ADD/ADHD: Misbehavior or Undiagnosed Learning Disorder?

I admit it. I was a naughty boy. But, I wasn’t bad on purpose. I just managed to get myself in hot water just about every day. Daydreaming. Constantly up and out of my seat. Excessive talking. Unfinished work. Totally cluttered desk. A few well-deserved pokes at other kids here and there. Goofy faces and silly voices at the wrong times.

I guess you could say I was inattentive, distracted, and hyperactive.

Because my reading and math skills were poor, I was retained in second grade. I’m not sure I learned much more the second time around, but they passed me on to third grade.

In second grade the second time, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was embarrassed at my failures and had no idea how to manage or change my learning or my behavior. Nowadays, my reading problem would be identified as dyslexia, and I would be offered assistance at school in learning how to read.

The teasing I had experienced previously expanded to torment when I repeated the grade. Former classmates, now in third grade, taunted me with calls of “dummy,” “retard” in the hallway. Now with me having to wear glasses, classmates added “four -eyes” to the name calling. My new classmates quickly picked up on the teasing and had a field-day themselves.

My difficulty pronouncing the letter L gave evidence to their dim view of me. I couldn’t even talk properly. When in the spotlight, as in oral reading, I goofed off, used silly voices and distorted facial expressions to avoid demonstrating my speech problem.

I actually learned to read with the patient help of my neighbor, Mrs. Kraus. She knew the key to success with me: bribes, I mean rewards. I struggled through every after-school reading session with her, sounding out words, rereading, and retelling stories.  With a closet full of coke and a freezer full of ice cream bars, she was my savior. One hour of struggling with reading equaled one ice cream bar. That’s good math in my book.

In third grade, Sister Johanna was my teacher, a no-nonsense nun who I called the “Warden.” She would’ve beaten Ali in the ring. She was nice but yelled and was wise to my antics. She ruled with her ruler…not for measuring but for hitting desks and occasional knuckles…the kind of discipline that wouldn’t happen in today’s world.

I tried to match wits with her many of times, arguing and trying to squirm my way out of trouble. She actually let me sound off,  and in the process, let me dig my own grave.

“Bobby, where are your glasses?”

“My doctor said I don’t need to use them anymore.”

“Really, Bobby? I will check with your mother.”

“That’s okay, Sister Johanna, my mom agreed with the doctor. She says I don’t need them.”

“I will check with your mother.”

Of course, my classmates loved that. “Bobby’s gonna get in trouble. Bobby’s gonna get in trouble.”

I hated the kids mocking me for being dumb and having to wear glasses, but I thought I’d rather be blind than be tortured by their comments. I fumed, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

I learned to be a manipulator.  I conned Mike out of his Twinkies or Hostess cupcakes every single day. One day I sold him a red/green inked pen, took it back later and sold it to him again the next day. This happened several times until Sister Johanna caught on and pulled me into the cloak room for a “private discussion.” She towered over me like a gorilla standing over a tiny child and soundly berated me.

“If you don’t change your ways, you’re going to end up in prison one day,” she said.

“I promise never to do anything like that again, ” I told her, crossed fingers behind my back.

Sister Johanna  was right about me going to prison. Years later, I became an ordained chaplain and did prison ministry for five years. Inmates need rehabilitation. They often meet Jesus in prison and attempt to mend their ways with his help.

ADD/ADHD back in PreADD days was seen as a discipline problem, not a diagnosis.


Bob Ossler and Janice Hall Heck are working on a book about ADD/ADHD (as yet untitled) which we hope will be published in 2019. Follow this blog to keep posted on the timeline. Bob tells his stories of growing up and living as an adult with ADD and offers strategies he has learned at each point for coping with ADD.  ADD is no fun, but you can tame it.


Read Triumph Over Terror, a multi-award-winning book about Chaplain Bob Ossler’s interactions with suffering people in New York City’s Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. His stories will touch your heart and fill you with compassion for those emergency services workers, search and rescue workers, recovery workers, construction crews, and volunteers who served there in impossible conditions. #NeverForget this time in US History. Read the message of hope in this book.




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