When I was ten years old, my mother and father decided that it was better for me to come go to school in El Paso, Texas, instead of Juarez, Mexico. They made arrangements with my aunt and uncle to go and live with them during the week and then go home to mom in Juarez on the weekends, and go stay with dad on vacations and holidays. The arrangement seem to work well except for one issue: I was very, very homesick.
Life with my aunt, uncle and cousins was not ideal for me for reasons that we won’t get into. I just wasn’t happy. I missed my mother a lot, and I was, in a way, yanked from my friends in Juarez. I was thrown into a different culture with a different language, living with cousins who had different interests than I did.
When I got into middle school, the situation changed a little bit in that I went to live with a different set of cousins. But, like with the first set, I just didn’t belong. I loved to read my school books, get my homework done and watch “The Flash” on television — as well as other shows. They didn’t. A couple of my cousins wondered why I liked school so much. My uncle wondered why I didn’t just quit school and get to work to support my mother.
The pressure of not seeing mom and being in a new school, once again yanked from my the few friends that I made in grade school, got to be too much. One morning, I felt very, very sad. I couldn’t take it anymore and went crying to the only teacher I thought could help me. She saw how sad I was and talked to me for a little bit before taking me to the school office to talk to a guidance counselor.
When the school authorities found out that I was not living with my parents but was just living with my aunt and uncle and their family, they called my mother and asked her to come in for a chat. They explained to her that my aunt and uncle didn’t have custody over me, and that it wasn’t a good place for me to be. In short order, I was expelled until my mom went to El Paso to live with me. Otherwise, I had to go back to Juarez. (I had permanent residence in the US at the time.)
Well, I did go back to Juarez for a couple of months until mom found a house and we moved to El Paso. I didn’t go to school in Juarez because the Mexican school system runs a little differently than the school system here. At the time, there were no more spots for me, so I stayed home during the day while mom worked. After a couple of months, I was more than happy to go back to school.
When I went back to the same middle school that I had left, the guidance counselor decided that I had lost too much time and that I should be held back one grade. Mom would have none of it, so they agreed that I was to take summer school classes. I did, and I was extremely bored. I was so bored that I got into trouble a couple of times. I was bored because the rest of the students in summer school were a bunch of misfits who didn’t care if they did well or not. That, and the subject matter didn’t stimulate my intellect at all.
For the following year, eight grade, the guidance counselor became convinced that I had Attention Deficit Disorder. My mother, on the other hand, was convinced that I was just bored and needed more challenging coursework. Perhaps to prover her wrong — or whatever — the guidance counselor enrolled me in the “gifted and talented” program. Not only that, but he also had me take the pre-SAT test.
While I didn’t excel at any of the classes, or the test, I did find myself being challenged. The rest of the kids in the program were very, very intelligent. They were called the “nerds” by other kids, but they were not victims. On the contrary, they were kind of a bunch of bullies. But that story is for some other blog post.
What I’m getting at is that not every child with ADD or ADHD has it, especially if it is not diagnosed by a trained professional. Neither the guidance counselor nor my mother were trained professionals in pediatric psychiatry or psychology. Looking back on that whole thing, mom should have taken me to a professional to determine if I did have ADD. That, or the guidance counselor should have strongly encouraged it.
As it turns out, I was pretty much just a typical kid who needed to be challenged a little more than usual. I wasn’t gifted nor talented, that’s for sure. But that little extra bit of scholarly pressure helped focus me and put me on a path to where I am now.
Four years later, during my freshman year of college, I’d come to find out about the wonderful gift of hypergraphia, and how it was with me all along. Perhaps my insatiable desire to write short stories, and read other stories, was misinterpreted as me not caring about school? My constant daydreaming, where I dreamt up the next thing to write, might have seemed to the non-expert as me being “an ADD kid.” I don’t know.
I’m not a parent, and I don’t need to be to dispense the following advice: Take your child to a trained professional before you — or someone at your child’s school — slaps a label on them. It’s the fairest, smartest thing you can do for them. The label of being “an ADD” was hard to carry around. I mean, here I am in my mid 30s and still remember it. So do it for your child. Please.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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