Recently, I’ve been dealing with the school system in Oregon. I just came from the public school system in New York City, where there is a lot of bureaucracy and red tape. I have been a substitute teacher for the NYC Department of Education for many years. I’ve worked in inclusion classrooms where some of the kids have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and some of them are considered “general education.” The kids who have IEPs have different educational needs and therefore need accommodations due to their plans. Currently, my son has an IEP, but he is not receiving the accommodations that he needs. He has focusing issues, just like me, and was just diagnosed with ADHD.

It seems the teachers in this state do not understand how to deal with children with mental health concerns. I have explained to the school many times that he has ADHD and he needs certain accommodations to help him focus. But, they keep saying that he is work avoidant. They keep trying to put forth the idea that he is not doing what he’s supposed to do on purpose. This is a common misconception about ADHD. I have had people think the same thing about me.

As an adult woman with ADHD, I have people make all sorts of assumptions. People think that I’m lazy, disorganized, that I can’t get it together. It makes me feel awful about myself and further spirals me into a depression. Sometimes I find myself feeling sad due to the fact that I’m misunderstood. That feeling of misunderstanding makes me feel isolated and alone. People are perceiving me as unmotivated or that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do when it’s not that whatsoever. My brain doesn’t work like your brain unless of course you also have ADHD and then we might have similar issues.

I think of my brain as a car. Its default gear is neutral. The work I have to do is to shift brain gears from “neutral” to “drive.” But getting to “drive” is hard. “drive” is hyperfocus. When I get into hyperfocus mode, I can do anything I need to do in that moment. I am into the project, I am dedicated to whatever I am doing at that moment and I don’t care about distractions. In fact, if someone tries to disengage me from what I’m doing I will get upset. The goal is to get that brain into drive. I see my son the same way. Once he is focused and dedicated to what he’s doing, he’s on task. But if he is having trouble getting there, he’s extremely distracted.

Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing and as a result, sometimes they engage in distracting behaviors such as fidgeting, talking, walking around when they should be seated and doing a different task from the rest of the class. This isn’t overly defiant behavior, although they can do that too, it is their way of trying to cope with the chaos in their brains. This is a misunderstanding about ADHD that needs to be clarified: we are not intentionally being difficult or not listening to instructions. We just have a hard time focusing hard enough on what is being said to follow the instructions.

Until there is more education out there on ADHD for teachers, these common misconceptions will continue to happen. It’s sad, and it’s a disservice to the children and their parents, who (like me) may have ADHD as well. Let’s keep trying to educate teachers about what ADHD is and how they can help their students get the support they need to do well in school.