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My Original Disability

If you had had any experience of me as a child, and I were to say to you that I believed that my mother deserved a medal for raising me, you may actually have burst out laughing. Suffice it to say, I was a bit of a nightmare. As far as little boys go, I was about as loud and out of control as they come. I could never sit still. I could never concentrate on one thing for longer than a few seconds at a time. And I had zero impulse control. You would be forgiven for saying that I was a bit of a problem child.

At the age of eight, out of sheer desperation, my mother took me to a child psychologist who promptly informed her that I struggled with something called Attention deficit/Hyperactivity disorder, otherwise known as ADHD. In 1981, this wasn't as nearly well-known as it is today, much less understood. The doctor shoved a box of Ritalin into my mother's hands and advised her that I would have to swallow one of these tablets twice a day if she had any hope of getting me under control again. And so my journey of understanding myself, my triggers, and my challenges began.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.

It was thought prudent that my teachers should have my daily dose of this new wonder drug at hand, and that they should be the ones to give me my mid morning dose. Of course, word got out and, children being the cruel little monsters that they are, I was made the object of ridicule by my classmates. Of course, seeing as I came ready armed with a healthy dose of "you shall not make fun of me and get away with it", I was forever getting into scraps and ending up in the headmaster's office. In those primary school days, one thing was for sure – if you picked a fight with me, I would end it.

Ritalin, however, proved to be something of a saving grace. In terms of my academic performance, if I were achieving a B average before, this would be bumped up to an A average on Ritalin. With regards to sports, that was the point in my life when I was quite keen on tenpin bowling, and Ritalin saw my average of 160 surpass 200. To say that this was a performance enhancing drug was no understatement. For the first time, I could concentrate. For the first time, I could apply myself. My life on Ritalin was like night and day compared to what it had been before.

I took Ritalin until about the age of 15, that is to say, shortly before I had my spinal-cord injury. At that time, I made the choice to try and wean myself off what I thought was a crutch in my life. To a certain degree, I succeeded, but it wasn't easy. However, with time and observing certain dietary requirements (avoiding certain food colourants, sugar, et cetera) I found that I was less dependent on this drug to cope, both emotionally as well as scholastically.

I discovered, while at university, that as long as I was diligent and forced myself to concentrate (and take breaks from time to time) I could function at levels I was never able to before. Of course, being a quadriplegic in the 1990s, meant that my university life was a little different to the average student. I couldn't take notes, so I had to relearn how to learn. This meant that I developed the ability to mentally record my lectures and make study notes after my day was done, from memory. I was also required to take my exams orally, rather than write them. Again, this posed its own unique challenges.

If I look back today on how I used to learn back in high school, compared to how I learn now, I now employ totally different techniques than what I did before. While this is primarily out of necessity, I would have never believed that my memory could be what it is today, if only for my bloody-minded determination to never give up. I start my day now, following a certain pattern of behaviour that focuses me and forces me into a mode of concentration and application that I would have never thought possible. It turns out, that when you combine a general lack of physical mobility with ADHD and everything it entails, the outcome can be astonishing, to say the least. If one applies oneself in a certain way, one develops a certain acumen that can only be described as an eidetic memory. No, I don't recall page X and phrase Y from a given book (yet!) but give me dates, times, or facts to remember - easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

I have, within my own family, others who struggle with ADHD. It is no joke or laughing matter to live with this challenge, but if I am anything to go by, it is not insurmountable. You can overcome it if you make the choice to be determined and disciplined. Of course, these are not constructs that a teenager or young person find easy to come to terms with but, if you want success badly enough, and you can muster a small bit of vision for your medium to long term life, you cannot only overcome ADHD but you can harness everything that is required to conquer this mountain in your life and do things you never thought was humanly possible.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my morning starts like this – wake up, wash my face, have a strong cup of coffee with breakfast, and play a game of chess. Trust me, it works.

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