Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q:Somehow I caught something called ADHD. I always thought I was just stupid. My mom said I have this attention thing and I need to take a pill or something. Am I OK? Can you help me figure this out? Thanks.

– 12-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: Yes, you are OK. I’m happy to explain ADHD, but my most important message is that you are worthy. ADHD isn’t about intelligence, it’s about how people learn and how people’s brains work. Many people living with ADHD are very smart, creative and successful. You’ll be OK.

Let’s look at ADHD.

What is ADHD? The letters stand for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. People living with ADHD may be inattentive (easily distracted), impulsive (doing things without thinking first), and hyperactive (finding it tough to stay still). It’s common for young people with ADHD to forget when assignments are due or look like they’re not listening. Losing things or daydreaming are other possible signs. Kids living with ADHD may get in trouble for their behavior. There are a lot of ways teachers, parents, counselors and other caring adults can help with behavior; please give them a chance.

Successful people with ADHD: There are amazing pluses to being able to think out of the box. Many people with ADHD are full of energy. A few of the many successful people with ADHD are Disneyland creator Walt Disney, scientist Albert Einstein, performer Justin Timberlake, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, basketball star Michael Jordon, President John F. Kennedy, and actor Will Smith. Like everything else in life, ADHD can be seen as a positive or a negative. Look for the good in yourself – you’ve got this!

You didn’t catch ADHD: No one catches ADHD. It’s not a contagious disease; ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s just the way some people are. ADHD isn’t your fault. One of my former peer educators, who is now a successful social worker, described ADHD like this: “It’s like my brain goes so fast. Like my mind is a race car, zipping all over the place.” When we discussed his success, he added, “With help, I’ve learned how to put on the brakes and not overheat my mind!”

How ADHD is treated: Your mom is correct. Many young people with ADHD take medication. There are other ways to live well with ADHD, however. You are strong and can help yourself. Your parents and teachers will help you understand your behavior and “put on the brakes,” as my peer educator said. You can learn ways to control yourself. You’ll figure out how you learn best. Most people find structure helps. Things will get better.

Learning about ADHD: No person is perfect. Accept and love yourself while growing and changing. Take each day and do your best. Don’t beat yourself up over past behavior, but learn from mistakes. Learn about ADHD.

Here are a few books to help:

“Cory Stories: A Kid’s Book About Living with ADHD,” by Jeanne Kraus.

“Aloha Island: The Story of the Stones,” by Frank South

The Hank Zipzer series, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

“The Survival Guide for Kids with ADD or ADHD,” by John F. Taylor

“Putting on the Brakes: Understanding and Taking Control of your ADD or ADHD,” by Patricia Quinn

If you enjoy playing video games, you might be surprised to learn some games are helpful for young people living with ADHD. Check out this site for more information: https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-educational-computer-video-games-kids-screen-time/ One of the recommendations is the popular game Minecraft.

There are even some phone apps to help you stay organized and focus. Check them out here: https://www.reynoldsclinic.com/best-adhd-apps/

Please remember you are a person of worth just as you are. Believe in yourself. I believe in you. You aren’t alone.

Peer Educator response: Some of the smartest people we know have ADHD. Don’t give up on yourself. You’ll figure it out.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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