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Academic Distractions, Demolished!

, , , , , , | Learning | November 17, 2021

I have ADD and am relatively smart. This combination can be difficult, because the symptoms for ADD and the symptoms for a smart child who finds school boring and not challenging enough are very similar, and they exacerbate each other.

As a young child in elementary school, I particularly hated tests because they never challenged me, but they did require me to sit still working on them for an entire class. With other assignments, I usually finished them early and got to read a book, and with lectures, if I was bored, I could disengage and start daydreaming; I was very good at living inside my own head. But tests needed just enough attention that I couldn’t start daydreaming, but they were not interesting enough to hyperfocus on, resulting in being the most boring task in school to me. 

To make tests a bit more tolerable, I tried turning them into a game. I had all kinds of rules as to how questions should be answered and the order I did them in, and I even kept “score” of how well I was sticking to the rules. It’s been too long for me to remember all the rules, but the result was that I skipped around the test answering questions in seemingly random order while tracking points on the side of the paper in a way that I’m sure looked a little crazy to an outside observer, but it made things at least a little more interesting to me.

We ended up having a substitute teacher one day when we had a test. A little after the test, she came up to me while I was reading a book; I’d finished the assignment ahead of time and had free time. She originally started talking about my book and the fact that it was a few reading levels above my grade before transitioning to talking about the test.

Substitute: “I noticed you were moving around a lot during the tests.”

I felt a little embarrassed at being “caught” at what I realized was a pretty silly game, but I tried to act as if it was normal.

Me: “Yeah, I do that sometimes.”

Substitute: “Why did you do it?”

Me: “It’s kind of like a game to make the test more interesting. I know it’s silly—”

Substitute: “Oh, no, there is nothing wrong about it. I was just curious. You reminded me a bit of my daughter.”

Me: “Oh?”

Substitute: “She’s smart and likes reading like you, too. But she used to drive us crazy; whenever she had a test, she would sit and try to read her book without even looking at the test for the first half of class before she would start it, and she wouldn’t tell us why she did it!”

Me: “Oh, yeah, I could see doing that.”

Now the substitute sounded surprised that I didn’t think that was odd.

Substitute: “What? That makes sense to you?”

Me: “I assume the test was too easy, so she wanted to make it more challenging by needing to rush to complete it in time. It would be kind of fun, but my dad would be mad at me if I tried it.”

Substitute: “Wow. I wish I had you around a few years ago to explain that to us! We had to take her to a fancy psychiatrist just to figure out what she was doing.”

It was a random little conversation, but it’s stuck in my head for decades because it was the first time that it really occurred to me that my brain and my ways of doing things were just a bit different from how “normal” folks did it. The fact that something as “obvious” as the substitute’s daughter’s motivations wouldn’t make sense to a “normal” person made me realize that I, and presumably the substitute’s daughter, might just see the world a bit differently than most did.

Luckily for me, I didn’t necessarily mind being different, so it wasn’t a bad memory. Over the years, I’ve actually grown increasingly happy that I’m a bit odd. I see so many people doing downright foolish things in the effort to seem normal that I’m kind of glad I’m not normal and peer pressure doesn’t tempt me to join in with the foolishness just to fit in. Still, this was the first time it really clicked in my head that my mind really doesn’t work quite the way others’ do.