ADHD in Teens, From Forgetting Homework to Friendships (Miya’s story)
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ADHD in teens, from friendships to forgetting homework (Miya’s story)

Miya Kofo is a 16-year-old high school student with ADHD — and the star of Understood’s “Be the Reason” campaign to fight stigma around learning and thinking differences. Miya was diagnosed in middle school. Her dad, who also has ADHD, helped her see it was nothing to be ashamed of and that she could accomplish anything.

Host Laura Key and Miya talk about how ADHD is still often ignored in girls, and how the pressure to be perfect can make symptoms even worse. Miya also shares her thoughts about TikTok — the positives (getting the word about ADHD out there) and the negatives (“doom scrolling”) for people with ADHD.

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Episode transcript

Miya: When my dad started relating things to me and showing me that there wasn't anything wrong with me — that I was actually really similar to him when he was a kid — it really made me realize there's not anything wrong with me. Like I'm not less than like the other girls at school, like, I'm not stupid. It's just these symptoms of ADHD. And I think having someone there that was that close to me to tell me that there's not anything wrong with me really helps my self-esteem.

Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network. This is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood, and as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host. I'm here today with Miya Kofo. Miya is a high school student who lives in Rutherford, New Jersey. She was also the star of Understood's "Be the Reason" campaign, to fight stigma around learning and thinking differences. Welcome, Miya.

Miya: Thank you for having me.

Laura: When did you get diagnosed with ADHD, Miya?

Miya: I would say about sixth grade when my parents kind of started to relate my symptoms to my dad's symptoms when he was younger. And that diagnosis really helped me because from that point on, I got like 504 plans and a lot of extra help in school to just help me do better in my work.

Laura: That's great. And how old are you now?

Miya: I'm 16.

Laura: So, you said that your dad has ADHD, is that right?

Miya: Yeah, he does. And growing up, he didn't really have any of those resources and he actually got diagnosed as an adult. So, he really wanted to make sure that his kids really, like, had their resources available to them early on.

Laura: Oh, that's wonderful. Good for him. What kind of signs was he noticing in you?

Miya: Just stuff like I wouldn't do my work on time — but not like kid things were, like, they just don't want to do their work — like stuff where I actually couldn't do the work. Like, I just couldn't bring myself to put a pen to paper and just get the work done. And that lack of motivation really let him know.

Laura: Did you notice too that you were struggling with these things that your dad was noticing, or did he really point them out to you for the first time?

Miya: Well, I just thought that they were normal. I kind of knew that my friends didn't struggle with that, but I thought, like, I don't know, maybe I'm like stupid or something, which now I know was like a common misconception that a lot of kids struggling with that pre diagnosis have. But now I know like it really wasn't like stupid or less than or anything, it was just like ADHD and struggling with those symptoms.

Laura: Anything in particular that your dad said to you that really made you feel more comfortable with yourself and your diagnosis?

Miya: Yeah, so I would say, like once I started having those symptoms of ADHD, he kind of shared his stories with me of when he was little to make me feel like there wasn't anything wrong with me, that I needed to get these resources and help in the future so I can do better, and like that is a possibility. Because like when I was little, I was like, "Oh my God, I'm not going to go to college. I'm not going to ever be able to do my work, like, I'm going to be a failure and like a wreck."

But when my dad told me his stories and told me like "I did struggle with these things. But like I did go to college, I did like I have a family and all these things." I was like, "OK, so it's not that bad. Things can get better." And I think like relating to a person that I am close to really made me feel like there was hope for the future.

Laura: That sounds like an "aha" moment in and of itself. Walk me through an example of when you wanted to do something, you knew you needed to do something, but you just couldn't bring yourself to do it.

Miya: Well, it was always things like every summer my mom would give me like a little workbook to do and she would be like, "I'll give you like 50 bucks if you do this whole workbook." And a lot of kids would be like, "Wow, that's a lot of money and I'll do it. I'll get it done." But for me, even though I wanted that money, and I wanted that reward, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Laura: What kinds of things would you do instead?

Miya: I would just like go on my tablet, like play with my friends, like go outside, and she'd be like, "You can use this time to get money and buy stuff and have fun." And I was like, "No, I'm OK." But now, like after my diagnosis, I find that I know my things that I do, and I know how I can avoid a task. So, when I see myself doing that, I'm like, "OK, Miya, we need to get the work done so we can enjoy the reward of it later."

Laura: I think you also mentioned that you didn't listen. What was that about?

Miya: Yeah, like if my parents or teachers would tell me to do things, I'd just like, wouldn't. I had bad grades when I was little because I really just, like, didn't do my work. And they would tell me, like, "Do your work so you can get good grades. You can like get into better classes and just do better overall." And I just wouldn't make that connection. I would just think of really what I wanted to do in the moment and not really what I need to work towards.

Laura: Would you ever do your homework and then forget to turn it in?

Miya: Oh, my gosh. All the time. And it makes, like, you sound like you're lying to the teacher because you're like, I totally forgot this essay at home, and they're like "You just didn't do it." And I'm like, "No, I swear." So, now I've come up with a couple of skills to, like, really keep my work together and keep it organized.

Laura: That's something that we talk about at Understood.org in our parenting resources is like sometimes a surprise sign of ADHD is, you know, they'll do the homework, but then it just doesn't make it to the teacher, to the class.

Miya: Yeah, definitely. Yeah.

Laura: Were there other kids in your class that that was happening for or were you alone in this?

Miya: Oh, for sure. And I feel like a lot of times with girls who have ADHD, it sometimes is seen less than boys. So, like if a boy has ADHD, they're like, "Oh, OK, he's a boy, like, we can help him." But I feel like girls aren't really given the room to make those mistakes in school and they're seeing like, "Oh, she's a girl. Like, she should just be able to get her work done." I feel like that kind of also made me feel less than in school because looking at my girl peers and my friends, I would be like, "Why am I doing like these boy things, like forgetting my homework and mouthing off and stuff?" You know?

Laura: It's interesting that that's still happening today. I was going to ask you about that because as a girl who, a woman now, who grew up with ADHD, we talk a lot about what it was like and how girls would fly under the radar. It sounds like that still happens.

Miya: Yeah, definitely. I would say so. And I still see it like in school and stuff and I'm like, I don't know why this isn't fixed yet, but I'm glad I got diagnosed, so I know it's not something wrong with me.

Laura: Yes. You're a success story in this realm for sure.

Miya: What have been some of your struggles personally being a girl with ADHD?

Laura: Thanks for that question. I would, I think I always blamed myself.

Miya: Yeah.

Laura: That's not necessarily gender specific, but you alluded to the pressure that girls and women put on themselves to be perfect. That was definitely something that I faced. I just figured if I just tried harder than I could make it all go away. And I really burnt myself out. And also, just brushing off things that I think society tells us are just like it's a girl thing, like, oh, you're too emotional or you're too sensitive or you're too... you're annoying, because you're talking so much or whatever. And just internalizing that as a flaw as opposed to acknowledging it as a symptom of something else.

Miya: Yeah, that last part really resonates because even like specifically the talking symptom, for girls, girls have this thing where like they mask their symptoms of ADHD a lot of times. And I think that a lot of times like growing up, girls feel like they kind of always have to be the one to, like, apologize. So, I think a lot of girls like growing up with those symptoms of ADHD probably really do feel like there's something wrong with them. But I don't know. I hope that a lot of people, like in the future generations make changes and just like to help those young girls growing up.

Laura: Yeah. I couldn't agree more.

Miya: Yeah.

Laura: I think socially it can be tricky as well. And again, I'm making kind of some massive generalizations here, but I think that girls have a lot of pressure to keep their friendships perfect as well.

Miya: Definitely. Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Laura: I just have this image in my mind, as flawed as it is, of a boy being like, "OK, I'm out here, bye!" and a girl being like, "If I leave too quickly, are they going to think that I don't like them?" Or if I say the wrong thing like and I have to preserve my friendships and I think that girls put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to friendship, and they don't get a lot of grace for the things that often are ADHD difficulties.

Miya: And I feel like sometimes that overthinking cycle of like the symptoms can sometimes make them worse and then not knowing that these symptoms are because of something can make them worse and also make your self-esteem so much worse.

Laura: How is ADHD — I'm going to totally date myself here, I'm going to sound so old, Miya. I'm sorry — how is ADHD perceived in your age group these days? I know you're only one person. You can't speak for a whole generation. But in your class even, how is ADHD perceived among teenagers?

Miya: Just talking to my dad, he said that when he was younger, like even boys, they didn't even know what ADHD was. His parents didn't. Like, nobody really was able to make those connections. But now I think that a lot of people do know what ADHD is, but I feel like sometimes even when I tell my friends and stuff that I have ADHD, people are like shocked because when they think of things like ADHD and learning differences, they think of the most extreme. Like someone just like sits at home all day, doesn't do their work, doesn't shower, like stuff like that. And it's like, no, like it's a spectrum. Like, it's so much more common than people think.

And I really think if people learn that and that becomes like so much more normalized in society, then I feel like it'll help a lot of kids younger than me, like growing up to not feel like they're less than and something's wrong with them.

Laura: Do you share that sentiment openly with your friends? Do you talk with them like that?

Miya: Yeah. I mean, like, my friends know I have ADHD and like they know the campaign and like, I'm not really afraid. Like, I don't hide the fact that I have ADHD or learning differences.

Laura: Good for you. That's really impressive. Truly. Have you ever experienced or noticed kids with ADHD getting made fun of or the word ADHD being the butt of a joke, even if it wasn't directed at someone?

Miya: Yeah, I would say definitely. Growing up if you had ADHD, again, like I said, people just think of the most extreme and sometimes people do represent that extreme in school and I think they would definitely get made fun of. And even sometimes people forget to do things or stop and they just use ADHD as like a bad thing where they're like, "Oh my God, I'm so ADHD," like things like that. And I think that does perpetuate the stereotype and the negative stigmas that come along with it.

Laura: I totally agree with you. I was going to bring up that example. "I'm so ADHD," that's just a thing that's said. What other kinds of expressions or things do people say that you wish that they would stop saying?

Miya: Just making yourself seem like you have these learning differences or like you can relate to those people as like a joke just because you forgot to do your homework or something. Or like making it seem like worse than it actually is just because you want to be like, funny because it does hurt those people that do struggle with it on a bigger scale.

Laura: Yeah, I can see that because when you have ADHD, things are really heightened. And to your point, it's a spectrum, but still, it's like, it's consistent and it can diminish the reality of what it's like to have ADHD. When people say, "Oh yeah, I have it too," or whatever. What about it on TikTok? You got to talk to me about TikTok, Miya. There's a lot of ADHD self-diagnosis and ADHD stuff happening on TikTok. How do you feel about that?

Miya: Well, I don't know. I think that in recent years a lot of like self-diagnosis has gone on, especially with my generation. There's a lot of TikTok-ers now who spread ADHD awareness and talk about the symptoms, and I think that it is way more common than people think. So, they could have ADHD. But also, I think that when people self-diagnose, it hurts the cause in a way, because you're just like spreading things and like spreading your symptoms that people with ADHD actually like really struggle with it don't relate to. And they could be like, "Why am I like worse than this person?" but it's because like they don't actually have ADHD, you know?

Laura: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Miya: I personally don't use TikTok that much because of this thing I recently learned about called doom scrolling, that like really affects people with ADHD because they get hyper fixed on things. So, I'll just be like scrolling and scrolling and then I look up and it's been like 2 hours. So, I found that personally TikTok isn't really a good app for me, and it can get me stuck in those cycles where I don't end up doing work or anything like that in a day.

But I have found that when I do go on the app, there are so many resources for people with ADHD and it's really crazy because I really didn't see anything like that when I was younger on apps like Musically, which I had when I was little. And I think that it's so good. I'm really happy that it's being like really widespread because let's say like a little kid has been like struggling with these symptoms and they think there's something wrong with them. And then they come across a video spreading awareness. I think it can help so many young kids.

Laura: Where do you think you would be with your grades if you hadn't gotten diagnosed with ADHD?

Miya: I don't think I would be doing good in school. Like, I would probably be failing because, you know, like the 504 plan that helps me so much and I get extra help in tests and stuff and I really think, I don't know, I might even gotten pulled back if I didn't get that diagnosis because that extra time and that help from teachers and learning how to help myself and those resources to really like do good in school and just live as a like normal person really helped me. And I don't think I'd be doing like as good as I am now if I didn't get diagnosed.

So, I'm really glad that, at least from my standpoint in the education world, like for teachers and educators and administrators, they've really come to understand it and wanted to like help those people they teach.

Laura: That is so good to hear. You know, I've heard horror stories about kids who get accommodations getting made fun of and saying like, "Oh, you're cheating" or something like that, which we know that's not the case. Right? We're leveling the playing field.

Laura: What other kinds of symptoms did you struggle with? We've talked about forgetfulness. We've talked about lack of motivation. What about hyperactivity? Any restlessness, fidgetiness, anything like that?

Miya: Oh, definitely. Like when I was younger and just talking in class, like talking to anyone, not being able to sit still during parent-teacher conferences. The one like constant thing throughout all my grades was like, she talks too much, she talks to everybody, and when like we're in a test, she won't stop talking. And I think that's definitely a symptom of ADHD. And now I understand that, and like I said, like I have a balance in school. But yeah, that was always something that came up.

Laura: Yeah, definitely an ADHD symptom. How did ADHD or how has ADHD affected your social life?

Miya: A lot of times for me personally with ADHD, it kind of makes me think, not think less of others, but kind of just think more of myself and not really try to totally understand where other people are coming from. So, like with my friends, we got into so many fights, so it would be like maybe I said something that hurts my friend and I'm like, either I totally don't remember saying it because I was just like saying things and not thinking, or I just, like, really didn't try to think of how it affected them because I was just so in my own world.

Laura: Last time we talked, I think you said that people perceived you as selfish.

Miya: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, I think, like growing up after my diagnosis, I noticed a lot of things about myself, and I would say that it's not totally selfish when people with ADHD do that, that's not their intent, but it can often come off like that.

Laura: And what are your friendships like now? Do you still feel like you're perceived as selfish, or are there any hiccups in your social life right now, or has that shifted as well?

Miya: Yeah, well, like no friendship is like perfect, but now I have a lot of friends that I love them for and like me and my best friend personally, I feel like me with my ADHD and just like being forgetful and kind of in my own world, we got into so many fights when I was little, like always bickering and stuff, but now we're like so close and it's really good because I found that, like, I just need to learn to listen to people more and really put myself in their shoes. And I think that all my friendships thus thrived as a result.

Laura: How do you do that? I mean, do you have any pointers for me? Honestly, because the ADHD brain makes it so hard to pump the brakes and stop yourself from interrupting people and to take a breath, you know? Would you teach me, Miya? Please.

Miya: Well, yeah, I've had to really, really learn to think before I speak, because honestly, I think that was a big problem in my relationships when I was younger, that I would just not think before I would speak and I would just blurt everything out. So, now like at least I try. I take like care in what I say to people and like I really think before I say something like how they could interpret that or like how that could possibly hurt someone. And I think that my friendships have lasted longer as a result.

Laura: So, when we were chatting, you mentioned something about noticing, "toxic cycles" and how that was related to becoming more self-aware. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Miya: Yeah. So, I think that with my social life, but even with school, I've really had to notice those cycles that I do like. Let's say it's for school, like getting an assignment, not doing it, getting that bad grade and then feeling bad about myself, and then it starts all over again. So even though it took me a while to notice those things, I think it really did help me in all the different aspects of my life. And I personally think that quarantine really helped me with that because school kind of slowed down. So, I was able to like really grasp like what I needed to do to do better in school and even my social life.

And probably because I was so young, like sixth grade when I got the diagnosis, I really couldn't fully understand what ADHD meant and what the symptoms were and how I needed to help myself rather than like those accommodations and my parents helping me because I think it's like a two-part thing, like your parents need to help you, you need those outside things, like other resources, but you really also need to notice those cycles in yourself and really need to, like, help yourself also.

Laura: Oh, that's beautiful. What advice do you have to other kids like you who have ADHD?

Miya: I would say there's not anything wrong with you. Like you're not less than if you have ADHD and you have these differences, and you can harness your ADHD to do great things. Because I find that people with ADHD usually are really creative. So, you can put like your hands into an art form or something or something where you really just got to like dive into it and really focus all your energy in it. But alongside that, you do need to find ways and resources to do your work and get those things done.

Laura: Absolutely. Miya, it has been so wonderful to talk with you. It's so refreshing to talk with such a bright, amazing teenager and to learn from you. And I'm really grateful for your time.

Miya: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me here. It's been so nice to have this conversation.

Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at ADHDAha@understood.org. I'd love to hear from you.

If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.

Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently, discover their potential and thrive. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at Understood.org/mission. "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine!

Jessamine: Hi everyone.

Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.

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