In this episode of the Empower Students Now podcast, host Amanda Werner shares her personal journey of discovering that she has ADHD and the importance of teachers understanding this condition. Amanda explains that many students in classrooms may be undiagnosed with ADHD, and that girls are often not diagnosed due to societal expectations of girls. She emphasizes the importance of understanding the science behind these conditions and recognizing the strengths that come with these differences, such as creativity and high intelligence. Listen to this episode to learn how to embrace your differences and recognize your strengths. Learn more about ADHD from the best source of information on this topic: www.additudemag.com/
This episode is different from most episodes on this podcast, and the reason is because I’m going to be telling some very personal stories about my journey, discovering that I have ADHD. And the reason that I’m sharing this information with you all listeners of the Empower Students Now podcast is because I’ve learned a ton about this condition and I can’t believe that I’ve gone so long as a teacher believing things about ADHD and really having a very simplistic view and understanding of what exactly ADHD is. And I don’t think that I mean, I went to teaching school in the early 2000 and I don’t remember any classes about ADHD or autism or anxiety or any of these mental health issues that students come to our classrooms with. And I want to share this with you because I think teachers need to know this stuff so that they can become more empathetic towards their students’ differences because they have a more a deeper understanding of what’s really going on. Welcome to the Empower Students Now! Podcast, a podcast about equity, neurodiversity, mindfulness and student engagement. There’s a lot that needs to change in our education system.
The good news is teachers have the power to make these changes now. When teachers began to make small shifts, students are empowered to speak up and join the movement for change, too. I’m your host and guide, Amanda Werner, a passionate teacher, author and mother who cares deeply about helping children and adults speak up for schools where differences are admired, where we can slow down and breathe and notice the others in the room and all the gifts they have to offer. Let’s get started. Before we get started with this episode, I want to make sure that we’re on the same page when it comes to defining ADHD. What is ADHD? There are a lot of myths about ADHD, and there’s a lot of misconceptions about it, and I’d really like to share about some of those as well. So ADHD, most teachers know that it stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and there are criteria for being diagnosed with ADHD. And I’m going to share that criteria with you here today. But I first want to talk about the three different types of ADHD.
So there is the inattentive type. So someone who and this is all on a spectrum, so someone with ADHD who is more of the inattentive type needs to have six or more of the following symptoms in order to qualify as having ADHD or be diagnosed with ADHD. So just not being not paying close attention to details, making careless mistakes, having trouble holding attention on activity, not seeming to listen when spoken to directly, not following through on instructions, or just not being able to finish schoolwork or chores or just certain work. Trouble with organizing often dislikes anything that like is boring or takes mental effort like schoolwork or homework, loses things a lot, distracted and forgetful. So that’s the inattentive type. The hyperactive and impulsive type has these characteristics. Fidgety, can’t sit still, squirmy, leaves situations, unexpectedly, runs, climbs in inappropriate ways, often unable to play or take part in like quiet activities. Just seems like always on the go driven by a motor, talks excessively, is impatient and might blurt out answers a lot before it’s time has trouble waiting for their turn.
Impatient might interrupt or intrude on others conversations. And so these are two types of ADHD. And then there’s the combination type where someone will have a combination of of the two and people can fall on a spectrum with these things as well. So someone might be like severely hyperactive, whereas someone else might be a little bit hyperactive or severely inattentive and then a little inattentive. And same with the combination. You might have a little of both. You might have a lot of one and a little of another. And then also, from what I’ve learned about ADHD, I really want to share this with you. So the name ADHD is actually quite misleading. So attention deficit, it’s not a deficit in attention. It’s actually people with ADHD have too much or going on in their minds a lot like almost hyper attention. So like they have many, many, many things going on in their mind. And when you think about it, you know, like disorganized in just their living space or their backpacks, actually you can apply that to the brain as well.
So executive functioning is the ability to organize and organize your time and organize your space and also organize your mind and be able to focus on the thing that you need to do in that moment rather than being distracted by a whole bunch of other things. And this is caused by low dopamine in ADHD brains. So dopamine is a chemical that actually produces kind of a sense of peace and happiness and calmness. And people with ADHD have low dopamine and possibly low serotonin, low epinephrine or epinephrine. All of these chemicals are associated with kind of like calming, happy feelings. And so people with ADHD. Are very drawn and their attention is spiked or they’re able to attend to things that increase their dopamine. So and they can’t it’s very hard for them to pay attention to things that aren’t dopamine releasing activities. So that’s one of the reasons that a lot of people with ADHD can hyperfocus and can really focus for long, long, long periods of time on activities that are high, drive the dopamine up higher and higher, like video games and being on a screen, or there’s all sorts of things that kids love to do that increases dopamine.
So a lot of times kids and adults with ADHD, they are more prone towards overdoing it and addictive and tend to have kind of addictive tendencies because of this. This aspect of ADHD involves the brain that is ADHD, brains have low dopamine. And so that’s just a little bit of background about ADHD. And another thing that’s really important to consider is that there are many kids in our classrooms that are not diagnosed with ADHD, but probably should be diagnosed with ADHD. So we have many students in our classrooms that are undiagnosed and that boys are more likely to be diagnosed than girls. And also white kids and black kids are more likely to be diagnosed over Hispanic children or Asian children, which is, you know, really, really odd because it’s prevalent in all races. And so and all genders. And arguably, you know, there’s people out there that say that it affects more boys than girls, but actually it just presents differently in girls. And hopefully, by sharing my story with you, you’ll kind of see how it might present differently in a girl who has been told by society and is seen, sees in our culture that it’s important to be quiet and to be kind and to be a people pleaser, really.
So girls really, they are taught to behave differently than boys in our society, sadly. And so a lot of times girls just aren’t aren’t diagnosed and really should be. It’s because when you learn this information, it can be very empowering and it can really be a light bulb like light bulb moment for a family and for a child. When you really have a name for what’s going on in your life and the problems that you’re facing in your life, I’ll go ahead and just start with my daughter. So my daughter is eight and the last eight years have been a roller coaster. And if you I mean every parent and she’s my only daughter, every parent, you know, when you become a parent, it is a roller coaster. But with my daughter, it’s been an extreme, this extreme, most extreme of extreme roller coasters. And I, I have become a better person and a better, better teacher because of her. And she’s I’m so grateful for just the challenges that I faced being her mom.
And if you’re curious about, like, what this experience is like having a child who has very, very specific special needs and what that’s like. There is a wonderful book and I highly recommend you read it, especially if you are a parent of maybe a child who has special needs. And that book is called Differently Wired by Deborah Reber. And I just absolutely love this book because she really does an amazing job describing what it’s like as a parent raising a differently wired child. In kind of a conventional world, a traditional setting where teachers and parents really are, you know, for kids who are pretty neurotypical. Rewards and punishments are fairly effective, temporarily effective, but for kids who are differently wired. We have to come up with very creative ways of parenting. And the connection and the relationship with your child is priority number one. And it it’s just it definitely is a paradigm shift, raising it differently. Wired Child. When she was diagnosed a couple of years ago, I started learning as much as I possibly could, reading all the books, joining a community of other parents of differently wired children called the bright and quirky community, listening to tons of podcasts, just consuming a lot of information and just learning as much as I can about these different mental health conditions.
I’ve witnessed the challenges that my daughter is facing, I felt that there’s been a mirror placed in front of my face and and a many, many of the same challenges that she’s having I had as a child. And I know this is pretty common when a parent discovers mental difference in their child, they learn that a lot of these differences are genetic and are passed down from generation to generation. As I’ve started to learn, I, I’ve discovered and uncovered a lot of the challenges that I’ve had throughout my life are because I have ADHD. And and I’m going to record some more episodes about ADHD and things that teachers need to know about ADHD and accommodations for children with ADHD and myths. There’s so many myths about ADHD, but this is my story. So that’s what this episode is about. It’s it’s about sharing my story with you. A couple of years ago, I had some very, very serious actually during the pandemic. I had a very, very serious allergic reaction where I was covered from head to toe in hives.
It was awful. And my face was like three times its normal size. I had like weeping blisters. And it was it was just awful. And I had no idea why I had that allergic reaction. And then it happened again a few months later and then again a few months later. And I went to an allergist. I went to a dermatologist. And I also the most helpful thing I did was go to a functional medicine doctor. And at the time, I, I was trying to find out why the heck I had these weird allergic reactions. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I wanted to know what was going on so that I could prevent them in the future. These allergic reactions actually have recurred throughout my life, and I have pictures of myself as a seven-year-old with head to toe hives. So this is something that has been happening my whole life randomly, and I really, really wanted answers because the situation was getting quite severe and more regular. And the functional medicine doctor did a whole lot of tests, including one called an organic acids test, where they test for all sorts of materials in your urine and blood and one of the things that was revealed in this test, there were multiple things revealed.
I’m not going to share all of them. But one of them that really struck me and that I was just very curious and confused about was the test revealed that I had very low dopamine, serotonin nor epinephrine and epinephrine. So all of those were. On the extreme low side. And the doctor I talked to the doctor about this and I asked like, what does that mean? And she said it could mean a lot of different things. And and I thought, well, does it mean that I have depression because I don’t feel depressed, I’m not depressed. I mean, I get sad from time to time, but I’m not depressed. And she said that you know, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I have depression. It could be a whole a whole lot of other things. But she didn’t go into what those things were because her job was to find out why I was getting all of these rashes. And she said that possibly I am more prone to stress because of these low neurotransmitters.
Then we moved on to other components that may have caused the allergic reactions. And I did discover a few things that I needed to stay away from some foods like gluten and high histamine foods and things like that. And so it was helpful. I think of all the doctors I saw the functional medicine doctor was the most helpful. And you know, two years passed and here we are today. And I haven’t had as severe of an allergic reaction since then. But I am prone to getting hives from time to time when my diet is poor or I’m extremely stressed out and anxious. And honestly, part of the reason that I have taken taken it upon myself to absorb as much information as I can about neurodiversity and about mental health differences. Is because I have been searching for answers to why life always seems so challenging and so overwhelming. In my search. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve applied a lot of what I’ve learned to my life, but nothing really answered my questions about why. Why are things so hard for me? And I discovered something that was really pivotal in this journey.
I discovered this website a few months ago called Attitude Magazine. The website is attitude mag.com and attitude is a d d i t u d e mag. So it’s ad and it’s a magazine all about ADHD. And I discovered they have webinars every week and the webinars are published on their podcast and you could go listen to them too if you wanted to learn more about ADHD. The podcast is called ADHD Experts if you want to check it out yourself. And so I started listening to these webinars and I started listening to the ones about adults being diagnosed with ADHD and, and women being diagnosed and girls being underdiagnosed. And the more that I listened, the more that I. She began to have a revelation about myself. So growing up, my childhood was incredibly challenging. I was a hellion. My parents and I were always fighting. I was always in trouble. I was highly emotional, very explosive. And maybe that might come as a shock to some of you listening. And I know a lot of my friends are like, What? That’s how you were as a kid? Yes, I experimented with drugs and alcohol at a very, very young age, and I struggled with friendships.
I struggled a lot with socializing. I was bullied severely. I had to leave a school like I was at a middle school in eighth grade, and I was ostracized by the entire eighth grade and I had to move schools. I also my parents were also in the Navy, and so we moved around a lot. And so it was that made it even harder. And when I reflect back on all of this, I always thought it was just because I’m just a rebel, I’m just a rebel, and that’s just who I am. And I still I still do feel that way about myself. I’m very rebellious. I’m somewhat of a rule breaker, but I’m also a people pleaser. And I’m extremely conscientious of others and very, very empathetic. And I did well in school. I, I got A’s and B’s. My sister was the one that my parents really focused on when it came to school because my sister was diagnosed with a learning disability. And so she was in special ed all through school.
So my sister got a lot of the attention when it comes to like when it came to school because I was doing fine. I was getting A’s and B’s, which isn’t necessarily true. I wasn’t doing fine, obviously, in terms of socializing and things. And I was very, very pure, obsessed. And so in classrooms it was hard to focus because I was constantly attracted to my peers and what they were doing and trying to fit in. And that was it was just always a struggle. And and I was very emotional. And I often said things to my peers that without thinking and this is the impulsivity piece of ADHD that, you know, ruined friendships and relationships and really caused me to be ostracized a lot socially. But again, when I was in school, I was able to really do well and get A’s and B’s, and so no one really, really thought. You know, ADHD. No, No one that that was on no one’s mind. No one. And I’ve always been an incredibly driven person, someone who I definitely identify as a workaholic, just constantly needing stimulation, mental stimulation, constantly needing to be doing something always.
I always seem to have an emergency, you know, like just everything is always an emergency. This feeling of always having an emergency is actually overwhelm and it’s a scattered mind in terms of feeling like I have so much that I have to do, but not knowing how to prioritize all of those things and feeling a sense of overwhelm, a sense of constant overwhelm, and it can be very, very uncomfortable. I’ve learned that this is more of the hyperactive type of ADHD. I am presenting symptoms of hyperactive, a hyperactive brain, a hyperactive body, and living in that way can be extremely anxiety provoking. And a lot of times girls are misdiagnosed with anxiety or depression when really what’s going on is ADHD. And I get very, very excited about things really easily. I can and just very, very passionate about certain topics, but also easily bored and uncomfortable when I’m bored. And so all of these characteristics do they add up to ADHD? Well, now I know. Yes, they do. But for the longest time I didn’t think I had ADHD.
The reason is because I did so well in school and because I am almost obsessively organized. Often people with ADHD, kids with ADHD, we associate them as being hyperactive, and often we think of like boys who blurt out in our classrooms and who can’t sit still and have messy backpacks, you know, And you think of that’s that’s like the typical way that we think of someone with ADHD. And so and I was always super organized. And so how could I have ADHD if I’m so organized? When I did go to a psychiatrist and talk about this with them and find out like, do you think I have ADHD? And yes, I was formally diagnosed with ADHD. I even went to two psychiatrists to find out for sure and get a second opinion. Both agreed that I have ADHD and I was assessed for other things too, like autism, depression, anxiety. And what they both found is that I have more of the hyperactive tendency of ADHD and also generalized anxiety about my health and just very fearful of of not being healthy enough.
That actually is related to ADHD because a lot of times people with ADHD have a hard time following through on their goals. And I definitely have that problem where I want to accomplish certain things, but it’s really, really hard to stay consistent. The first psychiatrist that I saw asked me if when I was younger, if cleaning was a big deal in my family, like if it was something that kind of prioritized. And because both my parents were in the Navy, they were very much enforcers of timeliness. Being on time as a sign of respect and cleanliness, as a sign, a sign of respect. And so at a very, very young age, I could not socialize. I could not leave the house until the house was clean. And my dad always emphasized being on time and like the importance of that. And so because that was those were such huge values in my home, I became someone who really needs my environment to be organized in order to focus. And often I will use organizing as a way to procrastinate on the things that I really have to get done, which is also an attribute of people with ADHD, is is procrastinating and not doing the boring thing.
I also learned that and I think all teachers need to know this, that people with ADHD and autism and and depression and OCD and all of these mental health differences all have different neurochemistry. So that low dopamine, that low serotonin, the low neuron, neuro nephron, all of that, those are evidence of ADHD. And so it just all these light bulbs started going off when I learned this. And and I told my psychiatrist this and that was. The thing. THAtrillionEALLY really caused me to understand that the reason that I am. Constantly accomplishing way too much, taking on way too much, jumping from one huge project to another, taking on just insane, insane amounts of of work and and also struggle with emotional eating and and screen addiction and and other things that I don’t necessarily want to share on this podcast but like life has been hard and now I know why. And it’s so sad that I went so long not knowing this about myself, but it’s also very empowering. I realize now that it is so important for me to exercise and I have in the past gotten obsessed with exercise rising.
But, now I know why it’s important for me to accomplish things, but it’s important for me to rest and I have to make time. I have to make like I have to. I have to have I’m making a concerted effort to rest. It’s hard to rest for me, but I have to, because if I don’t, I’m going to burn myself out. And now that I know that my brain is different and the reason I’m constantly seeking stimulation is because of those chemicals that are so low and that I’m and that that’s why and it’s just so empowering to know that my brain is different. And that’s why I am the way I am. It’s not because I’m a horrible person know, or I just can’t get my life together and I can’t control myself and I’m just out of control and too emotional and a drama queen. All these things that we tell. Kids. No, my brain is different. That’s why I am the way I am. There are chemicals in my brain that. Are as high as others.
So, I need stimulation a lot more than most people who don’t have ADHD. So that’s my story. And. At this point. I look back at my teaching career and I just think about all these kids that I’ve had in the past probably had undiagnosed ADHD, undiagnosed autism, undiagnosed anxiety, and well, that’s another thing. And I’ll save this for another episode. But a lot of times people with one diagnosis also have like 2 or 3 others. So it’s called comorbidity. And so these kids that had really kind of challenged me as a teacher because of their behavior, there was a reason for that. There was a scientific reason. And to me, that is so incredible. Important to understand as an educator spending all this time with these children. There is chemistry going on in their brains that you might not understand. And the reason they are behaving the way they are is because of this chemistry. Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to this episode. I really appreciate it.
I hope that I provided some aha moments for you. Maybe you have undiagnosed ADHD. Maybe you would benefit from listening to these attitude webinars. I’ll put a link in the description for you to click and learn more yourself. Maybe you have a child. You’re a parent of a child who has an undiagnosed. Mental difference. I don’t like saying illness because I’m not sick. I’m not sick. I just have a different brain. And I really think that we need to start thinking of these things in that in that way, rather than these kids have so many deficits, you know, and they need help. There are many, many strengths that come with these differences. For example, my passions, my ability to just hyper-focus and my creativity. A lot of people with ADHD and autism are also gifted, highly intelligent, high IQ. I’m not saying I have a high IQ or I’m gifted or anything, but these are things are gifts that come with these brain differences as well.
I think we need to remember that. Thank you again for listening. And if you found this episode insightful, and helpful, share it with someone that you.
Speaker UU (00:36:37) – Know that might benefit from it too. And.