Signs of ADHD From Before I Was 12

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At some point in your ADHD journey, you’ll need to consider the subject of this post. It’s an important topic, and one your doctor or psychiatrist will likely ask you about if you’re seeking an ADHD diagnosis as an adult.

Why is this so?

ADHD doesn’t come out of nowhere. Yes, the symptoms can be masked and/or may not have a significant impact early in life. Especially those ADHDers with the inattentive sub-type like me can often go undiagnosed until we hit “the wall.” This could happen in middle or high school, college, or that first high-expectations job. But that wall will eventually present itself and you’ll realize something is wrong.

For me the wall came in college, when I nearly flunked out my first semester. That’s an easy enough thing to point to and looking back, the struggles I had were clearly due to undiagnosed ADHD. But as I mentioned, ADHD doesn’t just suddenly appear late in life. So as you examine your life before age 12, you should be able to identify symptoms of ADHD, even if they didn’t necessarily impede you from obtaining early success in school.

Possible indicators of ADHD from before I was 12

  • I was terrible at keeping up with homework
  • I was a heavy procrastinator
  • I would struggle with large projects, being indecisive about how exactly I wanted them to be done; initially wanting perfection, but often settling for whatever I half-assed at the last minute
  • I was drawn to screens. Typically video games or cartoons. Saturday mornings I would get up by myself (even though I had three siblings) and I would watch cartoons starting at 6:30am until about 11am (when programming switched to daytime TV). When I realized there was a cartoon at 6, I got up earlier. And then 5:30am. I had to get as much as I could.
  • I was prone to addictive behaviors with my fixations, which at various ages included Dinosaurs (ages 3-5), school, reading, video games (original Nintendo!), Cub Scouts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cartoons, Legos, baseball – both playing and collecting cards, and food – especially sweets.
  • Low impulse control overcame personal values. I would often lie in order to cover up school problems and I frequently stole items related to my fixations.
  • My room was typically a messy disaster
  • I struggled regulating emotions, and when I got angry I would slam my bedroom door and throw my belongings around my room
  • I was asked by peers about my showering habits (in 3rd and even 7th grade)
  • I had private violin lessons for years but only practiced independently a handful of times
  • I had very few friends
  • When given the opportunity I would play video games for hours. One day in the summer I played the original Legend of Zelda from breakfast until dinner, not realizing that I’d developed a painful blister on my thumb from doing it.
  • I was very sensitive to social rejection and would often cry because of it
  • I preferred my fixations to my peers, at times even reading on the playground rather than engaging with others

When you look at that list it can seem like a lot of negative. There were a lot of great things about my childhood – they’re just not the focus of this post. When I went looking for ADHD in my early life, that’s what I found. In an earlier post, I discussed why I didn’t get diagnosed when I was younger. That one covers the other side of things – the behaviors that helped cover up these symptoms.

In fact, when I first shared my ADHD with my dad and a couple of my siblings they were surprised to hear about it. Because as extensive as this list seems, and as much impact as ADHD actually had on me, it was covered up by early success in school and a lot of little lies at home.

So is everything on that list exclusive to ADHD? No. You can lie, steal, throw tantrums and love cartoons and video games and not have ADHD. But when all of this evidence is taken in the context of my life since then, as well as the continued struggles that emerged from these early indicators, it’s clear that they fit the pattern of ADHD and help to complete the puzzle that is my life.

Examining your childhood for ADHD

As you consider your life before you were 12 looking for signs of ADHD, some helpful questions might be these:

  • Did you have any fixations that lasted for months or years, where that was all you wanted to do or learn about or talk about?
  • Did you struggle with organization and planning at home and/or school?
  • Did you have low impulse control, possibly giving in to lying or sneaking and stealing to get what you wanted right away?
  • Did your bedroom look like a tornado went through it, even if you cleaned it earlier in the day?
  • Did you struggle with regulating emotions – where you were often overcome by anger, sadness, or even happiness to where you weren’t in control?
  • Did you have trouble keeping up with mundane tasks like homework, chores, and self-care?
  • Did you feel socially isolated?

Though this list is neither diagnostic nor exhaustive, I found some of these questions helpful in guiding me through the process. I hope they will also help you as you work to connect the dots between being an adult with ADHD and discovering the child you were with ADHD.


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ADHD Voices: Corrin

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When I was 12 years old, back in 1998 before computers and internet access were a household reality let alone necessity, I was sitting in my social studies class as a lecture was going on. My teacher, whose name I can’t remember now (and that is probably for the best), would sit at the front of the class and just talk at us for an hour and it was usually agonizing to sit through if I wasn’t daydreaming.

Thing is I was always daydreaming. And one particular day I was doing just that when she called on me to respond on something she just said. But I had no idea what was going on. I froze like I normally did because that was how I was conditioned. She looked at me with disgust and said I was going to grow up and just flip burgers at McDonald’s for a living. The whole class laughed at me. I was so angry and hurt. I also thought to myself that if she weren’t so boring maybe I’d pay more attention.

Back then I didn’t know I had ADHD, among other things, so that constant daydreaming in her class wasn’t entirely my fault. I didn’t get my official diagnosis for ADHD until May of 2019, when I was 33 years old and in my second year of college. I didn’t even know what ADHD entailed until I really started to struggle. College schoolwork and situational depression were taking their toll.

My psychiatrist didn’t explain all of ADHD’s symptoms to me even when I kept telling her I was struggling to focus and concentrate—that it had always been that way. I thought things should have improved by then since supposedly I was on the right medications for my bipolar disorder.

Everything I know about ADHD I have learned from other ADHDers on Twitter and articles and a book or two. All I had been waiting for and all I needed was an explanation of ADHD and its core symptoms. Suddenly, more of my life made sense. I’m far better off now that I have my ADHD medication and some answers.

Growing up

CW for childhood abuse. I’ll avoid graphic details obviously but I didn’t have a good childhood growing up and ADHD played a role in that. I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was treated and if you had a bad childhood too and also have ADHD know that you didn’t deserve it either. You should have been loved and cared for unconditionally regardless of what you could or couldn’t do.

Many things were demanded of me and I was constantly set up for failure. One of my two abusers really wanted that anyway, and no one cared enough to look for the underlying problems I was having or to bring me to a mental health care professional.

When I hit puberty, things got worse

I was actually really successful in school up until then, but at the time I didn’t realize it because of many factors: I had always struggled with math, was constantly talking in class, was often caught not paying attention, and had emotional outbursts. A few times I was sent to the school guidance counselor or the special needs teacher in order to relay troubling behavior that was happening at home.

All of these things always got me into trouble at home despite all the A’s and B’s I was getting in school. They didn’t matter because I got a C in math and I was again reported for talking in class. The school reports always said the same thing, “Very bright, but doesn’t try hard enough.” What I heard at home was worse—things a child should never hear from caregivers. When I entered sixth grade I just stopped trying all together, which of course, only made things that much worse.

That wasn’t my fault though and if you have ADHD and was in the same boat I was in, know that it wasn’t your fault either; people should have realized you needed help and love and that you not trying at school was a cry for help. Someone should have helped you. You deserved to be cared for regardless of your behavior.

ADHD and being transgender

I’m transgender; a non-binary trans man who very recently figured out that I have a complex gender dysphoria. I’m talking about this because the emotional issues that come with ADHD played a role in delaying my understanding my gender identity and the complex feelings that I have as a trans person. When you have ADHD you sometimes get stuck with emotions that you have no explanation for feeling and have to play detective and figure out what caused them.

I had many signs growing up that my assigned gender wasn’t what I was.

When I was twelve and sitting in that social studies class, I thought about how I didn’t feel like a girl but I also didn’t feel entirely like a man. I tried to draw that in order to understand my feelings. Someone saw what I was doing and was very cruel to me. In shame I got rid of the drawing and forced myself to not think about it.

At twelve I had no idea what being transgender was let alone that there were more than two genders. I would grow up with a lot of complex feelings and at times a blunt affect for reasons that I couldn’t explain. I thought I was a misogynist because I got angry whenever someone referred to me as a woman or used my deadname–which literally means ‘girl.’ I also got very hostile when my mom wanted me to wear more feminine clothes.

Figuring it out

I never completely made the “I’m non-binary transgender” connection until I was 30 and trying to work through some trauma in a workbook designed for women that my therapist gave me. I was being very snarky—so angry at having to fill out questions that I wasn’t really thinking about my responses to them. Then I got to a question that asked, “What makes you a woman?” Before I realized what I was doing I very angrily wrote “I’m not a woman” in jagged, frantic letters. I remember freezing after that and thinking, “Wait, what? What does that mean?” and spending the rest of the day contemplating what I was if not a woman.

That day was four years ago, and the time in between has been, well, somewhat odd. I realized I was non-binary that day, but it wasn’t until months later that I realized I was transgender. I came to that conclusion when I realized that the only reason I wanted my breasts was because my marriage partner liked them. I certainly didn’t, and don’t. Thankfully my marriage partner, or my ringmate as I call him, loves me for me—regardless of my gender and how I present. Due to the emotional dysregulation from my ADHD, I didn’t realize I had such complex dysphoria until a month ago just before I turned 34.


Having ADHD has made life quite a trip and I’m still figuring things out. If you are struggling to figure things out and need someone to talk to, you can reach out to this stranger on the internet at @ArtistSomeday on Twitter. I may not know what to say but I will certainly listen and care about your problem and hopefully help you find an answer or something like it.


ADHD Voices is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of folks like you and me who have ADHD. Posts in the series are written by guest authors, sharing windows into their lives and struggles, written by them, for you and me. If you’d like to share your story, please contact me on social media or through my email, ADHDsurprise @


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Why I’m Choosing to Treat My ADHD with Medication

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This week I’ll be going to visit my psychiatrist with the intent of choosing a medication to treat my ADHD. I know that medication for ADHD is a controversial subject, perhaps even more so where children are involved. So I feel that it’s important to share why I am making this choice for myself, though I recognize it may not be the right choice for everyone.

What I’ve been learning

Since my therapist first brought up ADHD to me, life has been a blur. I immediately poured incredible amounts of time and effort into learning all I could about ADHD. I joined the ADHD Twitter community, started an ADHD support group on Discord, and started this blog. I’ve read three books on ADHD, I’ve watched webinars, read blogs, and done several self-assessments. I’ve called and talked to most of my family members and I have filled page after page in my journal, trying to wrap my head around what it means to have ADHD as an adult and to try to determine the scope of its impact on my life.

Since then I have also learned an entirely new vocabulary. Words like neurodiverse, neurotypical, hyperfocus, time blindness, and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria are now all part of my vocabulary, when a short time ago I hadn’t even heard any of them before. Interestingly enough, when my therapist brought up ADHD I was looking for a new hyperfocus. I wonder if you can tell what my new one is?

In my journal I have recorded everything from my initial reactions to discovering I have ADHD to listing all the “signs of ADHD” that I immediately recognized as I looked back. I have a page full of former fixations and others containing descriptions of my struggles at work and at home which I attribute to having lived so long with undiagnosed ADHD.

It’s not a decision I take lightly

I share all of this to say, though it has only been a short time that I have been aware of my own ADHD, the decision to seek medication is not one that I have chosen lightly. It has come through a great deal of personal study as well as working with my therapist and psychiatrist.

A common thread among resources that I’ve read is that the most effective treatments of ADHD include a balance of therapy and medication. I have been able to make a good deal of progress with therapy. I have begun to understand ADHD and its many impacts on my life. I have been able to add many healthy coping mechanisms to my life and break down many mental barriers, all thanks to therapy.

But it is not enough. I still struggle in so many ways day to day at both work and home. Having talked at length with both my therapist and my psychiatrist about these continued struggles, we are all on the same page in deciding to turn to medication as an additional resource to treat my ADHD.

I know that medication isn’t magical. There will still be plenty of work that is required. I understand that for roughly 20% of ADHDers, medication is ineffective. And I know that it can easily take months of work to find the right medication and dosage to effectively treat ADHD.

But I want more. And I owe it to myself and to my family to seek the treatment that I can right now. Those who have been reading along know the struggles that led me to therapy and my hope is that continued therapy with the addition of appropriate medication will help continue my upward trajectory.

Stay tuned…

I will of course use this blog as a means to continue sharing my journey and my struggles. Every day I encounter folks who either just discovered that they have ADHD or who are beginning to wonder if they do. And they need a place to go where they can be understood. Where they can connect with others who are kind and welcoming and who share their stories for the benefit of those who come after.

So whether you support the use of medication to treat ADHD or not, I invite you to follow along this journey of mine and I will share my experience with you. If you disagree with my decision, please be glad that you have every right to your opinion and you may use it to inform decisions regarding your own life.

As for mine, I will do what’s best for me. For now, seeking medication is the course I intend to take. For whatever reason you follow, I hope that hearing my journey will be of some benefit to you as you find yourself making your way on your own ADHD journey.


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