traveling, she tried to attend college at the University of Southern California. But she ended up dropping out.
Finding success — and getting diagnosed with ADHD
Determined as ever, Ling worked to hone her news reporting skills. She was a correspondent for ABC News. She produced documentaries for PBS. She became a cohost on the daily morning talk show, The View, and left to become a special correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show.
It was on her own show, Our America With Lisa Ling, that her professional and personal worlds collided. During a report on ADHD, Ling talked with an expert about how attention issues affect millions of kids.
Ling explained her focus issues growing up. Then she had her own attention skills evaluated. The doctor confirmed what Ling long suspected: She met the criteria for having ADHD.
That moment was a turning point. “My head is kind of spinning,” Ling said. “But I feel a little bit of relief because for so long, I’ve been fighting [my attention issues] and I’ve been so frustrated with this inability to focus.”
Using strategies to succeed with ADHD
Since being diagnosed with ADHD, Ling has forged strong ties in the learning and thinking differences community. And she’s grateful to have developed coping strategies over time.
“I do things that help me focus. I have a quiet time every day. I have learned when my mind has gone off in every direction that I need to focus. I also exercise regularly, which helps,” she has said.
Ling encourages families to seek expert help if they think their child might have ADHD.
“Even though I was recently diagnosed, I always had suspected that I had attention issues, so I had strategies. For whatever reason, I am the way I am, and I’ve tried really hard to not let it inhibit the things that are important me.”
In fact, she has spoken out about how having ADHD has benefited her: “In a strange way I do feel like it has helped me. I can hyperfocus on things that I am excited and passionate about.”
“Pushing myself helped me become the person that I am. It inspired a work ethic in me that I may not have had, if I hadn’t had those struggles.”
Find out what to do if you think your child might have ADHD. Learn about next steps to take if your child was recently diagnosed with ADHD. And explore more ADHD success stories.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.