ADHD and Kids / Adult ADHD

ADHD: Hyperfocus and Hypofocus, the Castor and Pollux of Attention Dysregulation

That’s quite a title there, you’re probably anticipating an elegantly wound metaphor, melding ancient mythology and our modern ADHD challenges.

I was actually just thinking about 8th grade. I was what, 13 years old? That was the year that I got kicked out of a school program for “gifted” students. “Gifted” – let me just reaffirm that I don’t consider ADHD a gift. To consider it a gift would be to equate myself with my deficit. To consider it a gift would be to deny that medication is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I mean who would take medication to get rid of a gift (oh wait that’s right, it’s not a gift). Dammit, I need to stop talking logic. Logic never really gets a point across – most people are more interested in believing whatever makes them feel the most comfortable.

Man, I am super off track here today. Alright -so 8th grade. School program for gifted students. But I’m going to roll the clock back a few months, to right before I was kicked out of the program.

Each student was assigned a country to write a report about. The report had to be about that country’s “revolution”. Kids picked little pieces of paper out of a bowl, Cuba, America, all kinds of countries with a rich revolutionary episode documented in their history. I picked China.

Have you ever studied Chinese history?

The teacher instructed us to go to the library and look up some preliminary info about our revolutions. We were to bring it back within a matter of days, and then give her our game plan for how we would digest and present our revolution to the class. I went to the library. I looked up the information. And I came back to my teacher. I went to the front of the room to speak to her and I said “Which one?” She said “You’re doing the Chinese Revolution, Katy.” I said “I know, which one?” Well what do you mean, she asked me. “I went to the library and I read all about China. I counted _____ of them and I don’t know which one I’m supposed to do.” I’d clearly come back to her with a reality she wasn’t expecting. (And I apologize that I cannot currently remember the number of revolutions in Chinese recorded history but I had to make more room in my brain for useless trivia after 8th grade. But if you count just the 20th century, that includes at least the Boxer Rebellion, the Communist Revolution and the Cultural Revolution, and that’s plenty to keep an 8th grader busy – and I remember that I’d gone at least back to 1700A.D.).

My teacher told me that I should do all of them. All. Of. Them. I presented all of them to the class. If my classmates actually cared about history, they might have been impressed. I hyperfocused on China like a boss. I remember that the Son of Heaven exhibit was touring North America that year too – relics of China’s past, man, was that cool. My parents took me to see it, I brought home a replica Peking Opera mask. Loved that.

Just a few months later, I was kicked out of my gifted students program because we were doing a poetry unit, I was bored, I totally disengaged, and I couldn’t keep myself organized enough to keep up. I remember feeling lost in a fog about the whole thing. I knew my grades were bad at that point, but I just couldn’t figure out how to re-engage. And I still kind of hate poetry. I mean I like it in the theoretical sense, but in the practical sense, it almost makes me want to burn books.

These are the micro-moments in a life that can’t be included in a diagnostic manual. You won’t find a story like this in the DSM V – and I love to make jokes about all the ridiculous shit that’s in the DSM V. These are the kinds of stories that diagnosticians need to be taking the time to hear, when they are considering a diagnosis. ADHD and its impact are about so much more than a simple lists of possible symptoms. A thorough medical and behavioral history are critical to a meaningful and accurate diagnosis.


2 thoughts on “ADHD: Hyperfocus and Hypofocus, the Castor and Pollux of Attention Dysregulation

  1. Oh my god!!! I got kicked out of my gifted program in the sixth grade. I almost got kicked out in the fourth for procrastinating on a project about airplanes and physics and disrupting the group because I wasn’t digging the assignment, but the teacher was a friend of my mom’s so she let it slide I suppose…

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