Throughout the United States and around the world I have spoken with many individuals who have ADD syndrome and with their family members. Repeatedly they have shown me compelling evidence that ADD syndrome can seriously impair daily functioning, disrupt ongoing development, and, in some severe cases, threaten life itself.
One especially poignant example involves Joel, a bright, lively boy whom I met a few years ago in Scotland. Joel's mother had told me about how her son had struggled from his earliest years. He was unable to control his chronic restlessness and hyperactivity, and despite his mother's persistent efforts, there was no treatment available for him. Though very bright, he had great difficulty learning and was often seriously disruptive in class. He had been repeatedly suspended from school and was finally expelled.
When I met Joel at age fifteen, he was a handsome, well-developed, appealing boy in a wheelchair. He was unable to walk and could move his arms and fingers only in contorted ways. He was unable to speak, but he could smile and was able to understand much of what was said to him. His ADHD had not been diagnosed or treated until he was twelve years old, and even then the treatment had been insufficient. Joel had continued to struggle with severe ADHD impairments that were extremely disruptive at school and at home.
At age fourteen, Joel had attempted to hang himself at home. According to a local newspaper:
His mother said, "Since [his] earliest years he went haywire in class. He couldn't even sit down for five minutes. At the age of nine he had been suspended from school 11 times . . . Joel was an intelligent boy with an IQ of 126 (superior range) ... he could be really affectionate and he had a wonderful sense of humor. . . . He was eventually excluded from school and it hit him hard. ... He felt very low, very lousy and isolated. . . . On the evening of November 14, 1999 I found Joel lying on the floor where he fell after he hanged himself. He was blue and not breathing. I thought he was dead."
Joel was eventually resuscitated, but only after parts of his brain had been permanently damaged by lack of sufficient oxygen. Since that time he has remained bound to a wheelchair, completely dependent on assistance for even the most basic tasks of eating and self-care. His mother commented to the newspaper reporter, "I think that there are a lot of children and adults out there who have taken their own lives because of this disorder [ADHD] . . . but so many times another explanation is found for a suicide and the truth stays hidden."
Another mother wrote a letter that was passed to me one morning shortly before the start of a workshop I was teaching in the Midwest. It read:
Last year my son, Jason, attended your talks on ADHD. He was very interested in what you had to say, especially about persons with ADHD who have high IQ. ... I planned to attend your talk today, but instead we are planning Jason's memorial service for tomorrow. He committed suicide on January 28th. . . . He was 23.
Suffice it to say, Jason has had a long history of academic problems, anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, and social isolation going all the way back to elementary school, maybe even nursery school. But because he was so bright, so likeable by adults, good-looking, and never outwardly complained . . . his conglomerate of characteristics was not labeled until last year.
Jason was attempting college for the third time. . .. I'm sure he became anxious and convinced of failure again. .. . He shot himself with a high-gauge shotgun. .. . He left a beautiful, kind and gentle letter. ... I think he died of a broken heart, feeling he could never garner what it would take to conquer his "fatal flaws." I feel Jason's story is important for others to know. This disability, ADHD, killed him! We are devastated by his loss.
For some like Joel and Jason, the consequences of living for years with untreated or inadequately treated ADD syndrome and related problems can be devastating. In many other cases, the consequences are less dramatic, but nevertheless costly in a variety of ways.
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