excerpts from ADHD & Me
lighting fires at the dinner table 9th grade
My friend Matt, my twelve-year old sister, Madison, and I are having dinner. Madison is almost finished with her bowl of teriyaki chicken and rice, and she looks bored. After scanning the kitchen for a minute, looking for something to play with, she locks her eyes on the refrigerator and goes to it.
Madison returns to the table with a container of yogurt and a lighter in her hand. Matt looks at me ominously.
“Okay, yogurt, it’s time to die,” my sister addresses the yogurt as she flicks the lighter on.
About a minute later, Madison manages to light a small flame at the edge of the yogurt container, creating a faint odor of burning plastic. Matt looks at Madison, worried. Our sitter, Marjorie, continues cleaning dishes, her back to us and to the flame. Classical music drones on in the background, along with the sound of running water from the kitchen sink.
I don’t think about how stupid it is to have a yogurt container burning on the kitchen table. Instead, I think of chemistry lab and how we purposely light things on fire to find their ignition points.
Just then, an idea comes into my head. I see the fire burning on the yogurt casing and the motion
of the flame. I don’t think about how stupid it is to have a yogurt container burning on the kitchen
table. In fact, I don’t think at all about the danger of fire. Instead, I think of chemistry lab and how
we purposely light things on fire to find their ignition points. But I am not thinking of controls or
safety procedures, which would be part of a proper chemistry experiment, done in a chemistry lab. I only think of lighting something—anything—on fire to see what will happen.
I stand up, walk across the kitchen, and open the medicine cabinet. Inside is Bactine, Band-Aids, gauze—the usual first-aid collection. I scan the cabinet for a flammable fluid. I find it in a blue-gray bottle labeled “eyeglass cleanser.”
Giddy with the excitement of the moment, I walk across the kitchen toward where Madison is reigniting the yogurt container with the lighter. It is a small candle-sized flame, but it won’t be small for long. As I approach the flame, I open the eyeglass cleanser bottle and pour it on the yogurt.
In a millisecond, the small flame flares upward into a blaze. Frightened, I automatically throw the bottle onto the table. The red-orange flame, which now engulfs half of the kitchen table, traces the trajectory of the flying bottle and its flammable liquid in the air. Madison runs for water.
Matt jumps away from the table. I am in shock, paralyzed.
Marjorie suddenly sees the reflection of the huge flame in the window at the sink. She turns around and screams.
I shriek, “Marjorie, get the water!”
I pick up a glass pitcher filled with lemonade and throw the lemonade at the flame. This helps, but the flame still surges around the table. After burning through the eyeglass cleanser fluid, the flame leaps onto one of the white chair seats and to the red rug underneath the table. Marjorie fills a
large cooking pot with water and splashes it on the table and on the seat.
“The rug. The rug!” Madison shouts. The rug is burning.
Matt jumps on the flame on the rug and extinguishes it. The fire is over. Luckily, no one is hurt. I am saved. Light smoke swirls and hangs in the kitchen air for a few quiet seconds.
Just then, the house fire alarm goes off. It is a shrill, incessant, loud noise.
“Oh, no! Not the alarm!” I cry. I know I am in serious trouble now.
My mother comes running out of her bedroom, dressed in a blue-and-yellow-flowered bathrobe. My stepfather follows her. They’ve been getting ready for a neighbor’s Christmas party.
“What is going on here?” my mother screams, seeing the water and the smoke around the kitchen table. She looks at me. “Blake! What happened?”
“Blake! Answer your mother,” says my stepfather.
Before I can respond, sirens wail and lights flash outside, illuminating the whole front of our house. A huge truck screeches to a stop. Yes, the fire department has arrived.
the Ferrari 3rd grade
My mother and I pretend that each person in our family is a car.
“What are you?” I ask my mother. I am nine years old at the time.
“I have a lot of energy. I think I’m a BMW,” my mother says. “Madison, too.”
“What about Daddy?”
“Your father isn’t as fast; we’ll make him an Audi.”
“What about me?”
“Oh, you,” she says. “You are different but really special. You are a bright red Ferrari!”
I love Ferraris. I smile. “What makes me a Ferrari?”
“Your inexhaustible energy and speed,” she says. “You, Blake, are the only person in the whole world who can exhaust me.”
I think this is pretty good. I can exhaust my mother. She goes on to say that Ferraris are highly tuned for speed and, because of that fact, are more sensitive machines.
“They are extraordinary machines. They are very handsome. They have very powerful engines. But there is a downside,” she warns.
I am thinking, how can there be any downside to being a Ferrari?
“You have to know how to control the horsepower in the engine,” my mother says. “Sometimes, you speed straight down roads, faster than all the other cars. But other times, you are not watching where you’re going, and you zigzag totally out of control. You have to get control of your engine.”
“Just think,” my mother says, “when you are able to control your Ferrari engine. Imagine the possibilities. Imagine what you will be able to accomplish with this gift.”
I thought about it then, and I think about it now. My mother was right, and she always made me feel wonderful.
ADHD means we are different. Our brains work differently. It is like being blue-eyed or left-handed. It is just a normal part of the human spectrum. The condition describes the unique way our brains are wired; it does not mean that our brains function incorrectly. Doctors Edward Hallowell, a former Harvard Medical School instructor, and John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, both renowned experts on ADHD, said the “best way to think of ADHD is not as a mental disorder but as a collection of traits and tendencies that define a way of being in the world” (2005).
ADHD has many great qualities! Sometimes kids don’t realize this fact, but the very traits that make ADHD difficult to live with when you are very young also make it a gift as you get older. As Lara Honos-Webb said in her book, ADHD kids are “different and in a way that our culture has not learned to fully appreciate” (Honos-Webb 2005, 5). If you are hyperactive, as many ADHD individuals are, you have boundless energy to pursue many things. For instance, you can channel that energy into taking more classes than the average student, performing well on sports teams, playing an instrument, or finding the hours to actively participate in community service or in the arts and still have time for your friends. You have more energy than most people. You can accomplish more in a day.
If you are impulsive, you often make decisions without thoroughly thinking of the consequences. Don’t let the negative side fool you, however; if you are impulsive, you also have an ability to be innovative, to take risks, and to try new approaches when everyone else is doing the same old things.
If you are passionate about a subject or an activity, you will be able to pursue it tenaciously.
If you are easily distracted, you have a harder time concentrating. But, unlike those who are not easily distracted, you automatically think outside of the box.
If you are easily distracted, you have a harder time concentrating. But, unlike those who are not easily distracted, you automatically think outside of the box. You notice everything and are more innovative because your mind is more expansive, and you can find creative and often unorthodox methods to solve a problem. You are also extremely perceptive and can pick up details that others don’t see.
If you are overly sensitive, this characteristic makes you more in tune with those around you, more caring, and more understanding. You have an intuition about people, a keen perception. You are more aware of what they are feeling and have more empathy for them. Your feelings run very deep.
Dr. Hallowell said, “ADHD is common among creative and intuitive people in all fields and among highly energetic, interesting, productive people. You can find high stimulation in being a surgeon, or a trial attorney, or an actor, or a pilot, or a trader on the commodities exchange, or working in a newsroom, or in sales, or in being a race car driver!” (2005, 25).