The following article was written by Kathy Sussell, a coach in NYC, who is currently enrolled in the JST Coach Training program, Coaching Teens & College Students with ADHD. Read Kathy’s personal, and emotional, story that led her to coach young people with ADHD. Thanks, Kathy!
Destination: ADHD Coaching
by Kathy Sussell
I started my car and set my GPS to travel across Brooklyn. It’s a cool October night and I’m driving to meet my new coaching client, an eleven year old boy with ADHD. His mom contacted me because he’s having a hard time at school.
When the GPS’s anonymous female voice tells me turn right or left I do and I follow all of her directions on auto pilot. Finally she tells me I have reached my destination and I park my car. Then I realize I am in front of PS 216 — my elementary school alma mater.
I begin to feel anxious and my chest tightens at the sight of the school. Memories begin to flood my mind but I don’t want to revisit the bleak landscape of my youth even for a minute. I resist returning to a time that was filled with pain, shame, and heartbreaking loneliness.
School was torture. I didn’t “get” things the same way that the other kids did. I went to elementary school in the 1950’s before anyone heard of ADHD. If you were inattentive, disorganized and impulsive as I was, you were just BAD.
I cringe when I think about those days. I avoid dwelling in the past. When my kids were small they had a habit of running full steam ahead while looking back over their shoulders. “Look where you’re going, not where you’ve been,” I would shout at them. That became my motto, my strategy for dealing with life. Yet as I stare into the silent schoolyard where I played as a child I am transported back to a bright, cold winter’s day in 1959. I hear the shouts and laughter of children playing in the yard, girls are jumping rope and boys are chasing each other.
I peer across time and strain to see my 10 year old self and suddenly there I am. I recognize myself from a blurry picture of me in fifth grade — fifth grade, a skinny girl with glasses held together with a safety pin and a button missing from her coat. One of my friends took it with a Kodak Brownie Camera and gave it to me.
I am running around the yard, delighted for the reprieve from the row of wooden desks, the crushing boredom and my teacher, Mrs. Nash, whom I never failed to disappoint.
She had a warm smile and kind words for the other kids but not for me. She was the teacher who told me not to sing with the other kids, just move my lips because I sang off key. When the entire fifth grade took a spelling test to determine who should represent the school in the city wide spelling bee I received the highest grade but Mrs. Nash said she couldn’t recommend me to compete. “You’re a girl who doesn’t try hard enough, you’re just too lazy and sloppy to win a spelling bee.” she said.
But for now, I look so happy, just a scrawny kid running around pretending to be a horse. When recess is over I will be reprimanded again for forgotten homework, my messy notebook, and for staring out the window. I run free in the yard, with my stringy hair, unbuttoned coat, anklet socks slipping down into my scuffed shoes and knobby knees with the scabs falling off. It’s freezing cold but I have no hat or scarf or gloves. I must have lost them or maybe I never had them.
I reach through the fence and wave to my phantom self but she can’t see or hear me. Her mind is elsewhere. I push through time and the metal fence to run alongside her. I take her freezing hand in mine. I send her my prayers. “Life will not always be so hard. You will love and be loved, be strong. Embrace who you are and love yourself.”
I turn away and I’m back in 2011. I reach into my purse and take out a tissue to dry my eyes. I breathe deeply to find my center. I steady myself, placing my feet carefully, as I cross the street and leave the past behind. I pause a moment outside my clients door.
Now I am ready to coach, eager to reach out my hand to another child — a child I have yet to meet but feel I know. I am eager to meet him and hope I can help. I will smile and ask him to tell me all the great things I should know about him and I will listen as hard as I can. I have reached my destination.
Kathy Sussell is an NYU Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in coaching adolescents, young adults, and adults with ADHD. Kathy helps her clients create structure, manage their time, organize their belongings, improve their social skills and reach their goals.