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My ADD-colored memories

There's a bit of misunderstanding or denial about ADD/ADHD. The opinions I see online range from "It doesn't exist: the kids are just daydreaming and need to be spanked more", to "It doesn't exist: the kids are just acting normally and need to be taught differently". Though my sympathies lean toward the second, I propose a third opinion: "It does exist, and the kids need to be taught differently."

ADD/ADHD kids are just daydreaming

Growing up, I was certainly ADD, possibly ADHD. I was never officially diagnosed, but this was the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s in rural Missouri: the only classifications were "mentally retarded" and "not mentally retarded" (I'm speaking hyperbolically, but not by much). I didn't fit well enough into the first, so I was put into the second, and the teachers didn't know what to do with me.

I payed zero attention from Kindergarten to 6th grade. I could not have paid attention if I'd wanted to. I'm sure it sometimes looked like "daydreaming". And I was smacked, spanked, cajoled, punished, sat down with, and talked to for 6 years… and none of it helped.

To this day I have only about 2 minutes worth of memories of school time during that time period. What I do remember is kind of like a Rocky-style montage: I remember a few things, but they total up to a very short time span. I remember a few more recess and home things, and a few memories of Mom trying to help me with homework, but extremely few school things.

I don't remember kids' names (unless I was friends with them much later on), and I think I remember a few of the teachers' names mainly because my family mentioned them to me as an adult. I don't remember much of the things I was supposedly taught. I am still slow at basic math (I did awesome at higher math in highschool, though). My spelling is a bit hit or miss at times. I do read well and have a large vocabulary, and did then, too, but I doubt that had much to do with the classroom and had more to do with me wanting to read all the books and all the encyclopedias to find out how everything worked.

Anyway, I thought it'd be interesting to chronicle the classroom memories I do have. I'm sure a few more will pop up over time as events trigger specific memories, but this is all I can think of over the past week.


Kindergarten, I remember:

  • Throwing up on my desk, trying to hide it, and someone telling the teacher on me. Walking to the bathroom I threw up again and the janitor gave me a dirty look.
  • Saying I wanted to be Frankenstein when I grew up (it was almost Halloween and I misunderstood the question).


I spent the first several years at the local Catholic school.

First and/or second grade, I remember:

  • Someone playing a guitar.
  • A bearded guy (principal or teacher?) bringing me down to the little supply room to give me a spanking. I don't remember the spanking or what I had done to merit one.
  • Same bearded guy bringing me down to the little supply room to double check my head for lice (I didn't).
  • I lied about finishing a worksheet. I tried to pretend another kid's sheet was mine by covering up the name with my thumb. It didn't work.
  • One or more nuns in "casual wear" came into the room to tell us about something.
  • I remember showing off a very crappy model boat I made.


Third grade, I remember:

  • Running around the classroom and crawling under the desks when the teacher left the room.
  • Hiding a brown paper shopping bag full of uncompleted homework in the bottom of my desk.
  • Pinning a note to a bulletin board and realizing I spelled "of" as "uv".


Third grade (take 2: my mom held me back and transferred me to the public school), I remember:

  • Going to see the guidance counselor who asked me some questions and had me draw a picture of myself and parents.
  • We had an exercise where we were suppose to draw our "dream room". There was an example provided where the kid's bed was suspended from the ceiling. Literally everyone drew their room with one of those.


Third grade (take 2) or fourth grade, I remember:

  • Thinking I had found a neat new way to do two digit multiplication by adding horizontally instead of vertically (it didn't work).
  • A female teacher told me and another girl named "Melinda" that we were "space cadets". I smiled because I thought that was good. She corrected me.
  • In art class we made little paper-bag horses and raced them around the school track. Mine worked like a parachute and kept slowing me down.
  • In music class singing "She'll be coming around the mountain", "Clementine", "I've been working on my costume", and some song about ice cream and beer (I know, what?).


Fifth and/or sixth grade, I remember:

  • For music class I made a strange musical instrument with broken pieces of a tape measure blade. Each piece made a "TINK!" of a length-specific tone when you bent them backward. They had lots of problems putting it into the "wind, string, or percussion" classification scheme.
  • A few art projects with the hippie-dude teacher:
    • The teacher (or someone he brought in) had an electric guitar and played "Smoke on the Water".
    • For the "surrealism" project I drew an elephant with coke-bottle legs.
    • There was a copper sheet we punched holes in and then they chemically aged it.
  • Before a field trip to St Louis a teacher warned all the kids not to say the word "n*gger". She even elaborated by saying that she had no problem saying the phrase "There's a n*gger in the woodpile somewhere" around her black friend, but that people in St Louis wouldn't like it so much.


And that's it. Interspersed throughout, I have vague memories of being told to pay attention, and to do my homework, but nothing specific.

Then, for seventh and eight grade, I was transferred back to the Catholic school because they were afraid I wasn't ready for "middle school" at the public school. I do have more memories from that, though it seems to be quite less specific and less expansive compared to other people's memories.


So anyway, if it wasn't "ADD", I think we can still agree that this is not "perfectly normal" or "just daydreaming". "Daydreaming" kids might sometimes be labeled ADHD or ADD, but sometimes there really is a problem.

I also find it quite interesting that I remember so much more from the art and music classes. I know some people deride the concept of "learning styles", but surely this means something.

I really needed either to be on Ritalin or out of the classroom. Homeschooling might have helped me, but I can't imagine my mom doing that, and this would have been in the late 70s / early 80s, so any homeschooling would have been modeled after "regular school" (instead of our more enlightened "relaxed" school), and therefore still pretty horrible for me.

2013-06-09 #school  
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