Doctor Shares His Own Experiences Growing Up With ADHD

Mark Batshaw, MD

Mark Batshaw, MD, shares about his own personal experiences with ADHD. Photo © Children’s National Medical Center

Growing Up With ADHD

When 63-year-old Mark Batshaw, M.D., was a young child growing up, there was little known about ADHD. In fact, it wasn’t even an official diagnosis yet.

What was it like for this leading expert on developmental disabilities who is now the “Fight for Children” Chair of Academic Medicine and Chief Academic Officer at Children’s National Medical Center, as well as Chairman of Pediatrics and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at George Washington School of Medicine?

It was a road of bumps, bruises and failures, but it was also a road of persistence in facing these stumbles then overcoming them.

The Childhood Years

To his elementary school teachers, Dr. Batshaw appeared “unruly, unmotivated, and not very bright.”

“I remember in 1st or 2nd grade sitting in a corner with a dunce cap on because I had been up and out of my seat and couldn’t sit still or stop talking,” he recalls. In 3rd or 4th grade the teacher moved his seat out of the classroom and into the hallway so he could still see and hear her, but wouldn’t be disruptive to the other students. School was difficult and isolating. Peer relationships were just as deflating.

A Parent Who Made the Difference

“My mother was a social worker by training,” shares Dr. Batshaw. “I am an only child and she stopped working in order to help me.” In addition to undiagnosed ADHD, Dr. Batshaw also struggled with a reading disability.

“She would work with me for hours, encouraging me. She would not let me give up.”

Dr. Batshaw was first seen by a psychologist at age 8 or 9 because of the reading disability, but it was not until his mid-teen years that there was a beginning of an understanding about the symptoms and issues associated with ADHD.

By this time he had developed techniques for coping and started to do well in school. One technique he continues to use today – keeping a 3x5 index card in his pocket with a list of everything he has to do on that day.

The Change

Though the learning basics of the elementary school years created problems for Dr. Batshaw, in middle and high school he was able to start focusing his interests through elective classes. His passion? The life sciences. In this area he found a subject he loved and he was good at it!

The “unruly, unmotivated, and not very bright” student is now a highly respected pediatrician specialized in child development and learning, as well as author of many reference books on the subject including one for parents entitled, When Your Child Has a Disability (Brookes Publishing).

One of the important lessons Dr. Batshaw learned from his childhood frustrations with ADHD and his reading disability is the value of persistence. “You can fail a lot,” he says “but if you keep on trying you can also be successful.” He credits these early failures with helping him to develop thicker skin and the ability to “pick himself up” and persist even when situations felt hopeless.

His mother taught him this and gave him strength with her unwavering love, support and consistent belief that he would succeed.

Like Father Like Son

Dr. Batshaw’s youngest son, Drew, also has ADHD. “By the time he was 5 years old, I recognized myself in him. When I realized it I thought ‘oh my gosh’ because I know how horrible it can be.” Just as his own mother did, Dr. Batshaw’s wife (also a social worker by training) stayed home and spent hours working with and encouraging her son. Drew was also helped by stimulant medications that he began at age 7 and continued up until his first year of college. When he was 9 or 10 years old, Drew told his parents that he did not need the medication and wanted to stop taking it. Though they could see the improvements in symptoms on medication, they agreed Drew could give it a try without it. “His grades went from solid B’s to solid D’s in a few weeks off medicine,” says Dr. Batshaw.

To help their son understand more about how the medication affected his behaviors, they videotaped Drew doing his homework while on the medicine and again during this period when he was not taking it. “His jaw dropped when he saw the difference in focusing verses fidgeting and getting up from his seat,” recalls Dr. Batshaw.

Drew went on to graduate college from Vassar and earned a full scholarship to MBA school at the University of Southern California. Like his father, he is now working in the field of learning as the Chief Operating Officer for a student tutoring company.

Dr. Batshaw’s Advice to Parents of Children with ADHD

  1. Stimulants are very helpful in managing symptoms in a properly diagnosed child with ADHD.
  2. The school environment is also very important. Make sure the school properly services your child’s needs.
  3. Try to find something your child is good at and enjoys outside of school.
  4. Maintain optimism. Over 50% of kids with ADHD will show improvement in their teen years if they receive appropriate treatment. They will still have some issues, but will be better able to compensate with coping strategies.
  5. ADHD can sometimes be associated with other problems like conduct disorder, tic disorder, anxiety and learning disabilities. It is important to diagnosis any other associated deficiencies so they can be properly addressed and treated.

    Parents can make the difference in a child’s success and happiness. The Batshaw family is a testament to this. Sadly Dr. Batshaw’s mother is now deceased, yet he thinks of her daily, feels her unconditional love in his heart, and thanks her for giving him the roots to thrive.

  6. Additional Reading:
    Myths of ADHD
    The Three C's of Parenting
    Behavior Management
    Understanding ADHD: For Teachers
    Strategies for the Classroom
    Tips for Maintaining Focus
    Wondering If You Have Adult ADD?
    Adult ADD and Work
    Tips for Approaching Social Situations

    Source: Mark Batshaw, M.D. Phone interview/email correspondence. December 8 and 19, 2008.

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