When I was in elementary school, my teachers called me stupid.
It was funny, really. They called me stupid when they knew I was brilliant. They yelled at me when I couldn’t remember how to spell a simple word, then stared at me in disbelief when I solved a middle school level math problem.
They knew I wasn’t stupid, but they couldn’t figure out what I was, so they called me stupid.
I stopped paying attention to them early on. All they did was talk and wave their hands around, and the other kids seemed to think that was great, but I didn’t.
A few times, I tried to pay attention. Then I’d hear something, like the tapping of a pencil.
Tap tap tap…
I’d press myself to listen, to focus.
Tap tap tap tap tap…
I gave up almost immediately. It didn’t seem to be worth the fight.
I missed information all the time. I managed to teach myself the important stuff because it was easy and made sense when the world was quiet, but I missed all the details because it’s hard for a kid to teach herself details.
I couldn’t figure out spelling because there was so much to memorize. I got an F in citizenship because I didn’t pay attention and chose to talk to other students who could pay attention but didn’t want to. I hated science and history because there were a million different pieces and details to them, and I couldn’t keep up.
I loved math and grammar. With those, there was a basic set of rules that seemed to carry through everything, even the weird exceptions. There was no memorization, just basic understanding. And then more complex understanding based on those basics, and it kept growing in complexity.
Yet, it all always seemed so easy to me, especially when the world was quiet.
When there was noise, even math and grammar became difficult.
In fifth grade, I went to a different school.
We didn’t move or anything. I’d just taken a test, and some people who acted like they knew everything determined that I was “smarter” than my age, so they put me in an extended learning program. I switched to a different school in the district that year so I could be in the “smarter” class.
The class helped some and hurt some. It was very free reign, so it didn’t matter so much if I payed attention or not, but I could never figure out what I was supposed to be doing. The teacher only gave information once and then expected us to handle ourselves. I had trouble hearing the information the first time.
But the harder work was wonderful. It wasn’t too hard, not for me, but it was difficult enough to keep my mind entertained for longer periods of time.
Memorization was still an impossible feat.
Halfway through my fifth grade year, my teacher had a meeting with my parents. She suggested that they take me to get tested for attention disorders.
My parents agreed. They were so excited about it, saying that I might finally be able to focus like a normal person.
They never said I’d finally be normal, but somehow, I knew that it was implied.
I went with it, because what kid would complain about missing the first half of the school day for a whole week?
I was diagnosed with ADD.
“Attention deficit disorder,” they told me. “This explains why you’ve never been able to concentrate, why you’ve always been behind in school!”
Actually, I’m ahead, I thought but never dared to speak. I’m in the extended learning program and everything!
Instead, I just smiled and nodded as they explained how I would have to go to the nurse and take medicine. They put emphasis on how I shouldn’t be ashamed.
Well, I wasn’t ashamed. I was annoyed that they thought that I was ashamed, and that they thought I was abnormal enough to need medicine. But I humored them and agreed.
One month was all it took for me to discover the world I’d been missing.
For a ten years, teachers called me stupid, and I thought they were stupid because obviously I wasn’t stupid.
If someone had just cared enough to actually help me, to notice my issues and use their brain, to solve the equation that was me, I could’ve skipped all that worry.
But no one cared, not until fifth grade.
And after a month of taking the medicine they gave me (one pill in the morning, one pill at lunch), I was starting to realize what I had missed.
I still noticed every bit of motion around me, every sound and every flinch, but I could finally look past it all. I could focus in on one thing in particular, keep track of what I was doing, listen to a teacher as they talked.
The tap tap tap of a pencil still distracted me, but not nearly as much as it once had.
In one month, my world had changed entirely. I suddenly knew things that I’d never realized I didn’t know. I could focus. Instead of a myriad of images, my world could become just one thing.
How could anyone have let me go so long without this?
I stepped up to the front of the room, wincing at the rapping sounds of the paper in my quaking hands.
“My teachers used to call me stupid.” I began.
My teacher coughed and I looked at her. She had always been good to me. She’d never once called me stupid. In fact, she’d told me multiple times that I was one of the most brilliant people she’d ever met.
I met her gawking gaze and offered a small smile. “It’s true. For ten years of my life, teachers called me stupid.”
I turned to look at the rest of my class. “Some of you think I’m stupid, too. Because I’m different. Because I like to work alone, in silence.”
They stared up at me with wide eyes. It was strange, having them stare at me. They never stared at me. They rarely even looked at me. I was out of their realm of understanding. I was never on their list of “Things You Should Know.”
I slowly set my paper down and leant back against the table behind me. My hands no longer shook as I observed the people before me, the ones I had just a moment ago thought knew the world better than me, because they had known it the way I finally knew it for far longer.
Turns out, I had always been one step ahead.
“How many of you know what ADD is?”