In their own words
The nearly 2 million children first diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder in the 1990s are reaching adulthood now. Their opinions about ADD and the medication of children reflect the nation’s deep ambivalence on the subject, and their own medication decisions range widely. Here, four young adults share their thoughts.
Maggie Preston, 27, was diagnosed with ADD at 16 and took Ritalin for four years. She quit over concerns about addiction after several occasions when she used her medications recreationally. Now she’s a student of photography at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.
On motivation: “It was just hard for me to do the [school]work, because I didn’t want to.... I was pretty much of a troublesome kid. I did not like authority that much.”
On Ritalin: “It was kind of like weirdly amazing.... You get excited about monotonous work, honestly. Like, translating Spanish becomes totally fun.... The thing is, it works. But why are we forcing people to be in the position that they should like something that they wouldn’t ordinarily?”
On ADD: “If I really had ADD, how could I go in the dark room and spend eight hours without looking at the clock? ... When you’re trying to do things not natural to your capabilities is when it’s really apparent.... But kids just aren’t going to be equally good at all [subjects], and I think Ritalin is a way of trying to get kids to be good at everything.”
Evan Cirese, 21, was diagnosed with ADD when he was 11 and has taken stimulant medication for the condition since then. The son of a high school auto shop teacher, he was drawn to complex mechanical challenges early on but found it painfully hard to concentrate in class or knuckle down to homework. Today, he is a BMW automotive technician in Concord, Calif., and lives with his parents.
On concentration: “School never really interested me.... I’m more hands-on. I cannot sit there and read books. Give me a car part or something to tinker with, I will. I can sit and play with them all day.”
On self esteem-and ADD: “I never did my homework, would always get yelled at and got poor grades.... It didn’t feel too great.... [On medication] I just realized I was able to concentrate, I could get better grades and feel better about myself. It was not like, ‘Oh, this is the 20th time he hasn’t done the homework, he’s such an idiot.’ ... It’s helped me live out what my dreams are.”
On taking medication: “For a while in high school, it felt like I was controlled by it, was dependent on it.... If I forget to take it in the morning, I can tell, I’m just off the whole day....Especially for what I need now, I can’t function properly without it.”
Jeff Deptola, 22, was diagnosed with ADD when he was 2 years old. By 4, he was on a cocktail of stimulant drugs for the condition. In seventh grade, he had rebelled against the medications and discontinued them through high school. He started University of Southern Utah on a football scholarship but left after an academic and personal tailspin in his sophomore year. Now he studies finance at Cal State Fullerton, lives with his parents in Aliso Viejo and takes Adderall to control his ADD symptoms.
On quitting: “When you get off medication and don’t take it consistently, the world just falls apart and you don’t notice. You never notice it till it’s over.”
On rebelling, then coming back: “I told myself, ‘I don’t need to be on a medication, I can do this myself.’ I did that for years.... I just wanted to be normal, and normal people don’t need this.... Now, being able to look back on it, seeing the difference between the two [being on medication and being off], I would never get off my medication ... I’m not going to go back to my old self ... I’m much more productive and much better for society” on Adderall.
On managing life with ADD: “Two-thirds of the equation is the medicine ... I have a purposeful strategy to be highly active and not be idle.... I have a motor that goes 24/7. I get up at 6, leave at 7 and come home at 10 ... That’s by choice. I have a schedule. I have every hour, every 15 minutes planned out. I take notes on who I have to call.... That’s my life. When I’m not on my meds, I won’t even do that.”
Robert Wall, 22, was diagnosed with ADD at 9, after years of disruptive classroom behavior culminated in punching a teacher. He took stimulant medication for six years and, concerned he’d be “using that stuff my whole life,” quit at 15. An illustrator and two- and three-dimensional animator, Wall is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
On ADD medication: “The ability to focus four or five hours is something you kind of miss ... but it isn’t something you can’t do without.... On enough Ritalin, you could listen to someone read stereo instructions for 42 hours.... It gave you that feeling something was less boring.... I was more attentive to detail.... It’s interesting how it changes your mind-set.”
On life after Ritalin: “I’m happy with my life the way it is now. I’m scatterbrained, but it’s not like I’m digging through seas of stuff.”
On medicating children: “It seems like everyone is diagnosed ADD.... The parenting decision these days is, ‘Don’t teach them, just sit them down and give them a crack pipe and an Xbox.’ I have friends
-- Melissa Healy