Voices of the 1 in 5: Guest Post: So often, parents and families of children with learning and thinking differences feel alone on their journeys. At Understood, we’re building a community to change that.
In the following guest post, Jessica McCabe shares her experience growing up with ADHD and outlines the challenges her mother navigated while seeking a diagnosis. She describes what it was like to finally have a name for her struggles — and to get the kind of support that she hopes more kids can have.
When my mom suspected I might have ADHD, she did what a lot of parents do
By Jessica McCabe
When my mom suspected I might have ADHD, she did what a lot of parents do: She took me to the doctor.
He asked her some questions about my behavior (I was screaming a lot), heard that I was struggling in middle school (I forgot everything, including my locker combination, and I wasn’t completing assignments), and asked her how I’d done in elementary school.
“She got straight A’s. She’s a gifted student.”
To which he replied: “She can’t have ADHD.”
To which she replied, “Thank you for your opinion. I’d like to see a specialist.”
A lot of testing later, I was diagnosed with ADHD. (It was called ADD at the time; my current diagnosis is ADHD-combined presentation.) I was prescribed stimulant medication, which helped a lot.
My GPA went up a full point without me doing anything differently (other than completing assignments, which I was magically able to do).
I felt the same way I did when I put on glasses for the first time: I could focus. And I felt good about having a name for my struggles, because it meant it wasn’t just me. There was a reason I was struggling. I wasn’t just a bad kid, which I honestly felt like at the time.
My mom challenged the doctor’s opinion because by that time she was at her wits’ end with me. Enough had happened all in the same year — a change in schools, a traumatic car accident, hormonal changes — that my symptoms had become obvious and problematic.
But what if they hadn’t?
Like a lot of girls with ADHD, I flew under the radar so long because my symptoms were more internalized.
I wasn’t racing around the classroom, I just had racing thoughts and speech.
While my brother was throwing things through windows, I was just staring out the window.
I struggled to regulate my attention and my emotions, but my struggles were less visible. Easier to shrug off. Easier to consider “not that big a deal.”
Until I got to middle school and started struggling to get to class on time.
Until I was still having regular meltdowns at 12 years old.
Until hormones exacerbated my emotional dysregulation to the point that I was screaming at my mom every day.
My symptoms really hadn’t seemed that unusual or even that bad. Who cares if I forget my jacket at school or got distracted while the teacher was talking? It happens.
Except, for me, it happened a lot.
A LOT a lot.
By the time I was diagnosed with ADHD, a lot of my core beliefs about myself had already formed. I was messy. Spacy. Flaky. Forgetful. Irresponsible. Weird.
The immediate impact of my ADHD wasn’t apparent. But from the research we have on women and ADHD, we know that there are significant long-term effects. And the sooner we get the support we need, the better.
Thankfully, medical professionals are becoming better educated about ADHD. And organizations like Understood are creating tools and resources to help parents understand what to look for.
Take N.O.T.E. is such an important tool because symptoms aren’t always easy to pick up on.
Not everyone has the blessing (curse?) of having trauma, hormone shifts, and increases on executive function demands happen all at once, making the invisible struggle of internalized ADHD suddenly very, VERY visible.
And even if symptoms are obvious, it can be hard to know what to make of them.
Not every mom is a special education teacher who can recognize when something isn’t developmentally appropriate. Not every parent knows how to insist on getting a second opinion when a doctor says there’s nothing wrong.
I’m hoping that extra guidance from tools like Take N.O.T.E.® will help a lot more children with ADHD get the support they need, sooner.