The Li-t-tle Do-g-gy Barked

Mrs. Lampman was one of my favourite school teachers, but she plays a lead role in one of the most traumatic events of my early educational experience.

A dozen boys and girls gathered in a tight little circle; feet flat on the floor, ankles together, knees together, hands folded properly atop grade 2 readers nestled quietly on our laps and open to the correct page, every ear tuned and every eye focused on the only figure who was not perched on a colourful plastic pint-size chair. Mrs. Lampman gave the reading lesson for the day before we each took turns reading an exercise aloud for practice.

I was self-consciously seated between Heather and Lorraine, worried that my friends, Lyndon and Billy, might think I liked girls because I had one on each side of me. 

"I hope they noticed that I was the one who sat down first, before the girls surrounded me.” I thought.

Mrs. Lampman’s voice brought me back to class. “Heather, will you please begin reading at the top of the page? Read the first two sentences then Danny will read the next two, and we will go around the circle this way. Make sure you sound out your words.”

Heather was always a very good reader. “Sa-lly and Ji-mmy went to the park. They saw a li-ttle do-ggy.”

I continued, “The li-t-tle do-g-gy barked.” 

Immediately, there were snickers around the circle. I knew that I must have made a mistake, but I didn’t know what. I glanced up to see Mrs. Lampman looking squarely at me. At first, her eyes seemed to be questioning whether I had simply made a mistake or if I was being a smart Alec on purpose. With a tilt of her head, pursed lips, and furling brow, her conclusion became evident.

Mrs. Lampman had reached the wrong conclusion. I wasn’t being a smart Alec. I hadn’t made the mistake on purpose; in fact, I still didn’t know what mistake I had even made.

It seems now that the lesson of the day was all about double consonants: when two of the same consonants are together they only make one sound. Being focused on what my friends might think of me sitting between two girls, I had missed the lesson… hence my double pronunciation of each double consonant: “The li-t-tle do-g-gy barked”.

I don’t remember what happened after that; I just remember the feeling: STUPID. 

Making the mistake in front of the rest of the class was embarrassing enough. What was most embarrassing, though, was the realization that I was so stupid that I still didn’t even know what mistake I had made. It dawned on me that the other kids had probably known that I was stupid for some time, but I was only just cluing in now. How stupid do you have to be not to even notice that you are stupid?

If this had happened when I was more mature, I could have advocated for myself. I could have asked what I had done incorrectly so that I could remedy my reading blunder.  That approach would have clarified Mrs. Lampman’s misinterpretation of my intentions and revealed to the class that I wasn’t stupid but had merely not heard the lesson about the double consonants. 

But this was grade two. The whole circle had snickered. 

"They couldn’t all be wrong! I must be stupid. So stupid that until now I didn't even know that I’m stupid."

I wasn’t stupid, nor was I being a smart Alec; I had merely been distracted during the lesson. 

However, because my blunder got a chuckle from the class, this episode (and dozens just like it) vaulted me onto a path of being the class clown. I began making stupid mistakes on purpose just to get a reaction from the class and to mask how stupid I actually felt. (Hint: If you fake mistakes, when you make a real mistake the others will think you’re just kidding) 

I got so good at it that eventually my teachers even laughed at me; which usually seemed to mitigate the impending punishment for being a smart Alec… usually.

Mistakes like my "li-t-tle do-g-gy” experience are not unique to ADHD kids, or even kids for that matter. Everyone gets distracted sometimes by sideline thoughts in their heads; everyone makes silly mistakes sometimes because they are distracted. With ADHD, the diagnostic criteria requires that ADHD symptoms - which are more numerous than just this example - must occur “often”, and they must be significant enough that they are negatively impacting your ability to succeed in life. 

The deepest impact that ADHD has on we who possess it, is not directly from the “often” occurring symptoms, but from the things we come to believe about ourselves because of the negative reactions we “often” experience from others. Those reactions are “often” spawned from their misinterpretation of our actions. After years of being misunderstood “often”, the mind tends to coalesce to the opinion of the masses; we begin to believe that they must be right, after all, “they couldn’t all be wrong!"

The first line of treatment for ADHD is usually some form of biological intervention; medication being the most prominent and well researched. However, alleviating the symptoms does not address the subconscious adjustments that we have been making our whole lives in order to adapt to a world not built to accommodate our ADHD. Coaching  helps us distinguish the beliefs, habits, and strengths that will lead to future success, from the ones that hinder out ability to live more authentically (coping strategies formed to protect ourselves from the misunderstandings and responses of others).

I’m not stupid; I’m merely distracted “often”. The mind that is easily distracted is also a mind that “often” can easily: 

  • see multiple options to attack problems, 
  • deal directly with an urgent situation and then move on to the next one without staying entangled in what just happened,
  • can shut out the rest of the world when it has found something appealing to be distracted by.

Those can be a great strengths in the right situations. 

To harness the positive attributes, ADHD it must be understood for what it is. Sadly, for those with ADHD, “understood” is not a response that is enjoyed very “often” from the world around us, nor from ourselves.

      © Dan Duncan 2013                                       part of the