More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder

Childhood ADHD: Memories of Growing Up with Attention Deficit Disorder

ADDitude Magazine
July 26, 2021

“Share a childhood memory connected to ADHD. At the time, did you have a formal diagnosis? Why did this memory stick with you over the years?”

We recently asked ADDitude readers these questions and invited them to share childhood memories — good, bad, and in between — that reinforced this undeniable truth: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) influences how we grow up and can set the tone for the rest of life as well. Struggling to keep up with neurotypical peers and being habitually misunderstood by authority figures is hard enough when you have a formal diagnosis, but even more damaging without one, as you’ll see below.

What are your most vivid memories of growing up with ADHD? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.

Childhood Memories with ADHD

“In kindergarten I could never be still. I was so wired up, I barely slept at night. During nap time, my teacher (who I think assumed I had ADHD) would give me a little extra one-on-one time and let me help her with different tasks. I didn’t always receive that kind of treatment from adults, and her kindness has remained embedded in my memory.” – Kristen

“In elementary school, my teacher told us to decorate a flat paper egg for Easter. I decided to make a dog face and then added some paper for ears on the side; I was proud of it. When I showed my teacher, she told me I had misunderstood the assignment and had to re-do it. I’ve never forgotten that. I felt so belittled. It has stuck with me because it taught me that you are supposed to do things the way people tell you, even if you have a more fun/better idea.” – Kelly

“One day in the Third Grade, I was daydreaming so intensely that I actually got up, left classroom, and went out on the playground. Someone had to come get me. It was pretty embarrassing!” – Michele

“When I was 14, my neighbors asked me to feed their cat for three days while they were away. They came home to find all the cat food packets, untouched, just as they had left them. I had completely forgotten — even with their house staring me in the face every day! Luckily, he was an outdoor cat and was fine.” – Leslie

I remember sitting at the kitchen table doing homework. The more I tried to focus, the harder it got. Tears welled up in my eyes and my mother asked me what was wrong. She sat down and worked with me through the entire assignment until it was done. She explained that every brain is different and focusing is harder for some. I don’t know where I would be today without her.” – Pat

“One day in First Grade, my teacher was going over a cut-and-paste assignment step by step. For the first three steps, I otally understood. But by the time she got to the end, I had completely forgotten the first steps. I sat there for what felt like an eternity, utterly humiliated, in a quiet room of kids working. When I finally asked my teacher for help, I could tell that she was annoyed that I hadn’t even done the first step. I felt so ashamed and defeated.” – Anonymous

“My memories of school are almost all negative. I struggled to listen and keep up with deadlines. My locker was a mess, my school bag was a mess, my room was a mess. No ADHD diagnosis was available then, so I was written off as lazy and stupid. The blow this dealt to my self-confidence has continued to affect me, even after I gained an MSc.” – Emma

“As a teenager, having what I now know to be rejection sensitive dysphoria, I would try to fight every nerve in my body not to bombard my boyfriend with texts and pleas for reassurance. I always felt like a failure when I inevitably ‘failed’ at controlling the compulsion. It hurts even to think about it now.” – Helen

“Once in science class we had to close our books and listen to the teacher speak about a topic. There were no visuals and nothing on which to focus, so I put my head down and turned on the water tap over the sink, playing with a tiny stream of water. I immediately left the unbearably boring reality, absorbed by the sight and sensation of the moving water. The teacher must have noticed because suddenly I was dragged out of class to the principal’s office and accused of being high. This was a shock since I always tried to be ‘good’ and not be disruptive or draw attention to myself.” – Lynda

“My family would always tell me ‘You’d forget your head if it wasn’t attached’ or ‘You’ll be late to your own funeral.’”– Anonymous

“I remember daydreaming in the First Grade, then suddenly being grabbed by my teacher who shook me and yelled ‘You better pay attention and stop that daydreaming or it will be a paddle next time.’ Prior to that, I had adored my teacher. I was so ashamed; I told my mother that I hated school and never wanted to go back.” – Corliss

“I remember being the kid who always forgot her homework and was always late. It was the beginning of my deep-set conviction of my own inadequacy.” – Anonymous

“In the Second Grade we had to do a ‘math minute’ test where we were given one minute to complete as many equations as possible. The teacher separated our tables with cardboard cubicles so that we couldn’t cheat. I was distracted by a hole in the cubicle that I could stick my pencil through and didn’t finish a single equation. My teacher concluded that I was bad at math, when it was really that the environment of the test was too distracting for me.” – Sarah

“I was late to school every morning because the lines in my socks would bother me. My mom would have to sign me in and explain the reason I was late to school. ‘The lines in my socks were bothering me’ always made the receptionists laugh.” – Jackie

“One time I was so immersed in my video game as a kid, that I didn’t realize my parents were calling my name until they were standing in front of me. At first, they were angry, but then they seemed quite worried when they realized how hyperfocused I actually was.” – Lee

“In middle school I started having trouble retaining numbers in my head while doing math. This was especially scary as I had always considered math to be my strongest subject. I didn’t tell a soul – I was embarrassed. Having been diagnosed with inattentive type ADHD as an adult, now I know it was a working memory issue.” – Joan

“In elementary school, I had to be moved from the ‘gifted’ language arts class to the standard class because the teacher moved way too quickly for my wandering brain. I felt like such a failure and it made me doubt my intelligence, feelings that have followed me my entire adult life.” – Laura

“I was always losing my mittens and winter coat even though I grew up with temperatures well below freezing. My anxiety was almost always induced by forgetting things – homework, permission slips, lunch kits. However, because I was a bright kid and did well in school, it was written off as one of my ‘quirks.’”Anonymous

“I played soccer all the way through college and I could never keep track of the goals scored. I knew if my team was ahead or not, but never what the actual score was.” – Beth

“I rode a school bus home in the afternoons and always got in trouble for not sitting down and for being disruptive. One day, I was sitting directly behind the bus driver. I suddenly got the urge to take my cardigan and throw it over the driver’s head. I could have caused a traffic accident, but that didn’t cross my mind. It was an emotional impulse that I cannot explain.” – Anonymous

“One day at recess I found an interesting crooked stick and was struck with the urge to pick it up and throw it. I didn’t see my friend coming and she got smacked on her arm. The teachers interrogated me about why I threw the stick ‘at’ her and I couldn’t come up with an explanation.”– Jane

“In elementary school we had to take timed tests. Concentrating was very difficult for me – I would bounce my foot at a frantic pace and it was so disruptive that my desk was placed outside of the classroom every time we took a test. It was pretty embarrassing.” – Lori

“When I was in Girl Scouts, I would rub my hair with the beanie, making it stand on end. The other kids thought it was hilarious and I loved the attention. I loved belonging to a group, but I didn’t realize how lucky I was that my mom was the troop leader. I assumed they thought I was cool and funny but looking back, I can see I was the black sheep. This memory reflects my whole life. Being diagnosed in my 40s helped me understand that silly Girl Scout and how and why I didn’t fit in. It gave me peace, comfort, and an understanding that had been missing for so long. Now I can embrace that I’m not like everyone else.” – Judy
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.