“I grew up in a time when no one understood ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),” said 53-year-old Eric Nelson of Sacramento, California, in a telephone interview.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the essential feature of ADHD is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
Said Nelson, “I went through parochial schools, where if something was wrong with you (such as hyperactivity) there was evidence of sin in your life. So I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office getting spanked. At home, I got more spanking because I’d been spanked in school. My parents were frustrated. Because my grades were so low, I was convinced I wasn’t smart.”
Though graduating high school near the bottom of his class, he was accepted into a California community college. Besides ADHD, he also had undiagnosed reading and processing disorders.
Early in college, when Nelson was earning poor grades, a professor validated Nelson’s intelligence and suggested he use flashcards and learn by using rote repetition. So Nelson began using the flashcards before every exam, three times a day for ten days. Then he learned how to take notes as a strategy to overcome his processing and reading disorders, and his grades improved even more.
He eventually earned six college degrees, including three master’s and a Ph.D, and eventually became a member of Mensa, the high IQ society. Currently, he works for the chancellor’s office of the 112-campus California Community Colleges system, administering a $20 million grant that helps students not yet ready for college to improve basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills.
He said his work and academic success was made possible through creating survival strategies that helped him focus and manage his extra energy, such as purposely “fidgeting” with his toes inside his shoes so people at meetings wouldn’t notice.
Amazingly, six years ago, a college professor accused Nelson of faking his disabilities in order to acquire extra test-taking time, even though Nelson had provided medical documents confirming the disabilities.
He advised people with ADHD or learning disabilities: “First, pay the money and get tested so you have a report documenting your challenges. You have to do this because some people won’t believe you. Second, you will have to develop a different way of going through life and use new strategies (to succeed).”