Sunday, May 9, 2010

I ADDdid it! ( The ADD is silent) Part 1

Silencing my ADD has been an unexpected byproduct of my martial arts training. I was thirty when I first heard of Attention Deficit Disorder. I heard about it on a morning news show when a group of adults were interviewed about their ADD. One woman's testimony could have been word for word a description of my school days. It was such a relief to hear.

My ADD is not the hyperactive kind. Mine is the kind often found in little girls so it wasn't easy to detect. There are actually a lot of good things to say about people with ADD. We are usually a very creative bunch, intelligent, able to hyper focus if something peaks our interest. The flip side is we can be rather impulsive unable to focus on things like required homework that doesn't peak our interest. My mind would wander which was a good thing if I was inspired to make art but a bad thing if I needed to be listening to a History class in school.

I did not know how to study. I had trouble first getting the info into my head and once it was there I had trouble retrieving it when needed for a test. When I was in high school my mother was worried that I didn't know how to read. She didn't know it was because I would get stuck on a sentence reading it over and over again unable to pay attention long enough to get to the end of the paragraph.

If I had a teacher who was dynamic my grades would soar. But if I had a teacher who tended to talk way to much, who wouldn't deliver concise easy to follow directions I would be lost. My grades were inconsistent. My first brush with failure happened in seventh grade world history class. It came down to the very last test that I had to ace in order to pass the semester. This was my first experience with the fear factor. Who knew that adrenaline
would calm my mind enough to focus and learn and remember a year's worth of world history facts. Much to every one's surprise I aced the test. My grades were so bad that sometimes if I did happen to get a good grade, my teachers would think that I cheated. My teacher didn't accuse me of cheating but I know he was disappointed in me for waiting so long to show him what I was capable of doing.

On paper I may have looked like a failure but I had some redeeming qualities and a few skills that got me into a good college in spite of my SAT scores and GPA. I was an art major and I went to a school that
had extremely creative people on one side of campus and extremely analytical left brainers on the other side. My required freshman writing class was full of artists. Why? "Because at Carnegie Mellon we know that artists and engineers think differently" is what my writing professor told us on the first day of class. Phew! Clearly I was in the right place. Most of my classes were studio classes requiring some sort of major project to get our final grade. My first semester I made honor roll only because my studio classes made up about 85% of my overall GPA. I only had to worry about one elective a semester that would require reading and quizzes and tests. I just had to pull A's in my studio classes to balance the one bad grade I would inevitably get in my chosen elective. There were also a few ways around the system. I got my highest GPA my junior year when, for one semester, I was allowed take a gym class as my academic elective. I took poetry classes because I knew poems were shorter than papers. My sophomore year I had an experience that was much like my seventh grade history class. It was a Humanities class called Art and Culture that was counted as one of my art history requirements. I signed up for the class on my roommates recommendation because the professor was really interesting. It was an excellent class drawing on the local exhibits that were showing that particular semester at the Carnegie Institute and Sarah Scaife art gallery. I muddled my way through most of the papers getting every possible grade and it came down to acing the final paper to get a passing grade in the class. And again I learned that fear and adrenaline is as good as a shot of Ritilin. I speed read the required book and retained the information. Many years later I learned that children with ADD have better reading comprehension when taught to read faster not slower which would have been the prescribed treatment when I was having trouble reading in elementary school. I also went to exhibit and walked around the exhibit many times. My paper was hand written, not typed. folded together not stapled. I pulled an all nighter to finish it up. Stayed up long enough to turn it in and then went to bed, but I got an A-. That was the single most satisfying grade I have ever gotten in my life. I also believe I earned the respect of my professor because I know he knew it wasn't and easy A.

Grad school was much the same. All art and art history classes. I didn't take a single test the whole two years and as an added bonus grad school grades were pass/fail. I was all the way through grad school before I found out what had made me so academically flawed. And flawed is exactly how it feels to have unmediated, undiagnosed ADD. The sense of failure I carried with me was a big suitcase full of baggage that was hard to abandon. Because even when I did excel it always felt like a fluke because there was no rhyme or reason to when it would happen.

My black belt test was the first test I went into with the knowledge that I have ADD. I remember crying in my instructors office. Telling him you don't understand I have never passed a test in my life. I worked too hard to let it all come down to a stupid test. It was the first time I had ever gone to an instructor and confessed my flaw. As I told him my secret truth I knew he wouldn't be able to help me with it. I knew I had to figure it out for myself. I knew that II was on the right track because that single act changed the ending to my recurring ADD nightmare. The recurring dream was always about me at the end of the semester with failing grades with the impending test that would save my grade. The impending test that I had no way in hell of passing. I would always wake up in a sweat. But after that talk with my instructor there would be a new ending to the dream. In the new dream I would go to the teacher and say, "This is unacceptable. You need to come up with a better way."

I was thirty when I first heard about ADD. I was 42 when it was time for me to test for black belt. I had read and learned about ADD. I knew myself better and understood my learning process. Luckily people with ADD have a stronger sense of intuition and I followed my gut and stumbled upon a way to study that actually worked. I had to go to a different school to take my test and there was no guarantee that my instructor would be testing me. My fear was that I would get some big fat "old school" instructor belting out the names of techniques that I would have to perform. If I felt too much pressure or felt put on the spot I knew I would just freeze.

The techniques for that particular school were printed on sheets of paper. Each technique had a one and a half inch square with the name and description of the technique. There were three sheets printed on the front and back. A sheet for three different levels. White, Yellow, Orange techniques on one. Purple, Blue, Green on the second and Brown and above on the third. Step one was to get the info into my head. I gathered several copies of each sheet. I cut out each individual technique and color coded them with Yellow for beginner techniques. Green for
intermediate techniques and Brown for advanced techniques. I arranged them by attack and began to see how the techniques related to one another and further organized them by what they had in common. Then I glued them to sheets of paper. So at a glance without thinking at all I could read visually what the techniques were all about. Because many people with ADD are visual learners, color coding has become a mainstay for anything I need to organize. Because I could picture the techniques on the page and remember how they looked it made it much easier for me to remember them and study them. Phase two was kinesthetic. I needed to practice the techniques so that my body could feel the motion of the techniques. Repetition helped my body remember the movements. I now know there is a neurological connection to "muscle memory".
Once my body remembered the movements I basically didn't have to think while doing the techniques. So lets say in the test something happened to make me nervous or scared, if I could shut my brain off, my body would remember the technique. I missed one technique on my test and it wasn't because I didn't remember it. It was because it was taught to me incorrectly so when I practiced it, I practiced it incorrectly. As I sat on the porch waiting for my ride to my test, no last minute cramming was necessary. I was confident I knew my material. The drive to the school for my black belt test was relaxing and calm.

To be continued...

This is what Wikipedia says about kinesthetic learners:

The kinesthetic learner usually does well in things such as chemistry experiments, sporting activities, art and acting. They also may listen to music while learning or studying. It is common for kinesthetic learners to focus on two different things at the same time. They will remember things by going back in their minds to what their body was doing. They also have very high hand-eye coordination and very quick receptors. They use phrases such as "I can see myself doing that" and "It's starting to come alive".

1 comment:

  1. I feel sad for all those "children" who have walked around feeling stupid and/or failures because they didn't perform the way they were expected to. Good for you for succeeding and discovering ways to cope.