The Beacon of Hope Awards Dinner

Allen-diploma-wall-back-resizeFirst and foremost, I want to thank everyone for being here tonight and supporting this worthwhile cause because I feel it is very important to educate our community about learning differences. I also want to congratulate all the recipients of this year's awards. We are very proud of you and you should be very proud of yourselves.

This past October, being true to my ADHD nature, I was several minutes late walking into my first LDA board meeting, I quickly informed Executive Director Tim Woods I would not be able to stay for the entire meeting because I had over committed my Saturday. Tim said that was no problem so long as I would be the keynote speaker at tonight’s dinner and impulsively I said no problem. Then, only several minutes after I had made the commitment I said, "Tim what do you want me to talk about?"

Tim said, "how ‘bout you talk about what it is like to grow up with a learning difference and how you use your experience to help your patient's." And once again impulsively I said, okay. Of course once again being true to my ADHD nature I waited until last minute to put pencil to paper. I quickly realized trying to wrap this up in a 75 minute talk will be almost impossible especially considering what Rachel Platt and channel 11 have done to my practice.

So tonight I will discuss what it is like to live with undiagnosed ADHD and how I use this experience to help my patients.

Let me take you through some of my ADHD highlights (or possibly low lights) depending on how you want to see it. Now keep in mind hindsight is always 20/20 but I suppose one of the first red flags would have been in preschool when I threw a wooden block through the window. Not sure why I did it, don't even know if I did it on purpose but looking back it was certainly impulsive behavior.

Another bigger and brighter red flag would have been in first grade when my parents were out-of-town of which I was completely aware. I decided to play hooky from school. We walked about eighth of a mile to School everyday and I can remember halfway there thinking to myself, school is boring. Emulating Tom Sawyer I took off my shoes despite it being a 50° fall day and walked down to the incinerator behind the old Gateway grocery store to watch the grocery man burn cardboard boxes. We all know not every first grader behaves this way. Is this impulsive risk-taking behavior? Where is the fear of consequences?

As I progressed through grade school I think my teachers began to notice that I was a little different of nothing alarming. Changing schools after the first grade I was almost held back in the second grade which I remember made me feel a little inadequate. Along the way some of my teachers seemed to like me others not so much. Some thought I was a genius while others thought not so much. The report cards would read, he excels if he is interested.

During lectures I was constantly and uncontrollably daydreaming, important symptom of ADHD. In the third grade I was daydreaming when my teacher explained the concept of multiplication. A short time later we would have a multiplication B which is like a spelling B but you answer multiplication problems. The whole class stood up in a large circle and I was one of the first students called upon to answer the simple 2x3? Horrified at my predicament I answered five and the class erupted with laughter. As I sat and watched my friends answer more difficult multiplication problems with ease I began to understand at that moment I was different from the other students. Was I stupid?

In the fourth grade in our school administration brilliantly decided to divide our class into two separate classes. I suppose they didn't think fourth-graders would be able to recognize the criteria used to divide us. Within the first week the academic achievers (which were not in my class) quickly labeled our newly divided fourth grade class as the dumb group and the smart group. Furthermore the school administration gave the smart group, the more reputable teacher.

In the fifth grade we were all required to take a course in the humanities which had the reputation of being the most difficult and dreaded activity of the fifth grade. I was petrified of what was coming. This was a course where we studied art and architecture. Ironically, I found it to be fascinating and I won the humanities award that year one of the most prestigious academic awards of the year. This came as a surprise especially to some of those peers who coined the term dumb group. This award only further reinforced the perception that when I applied myself I was fully capable. So paradoxically the humanities award made me feel good but it also made me feel lazy.

Throughout school my report card commentary sections would read:
capable but does not work to his potential
does not follow directions
distracts others in the classroom
forgets to turn in his homework
does not pay attention to details
messy and sloppy work
can't seem to sit still
class clown
does well when he wants to or if he is interested

So we jumped forward to high school at Trinity. I found if I studied really hard for a test I could get somewhere around a low B or a high C. I found if I didn't study at all I could make all Cs. So I focused on being a football player and my social life. Thank God for my parents, family and Trinity football. In countless ways they saved my life and taught me what it takes to be successful.

I failed algebra II my junior year and spent that summer in algebra class which cost me my starting position my senior year on the football team. I had spent three years dreaming about starting on the football team. What a disappointment. Even with tutoring I barely passed summer school. I was feeling angry, helpless, hopeless and worthless. I did not know how to communicate my emotions to anyone. I was afraid I would be told it was my own fault, I should work harder, and I should have more self discipline, and be more organized. The summer school teacher would later call my mother and offer his helpful advice, "I wouldn't bother sending Allen to college because he will never make it." My mother being wise did not reveal this to me until later in life.

By this point in my life my academic self-esteem was rock-bottom and I was beginning to act like the proverbial dumb football player. I was beginning to experiment with alcohol and cigarettes to escape the pain of my emotions. I was getting into fights every other weekend I suppose as a means of releasing my anger. I was becoming hypersensitive to criticism, oppositional and defiant and I would dissociate when any authority figure provoked the perception of criticism. Trinity has a fantastic art program and there I had some talent which also helped to keep my self-esteem above water.

So long story short, I went on to attend art school at Murray State and then transferred and graduated from the University of Illinois Chicago. While attending art school I worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska during the summers of 86, 87 and 88. If that is not a risk taker's job… the most dangerous occupation in the world. After graduation I worked for several years as a graphic designer in Lexington until I was laid off/fired because of my inability to pay attention to details another symptom of ADHD. I found myself standing in the unemployment line collecting in biweekly checks which was quite humbling to say the least. After several months of collecting unemployment checks I decided to go back to school to be a doctor. As always my parents offered their full support albeit I'm sure they had doubts in their minds as did most of the people I shared my new goal with. About that same time my younger brother was diagnosed with ADHD. My mother immediately called and insisted that I get tested. I was tested, diagnosed and started medication. I spent three years at the University of Kentucky taking premed courses and went on to medical school to become psychiatrist. If
Who knows what ADHD is? Can anyone tell me what some of the symptoms are?

There are many myths surrounding this diagnosis and for good reason because sometimes it can be quite complicated. Here are just a few of the signs and symptoms which can be associated with ADHD: Anger, fears, phobias, obsessive thinking, anxiety, flashbacks, procrastination, aggressive behavior, headache, perfectionism, attention problems, impulsive behavior, panic, compulsive behavior, irritability, stress, depression, learning problems, mood changes, disorganization, forgets appointments and obligations, worry, eating problems, negativity, drug or alcohol problems, addicted to cigarettes, talks excessively, multiple failed relationships, multiple failed jobs, frequent trips to the emergency room, frequent speeding tickets always on the go, avoids tasks which require sustained mental focus, history of poor academic performance, easily distracted by extraneous stimuli etc. so forth and so on… fortunately for you it is my job to make sense of all this.

Lately I have made an analogy in my mind that growing up with undiagnosed ADHD is in many ways similar to being an undiagnosed alcoholic. That may sound funny but let me explain. We all know that ADHD and alcoholism are well documented and treatable medical diagnoses. On the surface they are no different from any other treatable medical diagnoses such as diabetes or poor eyesight.

However, under the surface many of us pass judgment on medical conditions we can't understand or fix. More often than not if the people suffering from ADHD or alcoholism are close to us we may catch ourselves, usually frustrated, perpetuating the belief that someone who can't control their drinking is a loser, they should have more self discipline, self-respect, they lack character and integrity. We may also believe someone who is forgetful, disorganized, impulsive, easily distracted, a poor manager of time is a loser, and they should have more self discipline, self-respect, and they lack character and integrity. For most of us this is a basic ego defense mechanism resulting from the fear of inadequacy, of not understanding and or being able to fix the person or situation.

Given this information doesn't it reason to believe it is likely both the undiagnosed alcoholic and the person with undiagnosed ADHD will also perceive themselves as is a loser, and they should have more self discipline, self-respect, and they lack character and integrity? I suppose if we look more closely in the field of psychiatry and addiction we would discover many of these same myths and judgments simply because we don't currently have full comprehension.

The other night I’m on the phone with the mother of an eight year-old potential new patient. In short his mother is describing her son to me as any normal mother would, "he's smart, wonderful, funny, spontaneous and talkative. But I think some of his enthusiasm may be a distraction in the classroom." The mother gets a little quiet, hesitates and says… “Today the teacher put him in a corner in the back of the classroom by himself because she could no longer tolerate his disruptions; I have never been so upset and angry in my life.”

For me this situation is frustrating on many different levels. On one level this is frustrating because this is the absolute worst possible choice that the teacher could make to address the situation. On another level it is frustrating because no one has recognized this child's struggle and properly addressed it. It is immensely frustrating because this smart, wonderful, funny, spontaneous, talkative child will, with the help of his uninformed teacher and parents will eventually think of himself has a loser, who should have more self discipline, self-respect, and he lacks character and integrity. In other words given enough time and no treatment these negative life experiences will most likely destroy this child's self esteem.

What happens next is sort of like a double edged sword? Let's pretend and jump ahead 10 years he is 18 years old and away at college.

On one side of the sword let’s assume this young man does not impulsively commit suicide to escape his anger, frustration, depression and anxiety. However we can assume he still wants to escape his reality because sometimes his life feels like a living hell. It is not difficult to imagine how someone with low self-esteem chooses to escape reality at 18 years old.

On the other side of the sword individuals diagnosed with ADHD theoretically have low levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in their brains. With this being said there are many behaviors which can produce dopamine. Examples of dopamine producing behaviors would include street drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, driving fast, gambling, fighting, eating… need I go on?

Now we have an 18 year-old young man with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD away at college on his own for the first time in his life with poor time management skills, impulsive behavior, low self-esteem, high sensation seeking behavior etc. so forth and so on.

Given this information what is the likelihood that this young man or women for that matter will be successful? What is the likelihood that he will end up in prison? What is the likelihood that he will have academic difficulties? What is the likelihood his marriage will end in divorce? What is the likelihood he will become involved with drugs and alcohol?

What is the likelihood that if we do not properly recognize and treat his ADHD he will become a burden to our community?

This is why tonight is so important. This is why we are celebrating the recipients of tonight's awards, because of what they have overcome or what they bring to our community. We all need to become more aware, educated and less judgmental as parents, grandparents, teachers, educators, and friends and as a community so we are able to recognize these situations as early as possible. We all benefit in this endeavor because we all suffer when learning differences are ignored or unrecognized.