ESSENTIALS: How It Really Feels To Have ADHD (With John Booth)

ESSENTIALS: How It Really Feels To Have ADHD (With John Booth)

Listen now:


In this essentials episode, we explore what it feels like to be a student with undiagnosed ADHD in the classroom - their challenges, their frustrations, and the emotional impact school life can bring.

In this very candid interview, John Booth reveals the truth about what it is like to be both the parent of a child with ADHD - and what how being diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in his forties changed the way he viewed his school years.

Important links:

Get our FREE SEND Behaviour Handbook:

Download other FREE behaviour resources for use in school:

Share this podcast with your friends:

Show notes / transcription

John Booth  0:00  

I think this is the area that we most want to get right for our son who has ADHD, because I don't want him to have the monkeys on his back that I have. I don't want him to have to, like not know or struggle with why he's thinking isn't what he wants it to be. I don't wanting to have to struggle and form quite frankly damaging rituals or behaviours or self administration, like the blame that I applied to myself and push myself. It was punitive.

Simon Currigan  0:30  

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton. And we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course, students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success, we're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs power school strategy, and more. All with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. 

Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to this essentials episode of school behaviour secrets. In these mini essentials episodes, I'm going to share one important bite sized piece of information or a helpful strategy with you from a previous interview episode that you can start using immediately in your school or your classroom. It just helps keeps these important concepts top of mind when we're being constantly bombarded with new information. In this essential episode, I'm going to share an insight into what it's like to both have ADHD, and be the parent of a child with ADHD. From my interview with John Booth in Episode 60. Now, John's a good friend of mine, who didn't actually receive his ADHD diagnosis until much later in life in his 40s. And it was this event that finally helped him make sense of his time in school as someone who was bright and academically able and intelligent, but whose needs around ADHD weren't recognised, which brought a whole set of potentially avoidable frustrations and challenges. This was at times quite a powerful and moving discussion. I started by asking John, if he could go back in time, what would he have wanted his teachers to know about the kind of challenges he was facing,

John Booth  2:33  

I would have wanted to know that, you know, whatever they were saying to me about concentrate, or pay attention is that however tough you are being on there being on me is nothing compared to how tough I was being on myself. It's weird, being bright, and being told you're bright and doing my exams, and then finding the entire course of your time at school a struggle. If you're bright and you're doing well. It shouldn't be at the cost of perpetual struggle. So whatever you're saying to kids in terms of observing if they're not paying attention, or struggling with small things, if they have ADHD, it's because they are struggling with so much more in the background. Your brain is constantly processing a myriad of information that's just not useful for you at that time without a diagnosis and that techniques. And without medication, you've got nowhere to kind of filter that out. It sounds draining is constantly draining. When I first actually had my medication as an adult, I remember sitting down at work, and then looking up and looking at the time. And the picture that immediately jumped into my head is I felt like a cheat. The picture I had in my head was athlete's toe a big tractor tie around their waist and they they're running down the track for resistance training, I genuinely felt that tire been taken off me and that the medication I had had a lot a part of me that I didn't deserve to have access to line raises in my psychologist. That's what normal people think. Like they don't have to fight themselves to sit down to do work.

Simon Currigan  4:02  

Did it change the way you looked at other people? Yes,

John Booth  4:04  

I hope it's made me more empathetic generally. And I think the process of going through a diagnosis and having therapy and understanding your own struggles. It's made me more interested in how the human brain works and how it affects us every day. 

Simon Currigan  4:18  

Could you tell us a little bit about how you received your diagnosis later in life? Can you tell us a bit about what happened and what the journey was? And when did you first suspect that you had a ADHD 

John Booth  4:27  

I remember kind of seeing documentaries in the 90s and I think it was around the discussion around medicating children in the States with Ritalin I remember they're kind of being a public outcry should children be medicated and i remember then thinking call those symptoms sound like something I've got, you know, I can't concentrate. I find it difficult to sit still. When I got my diagnosis. There are two things that I was diagnosed at the age of 43. The first thing was that my mother was dying to enter a very long illness about two years. And what happened was I kind of had a breakdown at work. I went to my doctor and I was physically rundown and not being able to deal with things. I noticed my behaviour was more erratic at work and all that defences and rituals that I'd put in to manage my ADHD without knowing yet. So all of my rituals about leaving the house and making sure anywhere my cues were, or writing lists or going through preparation before meetings to kind of work out my nerves that I developed myself, my techniques were massively draining. And I just got to the point when I was travelling with work, seeing my parents that weekend, and the stress my mom dying, and raising two children is that I no longer had them mental energy to expand on the rituals that were holding my day to day functioning together, and they just started to collapse. I first noticed it and work. The second part of it was that my eldest son was having difficulties at school, my son's like, he's bright, he's got lots of energy, but was struggling with certain lessons where he asked for him to be observed in class, we wondered whether or not the stress of his grandmother's illness was affecting him to the Senko spoke to my wife, she mentioned what his behaviour was like in class. And my wife said, that sounds a lot like my husband, you know, not sitting still kind of high energy talking full of ideas, not knowing what's due next. It was my wife actually, that first said, I think my son's got ADHD, and I think my husband's got ADHD. And so when a combination of me struggling, and having therapy and support work came together with that diagnosis I mentioned, it's my psychologist. And the psychologist said, Yeah, John, we're about two or three sessions away from you coming to that conclusion yourself. So I actually got my diagnosis initially through my son. And that's actually quite common. I found out that parents my generation was born in the mid 70s. It's to their kids having a diagnosis that they're coming to grips with. And beginning to understand that they have ADHD.

Simon Currigan  6:50  

We do see that quite a lot. Actually, in our line of work. 

John Booth  6:52  

Yeah, it's really hereditary. There's also very strong correlations with things like forceps delivery, and also if your parents smoked, and I was both of those things as well. 

Simon Currigan  7:01  

Did it change the way you viewed your earlier experiences? Did you kind of reinterpret them more? Look at what happened to you in a different way after getting the label?

John Booth  7:09  

Yeah, it does. In a way. I don't know if you're familiar with my mom, and she's a English politician.

Simon Currigan  7:15  

She was the Northern Ireland secretary, wasn't she? Yeah, well,

John Booth  7:18  

my mother was diagnosed and eventually died of a brain tumour. And when my mother found out about her diagnosis, one of the things that my mother said is that the tumour was on the frontal part of the lobe, which moderates behaviour, and, you know, can make people more spontaneous or more direct. And while I was said one of the most challenging things for her was, and she struggled with the initial power play, how much of my volume was more than and how much of her was actually the physiological change which caused the psychological change in her and that's kind of quite similar to your ADHD diagnosis initially, because you think well, would I be gregarious with it? Would I be spontaneous? All the things I like about myself? Would I be creative and things that worked really well for me in my career as a kind of friend and a husband and dad, you know, spontaneous and fun creative things? I think I have a lot of those are definitely attributable to ADHD, bad behaviours, no compulsions? I sometimes like a bit too much to drink. People with ADHD have a much hype entity for substance abuse, you kind of think, well, you know, is that actually we talk to my ADHD? So I think your early diagnosis really kind of calls into question, you know, who am I, I think that's natural for anything. Over time you make up step because you are who you are. But you do need a space and the support, you're not someone with ADHD, you're just someone and it actually used as part of your mental makeup.

Simon Currigan  8:43  

So it sounds like it's a piece of the jigsaw that helps you kind of understand who you are, 

John Booth  8:48  

It's more of a piece of a jigsaw that explains why you think like you do what your mental process is, I guess, in the way that you might compensate. If you had an injury, if someone had physical disability of some sort, they will compensate him in life. And they'll understand that, you know, there are limitations on that. Whereas when you have a cognitive disability, and one like ASD, which actually is, in some respects, quite hidden, it's very easy just to have labels, what people call the general kind of personality makeup. Well, the label helps you understand this, how your brain works. And it's the start of the journey to managing that. And accepting that though, I think that the labelling the diagnosis helps with

Simon Currigan  9:28  

If you have received a diagnosis earlier in life, and you had the knowledge you had now about compensating for those difficulties, how they have affected your experience at school and growing up.

John Booth  9:39  

I think this is the area that we most want to get right for our son who has ADHD because I don't want him to have the monkeys on his back that I have. I don't want him to have to, like not know or struggle with why he's thinking isn't what he wants it to be. I don't want him to have to struggle and form quite frankly damaging rituals or behaviours or self demonstration, like the blame that I applied to myself and push myself, it was punitive, I punish myself when I got things wrong, I punished myself when I forgot things. And it's, that's quite a natural reaction, because what you're doing is you're trying to correct behaviour. And you know, it's very hard to correct behaviour kindly when you're a kid, because all you think is, well, I should stop doing this, you know, often you'll just tell yourself to stop things, the thing that would be different with me is that I wouldn't, remonstrated myself, I wouldn't have had the stress that I had, when I was going to school, I'd have actually been able to make sense of why certain times, I wasn't ready to think, or I needed certain conditions to help me think in like a clean, Tiny Desk, so I have less friction. Before I start work. If I'd have had my diagnosis, I'd had a series of techniques that are directly related to my condition, I'd have had an understanding of it while I was thinking like that, so I wouldn't be grappling with the additional stress of what's wrong with me and the questions of why am I not fitting in? Why do I feel different. And then I think eventually, with a diagnosis, I'd have had the opportunity or medication, and the benefits of medication are profound, and almost universally positive. I think the studies show that ADHD is the most treatable and most effectively treatable psychological learning disability. So I've had those three things in place, which has made school you know, more enjoyable, and I've got more out of it. And I've also known myself better. And I think that's really, really powerful. And I've been much happier at school, which is what we want for our child.

Simon Currigan  11:38  

What's been the impact of medication in terms of being able to work and focus? How has it changed things for you that way?

John Booth  11:44  

Night and day difference? Absolutely. Night and day difference? What ADHD is, is your brain is constantly seeking stimulus, and it will create its own stimulus if he doesn't have it. So that's why lots of kids with ADHD have intrusive thoughts. It's why they just blurt things out.

Simon Currigan  11:58  

I think there's this myth isn't that people lose attention, but they don't their attention shifts. 

John Booth  12:03  

There's also that kind of concept of hyper focus which people with ADHD can have. So they can be incredibly focused, which is why from an outsider's perspective, it must be difficult to know, we can sit there and engage in this but not this, what that medication does is actually it gives your brain the stimulus, which means that your brain is able to actually focus on what's in front of it. The medication is basically an amphetamine derivative. And it's just designed to give you your brain that level of stimulation that seeking medication was acts like the white noise, which then allows you to reach that sense of quiet and focus without fighting your physiology and your psychology.

Simon Currigan  12:39  

And that was John Booth talking about his experience of having undiagnosed ADHD in childhood. And I think what that interview gives us is a really powerful insight into the real person behind the label, and the invisible difficulties your students might be facing in the classroom, and the difficulties your parents might be facing supporting their kids at home. If you want to hear the full interview, which contains some really emotional moments that I think a lot of educators need to hear head back to Episode 10. And I'll put a direct link in the episode description. And that is all we've got time for today on this essentials episode. If you've enjoyed listening today, please remember to rate and review us It takes just 30 seconds. And when you do it prompts the algorithm to recommend School Behaviour Secrets to other listeners. And that helps us grow the podcast and reach other teachers, school leaders and parents just like you it really does make a difference. And while you've got your podcast app open, do remember to hit subscribe so you never miss another episode. Thanks for listening and I look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour secrets

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)