I gave mother a call and tried to work the conversation round to early-life ADHD. Neither of us are natural conversationalists, and I regret not making a face-call or whatever they’re called – I didn’t because I have illegally stowed myself away in Roger’s empty flat, but more of that later. Face to face it might have felt more like a real meandering conversation, instead of one of those lists of questions and to-the-best-of-my-ability responses that have characterised our regular, traditional style of calls. She tells me that ‘I was a real handful,’ though she doesn’t offer the hoped-for acronym, so I don’t push for it. But when I ask her about a medicine which was referred to as strawberry milk, that I recall taking every night for long periods of my early life, she claims not to remember it. She could have quashed my curiosity by telling me it was to stop bedwetting, had she only thought on.
Her reticence made me hold back on my supplementary questions about early days at school. I was born on the cusp of the new school year and was always one of the oldest, but I remember a couple of occasions when I was put in with older children. The first was not long after I’d started; I have a distinct memory of being removed to a class which was already up and running – where I had missed the crucial early instructions that everyone else had received. In particular I remember us being given cards with lists of simple arithmetical problems, which I had no clue how to answer. I’ve always considered arithmetic to be an easy subject, but at that time those cards looked like double Dutch to me; every question looked like 6 – 11 = __, or 4 – 9 = __ .
None of us had been taught about negative numbers at that stage, so that can’t have been the problem set, yet it’s how I read it and I put 0 for lots of answers (knowing no numbers less than 0 at that time). It must have been a sort of number dyslexia, or perhaps a failure to have mastered what had been a simple instruction, but which I hadn’t received. Anyway, before long I was back with my own age group, until a year or so later when I was sent into another class with a few others of my age, alongside older children again, many of whom were there the last time I’d been shoved up the chain. By then, I had only been taught to read I.T.A.* – a system of teaching which used a sort of phonetic alphabet to introduce new readers to the world of words. [https://theliteracyblog.com/2015/05/14/i-t-a-a-great-idea-but-a-dismal-failure/].
Suddenly, we were amongst classmates who were reading books written in proper English, and again, we were transferred without any new instructions or transition teaching. I had no idea what words like ‘said’ or ‘sandwich’ (T1: Saved from the Cliffs) were supposed to mean, let alone how to say them, and I have a very clear recall of that particular teacher showing her exasperation with my constant trips to her desk to ask for help. I think, that time, I was relegated on a technicality before the season ended.
I know that it’s just as likely that we were the subjects of experiments conducted by faraway self-declared boffins as anything else, but until now I’ve always put those two incidents down to having my precocious intelligence tested at a higher level. Thinking about it all again now, it seems far more likely that I am older than I think I am, and that I was actually put back a year at school on account of my being untrainable at a young age.
Still to be presented with the incontrovertable truth about ADHD, I decided to delve further into the precocity idea and I went on the internet and took a few IQ tests. They indicated some support for the notion, but on reflection I think they are perhaps designed to give you a false high score, and are no more than recruitment portals for the Scientologists.
And if that’s true, you know what it means don’t you? I’m still ill.
* this, of course, explains and excuses every poor use of grammar and phonetics-based spelling error in this diary.