"ADHD & Me": An Account of Childhood Diagnosis

 

Blake Taylor
Photo: Courtesy of Blake Taylor

By Gabrielle Linzer

Igniting a cup of yogurt in flames and breaking past a rope barrier to touch 65-million-year-old T. rex bones in a museum would seem to be once-in-a-lifetime acts of rebellion for a child. But for Blake Taylor, this kind of extreme behavior was average, ordinary. Growing up with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) -- a condition that causes people to experience difficulty with paying attention, thinking before acting and sitting still -- Taylor's impulsiveness often trumped his ability to resist his curiosity.

Once isolated because of his condition, Taylor, now a 20-year-old pre-med student at the University of California, Berkeley, decided to speak out about growing up with ADHD in a society that is not always understanding of those with differences. In "ADHD and Me: What I Learned from Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table" Taylor describes bullies who made fun of him and the brash choices he made that sent security guards chasing after him. Plus, he reveals how he learned to harness the positives of ADHD, paired with treatment, to take control of his life and how others can too.

AOL Health had the opportunity to speak to Taylor about how he has come to view his condition as an advantage rather than a disability.

AOL Health: When was the first time you noticed that you were different from other children your age?

Blake Taylor: At six, I wasn't thinking, "What psychological condition do I have?" My mom discovered it. When I started medication, I noticed that I felt different and was [better] able to focus. Then I knew I was different.

AOL Health: What clued her in?

Taylor: I think every parent wants to doubt that their child has a difference, but I'm sure, that in the back of her mind she knew something about me was different. The woman who told her to take me to the doctor to be tested for ADHD was a trusted friend and had done research on ADHD … After the first doctor's appointment, I was diagnosed.

AOL Health: How did your parents discipline you, since you had a medical reason for your behavior?

Taylor: My parents were more understanding with me than parents are with children who don't have ADHD. If I did something wrong, they wouldn't just punish me blindly. If I threw a fork, they knew I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I was just curious to see how forks fly. It was punishment with understanding. Most of my teachers understood my condition too. They gave me positive encouragement whenever I used my talents. If I used the energy of ADHD to channel into school, I was rewarded. My mom would buy me LEGOs or something. My parents gave positive and negative feedback, like with a typical child, but with the included idea that, "He's doing it because of his condition, and his condition is driving him to do this."

AOL Health: In your book, you mention that your first-grade teacher didn't believe in ADHD and thought she could "cure" you through punishment.

Taylor: She made me feel isolated. She made me feel like I was a bad person. At six years old, I knew that it had something to do with the way I acted, which was because of my condition. I felt left out; I felt like a scapegoat. She made me feel excluded from my peers by pointing at me whenever something went wrong. [One time], I was wrongfully blamed for basically urinating all over the bathroom, and the teacher made me clean it up. Even if it were me [who made the mess], it would have been illegal to make me [clean the bathroom].

AOL Health: How did kids react to your behavior?

Taylor: Initially, people didn't like me that much. I was thought of as weird, eccentric. In third grade, I took over other people's desks because I couldn't organize, and I didn't have room on my desk for all my stuff. Once I gained control over my antics, people's opinions of me started improving. I eventually learned that I could channel my excess energy into trying to be a friendly person instead of thinking of ways to mark up the wall.

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Click through the photo gallery below to read more about Taylor's experiences with ADHD.

 
 
 
Courtesy of Nadine Taylor-Barnes
Mistaken Diagnosis


In preschool, Blake was wrongfully pegged as autistic

 because he was overwhelmed by loud noises and the

 intense stimulation of his classroom. He describes his

 time in a special needs preschool class in his memoir.

Pictured: Blake Taylor, five years old

 

Blake Taylor

    Blake reveals in his memoir that he was rejected from a private high school because he experienced a nervous tic during his interview with the admissions director.

    In preschool, Blake was wrongfully pegged as autistic because he was overwhelmed by loud noises and the intense stimulation of his classroom. He describes his time in a special needs preschool class in his memoir.

    Though growing up with ADHD was initially isolating for Taylor, by the end of high school he felt comfortable with his social and romantic lives.
     

    Blake got the idea to write "ADHD & Me" after writing an admissions essay for private high school about his struggle with the condition. His book was published when he was only 18 years old. He told UC Berkeley News , "I want the book to help other people my age recognize their ADHD and view it as a gift," he says.

     Today, Blake is a pre-med student at UC Berkeley. "I want to join a frat, do some research before I go to medical school, take the MCAT, get good grades and make long-term friends," he told UC Berkeley News.

     

     

Living With ADHD as a Young Adult

AOL Health: The activities you describe doing as a child, like building rockets and creating elaborate art projects, require a great deal of concentration. How did you focus on these things?

Taylor: When I feel distraction, I feel as though I'm watching a TV whose channels are constantly changing without my control. Hyper-focus is when the TV stays on one channel. Not only does the TV stay on one channel, I am able to completely involve myself. My mind goes to a different world. I'm on autopilot, and I can concentrate for hours at a time. I can think deeply, critically. For example, I'll be at a café with friends and thinking, "I really don't want to write this essay on poetry." But once I read the poem a few times, I tune out everything and I hyper-focus. In that way, I think ADHD is a good thing because you can channel excess energy into your work.

AOL Health: What are the "tics" you get, and how do you control them?

Taylor: I used to have big tics in fourth and fifth grade. I'd flail in circles and do all sorts of weird stuff. I think my tics become less prevalent as I get older. Now I might have a small tic, like eye blinking. Maybe the Strattera [an ADHD medication ] helps, or maybe it's a placebo effect. I really don't know, but I'm happy with Strattera, [which] I have been taking since 2003. It does help me out. I'd say it gives me the opportunity to dive deep into my work. If I didn't have medication, I wouldn't have that opportunity. My medicine doesn't create hyper-focus; it creates a pathway for me to get to hyper-focus.

AOL Health: Aside from medication, what treatments have you used?

Taylor: I took resource classes that helped me organize. I was in social skills classes to learn how to behave socially. My mom put me in the social skills class in sixth and seventh grade. I learned how to eat dinner at a table, how to dance, how to shake hands. Going to the gym and exercising help me focus a lot. I think eating a high protein diet is good for people with ADHD. Sleep is very important too. I need eight or nine hours a night. I'm pre-med, but despite what people say, it's possible to get eight or nine hours. Just manage your time. In general, I've learned a bunch of different ways to harness my condition.

AOL Health: Has it been any easier in college?

Taylor: By the end of high school, I had people who liked me, but they still remembered the past. I wanted to use college as clean slate, start myself new, and I did. There are around 5,000 new Berkeley freshmen each year, which [meant there were] 5,000 new people to meet and befriend.

AOL Health: What about the stresses of college life -- are you able to cope?

Taylor: Because I had so much self discipline in high school, I'm able to study at college. I don't procrastinate at all. I've studied on a Saturday night, and when my frat is having a party, I go somewhere else to study. I plan out a schedule and estimate how long it will take. Constructing a time table each day helps. When I'm bored, I can't focus, so I switch [study] venues because a place gets boring after two or three hours.

AOL Health: Are there any advantages to living with ADHD?

Taylor: I would say the number one advantage is hyper-focus, because you can put more energy into work than other people can. Unfortunately, you can also get distracted if you don't know how to manage it. I know for a fact that there are lots of famous people with ADHD. Historians believe that people like Mozart, General Patton and Walt Disney had ADHD. I think it sort of gives you an extra jolt of energy to do things in your career. Another advantage is thinking outside of the box. I think that results from distraction. When people with ADHD are distracted, their minds are flitting from object to object. When they're able to harness that, they have a bunch of ideas. It's impulsive to think outside of the box.

AOL Health: Why did you decide to write this book?

Taylor: When I was in eighth grade, I applied to private high schools, and one of the questions asked you to talk about something you've dealt with, and I decided to talk about ADHD. I wrote a 1,500-word paper, and afterward I thought, "Maybe I can grow this story." I expanded it after I handed in the essay and showed it to my family and friends. I wrote another chapter, and then decided I would write a book. When I was 14 or 15, I didn't know anything about publishing, so my mom handled the business aspect.