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Living with ADHD

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D. Updated: Mar 29th 2017

Living with ADHD: A Healing Journey Across Life

Johnny was a boy who loved his family. He also cared about his friends, and went out of his way to be kind to animals. He loved to draw pictures, write poetry, and build creative art. He was full of energy and had trouble sitting still. Although Johnny was loving and kind, he did not get along easily with other children. He seemed quite unable to consider their needs or feelings.

At home, his room was a mess even though he preferred a neat and tidy room. Whenever his mother told him to clean it up, he started out with the best intentions. Inevitably, he became distracted and started playing with his toys. He lacked focus to complete boring tasks such as picking up his room.

upset teen boyJohnny had trouble focusing in school. As a result, his reading skills were slow to develop. Although he wanted to do well, he lacked the patience needed to sit still and practice reading. Math was a similar challenge. The effort required to memorize math facts seemed beyond him. His parents tried to help Johnny learn more easily. They allowed him to jump on the trampoline while reciting his math facts. They created a rewarding series of flips that he was permitted to perform once he learned a certain amount of material. However, it didn't resolve the problem. Although Johnny could recite the math facts on the trampoline, he couldn't remember them during a test.

His parents became frustrated and discouraged. They began to lose hope that Johnny could ever succeed in school. They tried various strategies to help him organize his time and apply himself; seemingly to no avail. Sadly, Johnny became frustrated as well, and began to lose confidence in himself. When asked to do his homework or a chore, Johnny often responded with anger and rebellion, and resisted his parents' efforts to help him.

On the positive side, Johnny continued to enjoy physical activity, but did not excel at team sports. Although physically capable, Johnny's mental processing speed was not quick enough to keep up with fast-paced games such as basketball. These sports required an in-the-moment, intense focus that Johnny could not sustain. Instead, he excelled at individual sports without the distraction of other players. While individual sports like track and swimming include other teammates, they do not require the same intense focus, rapid pace, and constantly shifting variables that are common to team sports.

As he grew older, Johnny continued to prefer physical activity to academic work. He also maintained an interest in creative pursuits. During these quiet activities, he could sustain his focus for an extended period of time. However, this ability did not generalize to activities that were uninteresting to him. Unfortunately, this lack of interest included much of his school work.

Although Johnny was bright, his grades varied widely among different subjects. He did well in classes that interested him, but poorly in all the rest. Johnny did try to get his work done. The trouble was he just could not seem to get started. He would go into his room to do his homework, but 45 minutes later he hadn't even started. Moreover, when he did manage to start working, he could not sustain his effort because he became easily bored and distracted.

Eventually, Johnny graduated from high school and went to a college close to home. He lived with his parents during the first year. Then, during his second year, he moved into a house he shared with other boys. His college success was limited. He performed reasonably well during his first year (passing with a couple of C's each semester); but, his grades took a nose dive the second year.

Socially, he struggled as well. Johnny was outgoing and met new people easily. However, the friendships often faded quickly as the other students became disappointed with his lateness, distractibility, and frequently inconsiderate behavior. Johnny did manage to form some lasting friendships with his roommates. These young men were fun-loving and friendly, but they were also more interested in partying than grades. To keep up with these friends, Johnny began drinking and experimenting with drugs. He had several automobile accidents, and was even hospitalized once for a couple of days with a head injury. These events had a disastrous effect on his grades and Johnny dropped out of college at the end of his second year.

After Johnny dropped out of college, he got a job at a local art store. Initially he enjoyed his work and did well. However, as he got into a routine, the work became less interesting and Johnny started a pattern of coming in late and not finishing projects. Eventually, he was fired from that job. He subsequently got another job at a local marina. He enjoyed working at the lake during the summer. He even met a couple of girls whom he dated for a brief while. Neither relationship worked out primarily because Johnny had been dishonest with both women. He often confused who he was meeting, and where. Johnny had trouble modifying his approach to relationships, even though both young women gave him the opportunity. Once summer ended, the job was less interesting and Johnny became restless and dissatisfied. He began making a lot of mistakes and was fired again. Not feeling very good about himself, Johnny moved back home with his parents. He took solace in computer games, playing late into the night, then sleeping much of the day. He became increasingly depressed and his drug use increased.

Johnny's parents became concerned about his lack of motivation. They tried to encourage him to refocus his attention on art, sports, and returning to college. This encouragement was unsuccessful and his depression deepened. Finally, his parents insisted that Johnny see a psychologist as a necessary condition for him to remain in their home. Although he was angry about their demands, he was too depressed to fight about it. So, he reluctantly agreed.

Johnny immediately liked his psychologist. As Johnny reviewed his life, he admitted that things were not going as well as he would like. The psychologist asked Johnny's permission to talk with his parents. Because he got to decide this for himself, Johnny was less defensive when he realized that perhaps his parents could be helpful. Therefore, he gave permission. The psychologist met with Johnny and his parents, both separately and together. They all completed behavioral checklists about Johnny's childhood and his current life. The psychologist took a complete social history and administered the Test of Variable Attention (TOVA). Once the paperwork was in, and interviews and testing completed, she diagnosed Johnny with ADHD. As the psychologist described the disorder to them, their attitudes switched from disbelief to recognition and relief.

The psychologist worked with Johnny on social skills, self-management, and decision-making. She referred him to a psychiatrist who prescribed medication. Johnny's life and outlook began to improve. He started sleeping at night. He began reconnecting with friends and exercising regularly. He got along better with his parents and his siblings and there was far less stress in their home. The next summer, he started dating again. He utilized the feedback he received from former girlfriends, and avoided making the same mistakes. In the fall, he registered for college and began to make wise decisions about his future. Johnny was now able to plan and direct his own life, instead of being pulled in different, random directions dictated by daily events. Johnny and his parents often wondered what his life would have been like if had he been diagnosed as a child. However, everyone was greatly relieved that Johnny was finally on a path that was bringing him success, and life satisfaction.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

PTSD, anxiety, depression and ADHD - Court - Nov 29th 2012

I am 42 and diagnosed with PTSD in 2004 and anxiety and moderate depression. I have read the ADHD symptoms and wonder if this is a problem for me, too. How can I achieve a 4.0 for my Masters online and not have decent attendance at work when I am the sole provider for my kids?  What is wrong with me?  I am on an antidepressant that is obviously not working and can not sleep at night but want to sleep all day avoiding life I guess. It is sad and I'm tired of this. I just want the right therapy , diagnosis and meds if necessary. Help!

My boy - Moira - Nov 25th 2010

My son was diagnosed ay 6 years old, his school couldn't cope, I found him very difficult, so he was referred to a childrens doctor.

He was on Ritalin until he was 16, it worked, helped calm him down. But when he reached adulthood,he decided he didnt want to take it anymore.

His life is chaos, one drama after another, he has bad mood swings, and finds everyday things hard to deal with. I look at him and see his mind whirring, going a million miles an hour, this is a difficult thing to deal with.

I am seeing an adult psychologist with him today, hopefully that will help, maybe get some kind of structure in his life again, I worry about him constantly, my lovely lad.

hard times in life - David ramirez - Nov 10th 2010

Hi, my name is david im 17 and found out i was diagnosed with ADHD when i was 6 yrs old. When i first found out i never knew what it ment, and now its hard for me to learn in school and control my anger. I would get mad over the smallest things and not know why...... i really don't know how to fix my problem idk what else to do.

newley diagnosed - Bev - Aug 18th 2010

hi i am a 27 yrs old and female ive have recencley been given a diagnoses of adult ADHA in November last year in 2009 i aparently accordimg to my G.P have had it since birth. i need to know so i can help my partner to understand how it feels to me as i do things i cant explane to him please help me as im confused and get frustrated lots thanx.

adult adhd - drew - May 19th 2010

I am 25 and there is not one thing on the symptoms list that i am not suffering from how can i fix myself

I am facing same problem? - - Feb 27th 2010

I want to know whether i am facing same problem, i am a lecturer n my job involves lots of study.

Earlier, one reading was enough, but from few months i am not able to concentrate, i am doing lots of mistakes again n again, b'cos of these i almost double my time of studies, but problems remains to continue. And i am keep thinking about old mistakes all the time. I knew the things but what i speak is sometimes different n even i am able to find untill someone reminds me that i was explaining that. I read n intreprte things wrong  

Help - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Oct 1st 2009

Dear Denise,

There is help available for your son even if he is homeless. What you can do, if he cooperates, is take him to the emergency room of the local hospital and explain to them his urgent need for emergency psychiatric intervention because he is in danger of dying. That is the truth.

They will either admit him to their hospital or they will move him to a psychiatric hospital for diagnosis and treatment. Once admitted they will file for emergency Medicaid and that is what will pay for the hospital.

I must emphasize that you do not know his diagnosis. He could have a Bipolar Disorder, Psychotic disorder including Schizophrenia or ADHD but with something else.

I agree, he needs treatment and he needs it now.

Best of Luck

I think my son age 28 has ADHD! - Denise - Oct 1st 2009

Hi  I hope I can put him in touch with the right people to get help. He is a very good person but is constantly misdirected by differnt situations that come up in his life. He is homeless now and I am trying to help him get his life on track. I have watched him make many accomplishments but everything has slipped through his hands..He has been out of control for many years now and is finally asking for some direction. I want to help but I know the first step is proper diagnosis. He has limited funds and I have my own health and mental issues with very limited funds myself, I still want to help him get what he needs to function properly. I know this problem has been with him along time but did not know who to talk to about it. He has been in and out of juvenile  and adult incarceration facilities and still this problem has never been addressed. I don't want anything to happen to my son, I know he is a good person and his heart is in the right place but needs helpr. If you can please help me help help him I would be forever grateful I love my son.. he is the youngest of my 5 children and the closest to my heart. Denise C.

People say I have ADHD but I don't know....hey look a chicken. - LADY - Jun 24th 2009

For many years I have been asked if I have ADHD, or asked if I'm drunk/on drugs, because of the way I get in social settings.  After reading the signs of ADHD, I think I really might have it, along with so social anxiety disorders ( including shyness).  I have managed to make a life that works for me.  However I have poor relationships with family, few friends, and can't seem to find a guy willing to stay with me for very long, much less marry me!

To the lady with cocern about her son - - Mar 18th 2009

The lady with cocern about her son I would say to try an pray with him try to understand  what's brothing him . May GOD the MOST HIgh keep us bless us continusly In CHRIST JESUS HOLY NAME AMEN

Reflection on own diagnosis - Nalgene - Dec 18th 2008

I have been diagnosed with ADHD not otherwise specified.  Whatever that means.  I don't have a short temper... I brush off a lot of things other people can't take, but I am very sensitive and make Mountains out of Mole Hills.  I am considered overly analytic.

 I am considered an introvert, but I'm truely sociable, I just can't pay attention and behave normally in a large group of people.  I just can't unless I have something to do like cards or a board game.  I NEED that, or I will become "anti-social"

ADHD - Lynn - Dec 7th 2008

My son has suffered from ADHD all his life.  He has been off medication for about 8 months now.  He is now nearly 19 and has been on a controlled drug from the age of 6.  I would like some advice from adult ADHD on how I can help him.  I love my son so much and he has started to self harm himself.  I don't know what to do.  Please help me to try to help my son.


about the child development - jasmine - Dec 18th 2007
i want to have a child but i rethere adpot one cause i think childrens these days have adhd but if you get them check out thats the only way you can fine out!!

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