[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]
They say that an earlier diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder would have spared them disappointment, frustration and one of life’s most precious commodities: time.
Greg Seward, 25, a student teacher at a high school in Jefferson City, might already be teaching full time if he had been diagnosed sooner. Jeff Rioux, 44, a massage therapist, might have had an easier time finding his ideal career if he had recognized the symptoms earlier in life.
But now that the two men know the reason for their previous lack of focus, failed classes and job indecision, they have a much more positive outlook on where they are going in life. Both say that being diagnosed during adulthood with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder was a moment of clarity for them and the biggest step in their struggle to gain control over their lives.
“It was like walking out of a fog,” Seward said. “Everything became clearer, more concise. Things began to be the way I thought they should be.”
AD/HD is commonly thought of as a disorder that affects only children. However, doctors have recently discovered that half of all children with AD/HD retain at least some of the symptoms when they enter adolescence or adulthood.
Michael Scott, a Columbia psychologist who sees adult patients with AD/HD, explains that there are three major symptom types associated with the disorder: inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Of these three, the symptoms related to hyperactivity tend to wane during adolescence, but the inattentiveness and impulsivity usually remain throughout the patient’s life.
“For both children and adults with AD/HD, the challenges are the same,” Scott said. “They tend to be forgetful, late and display impulsive behaviors like verbalizing and acting without thinking.”
However, he goes on to explain how these challenges translate into greater consequences for adults.
“Adults who experience the symptoms of AD/HD have a more difficult time planning ahead,” Scott said. “They are more likely to move from job to job, have problems in relationships and poorly manage their money. For children, these kinds of things don’t play a big factor, but for adults, the consequences of these actions are much more severe.”
Scott recognizes the importance of the combination of medication, organizational skills and coaching that is required to effectively treat AD/HD.
“It is very important to point out that it is not only about medication when we talk about treatment,” he said. “It is helpful if the patient has someone to help them plan ahead, such as a spouse or a roommate. It is also important that the patient develop organizational skills and get in the habit of making lists and keeping calendars.”
Before being diagnosed, Seward recalls being absent-minded and forgetful.
“I was constantly late,” he said. “I would walk into a room and forget why I had come there in the first place. In school, I would put off signing up for classes until they were already full.”
He explains that incidents such as these became so commonplace that they began to interfere with his daily life, pushing back his graduation and causing problems at work.
“I always joked about having ADD,” Seward said. “But I never thought I actually had it. In a way, I was too embarrassed to get looked at, because I thought it was something only kids have.”
However, after some prompting from his wife, a psychology major at Columbia College, Seward saw a doctor and was soon diagnosed and taking the medication Adderall to control his condition.
Now Seward says he is more organized. He can now easily balance his schedule of school, student teaching and working full time at HyVee without getting behind.
However, these improvements didn’t come about only from taking medication.
For Seward, keeping a large calendar on his wall has helped significantly, along with the support he gets daily from his wife, helping him with things from grading tests to sometimes laying out his clothes in the morning.
Now, with a baby on the way, Seward feels better able to face even the large challenge of parenting.
“Before I would have been very worried about becoming a father,” he said. “How could I take care of another person if I couldn’t even take care of myself? But now I don’t have as many worries about that.”
Jeff Rioux’s long road to diagnosis is the experience of becoming a parent four times, and he has done so successfully, even if his AD/HD sparked some initial fears when the news of baby number four came along.
“I was starting to go out of my comfort level at that point,” he says. “Although I was ecstatic about the prospect of another baby and knew that all my fears would go away as soon as he was born, I still couldn’t help but be a little freaked out.”
Today, Rioux describes the chaos of his family as the same normal and healthy home life that could be experienced by any family of six. However, he does admit that all the commotion is a bit of a challenge for him sometimes, more so than for his wife.
Despite these challenges, Rioux limits himself to taking the same minimal dosage of Ritalin he has been taking since he was diagnosed 10 years ago. He does not want to become dependent on the medication.
Rioux, who earns his living as a massage therapist, said much of the control he has over his disorder can be attributed to career choice and not medication.
“In massage therapy, the important thing is that the patient is relaxed,” Rioux said. “You can’t have cell phones ringing or other distractions, and for me, that type of environment is perfect. While the patient is receiving therapy, I am too, in a sense.”
But it took Rioux many years to learn what was the best job for him. After struggling for more than seven years on a four-year degree, Rioux left the University of Wisconsin just four credits shy of graduation and got a job in social work helping children with developmental disorders. He loved the job and thought that with school behind him, life was finally going his way. Yet marriage and the adoption of two children called for a higher salary, and in social work, that required doing the things Rioux hated the most.
“As the paperwork load increased, I finally realized I was never going to be able to run away from whatever it was that was challenging me academically and causing me all this stress and anxiety,” he says. Finally Rioux found the answer to his problems. While attending a social work conference on AD/HD, Rioux experienced a revelation.
“All of a sudden I realized that, ‘hey, the guy up at the podium is talking about me, and not just some client that I may have.’”
Rioux immediately began reading about the disorder and collecting things such as childhood report cards, teacher comments, college transcripts and anecdotal information from his family and past relationships. He got a referral to a psychiatrist, and after presenting the evidence and going through some testing, he was diagnosed with AD/HD. He finished his degree in sociology at MU, with the help of medication and improved organizational skills.
“The negative self-talk just fell by the wayside and I became a good student,” he said.
Later, Rioux realized that continuing in social work would mean taking on the kind of paperwork and management responsibilities that he knew didn’t suit him. He began studying in a massage therapy school and has been working in the field for the past seven years.
The advice he gives to people who have recently been diagnosed with AD/HD or think they may have it is to realize that everyone with the disorder is different.
“I have read about people with ADD who have very high-powered jobs and thrive off of the adrenaline rush,” he tells. “That is not the case with me. I prefer quieter, one-on-one situations. There can be any range of difference.”
Rioux also strongly advises reading up on AD/HD if you suspect you may have it.
Scott recommends two books by Edward Hallowell and John Ratey called “Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood” and “Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder.”
Seward’s personal advice to anyone suspecting they have AD/HD is to check it out either way.
“If you go and find out you have it, you will find that you can regulate your life to be much better and much easier to live,” he said.
“If you go and find out you don’t have it, at least you know that you have to work on things like being more responsible in your life. Either way, you get something good out of it.”
[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]