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Chris Read: Queenie Jean is in Trouble Again (ADHD)





“She won’t sit still during class.”

“If she focused more, she’d do so much better.”

“She spends too much time talking and not enough time doing.”

“How do you make her listen, because she doesn’t listen to me.”

“She’s not trying hard enough.”

“She’s so immature compared to her classmates."


From the moment she could speak, we knew our bright, highly creative, physically active daughter was “different” -- so my husband and I sent her to the local private school. We hoped the small class size and additional resources could provide whatever help she required.


The first couple years were fine, but Grade 3 was a nightmare. The teacher had spent her career in the UK at an all-boys prep high school, and had no patience for my impulsive, disorganized child. Parents started phoning me (this was before texting), concerned my daughter was being bullied by the teacher. In front of the class, the teacher called our daughter “lazy” and “spoiled brat” and encouraged other students to do the same.


After additional unacceptable incidents and many meetings with school administrators, we eventually moved our daughter to another class with another teacher.  I took our daughter to a therapist, but the damage was done -- our happy, boisterous child became sad, anxious and fearful.


The following year, our daughter’s grade 4 teacher was a kind and compassionate soul who coaxed her out of her shell. She also suggested our daughter be assessed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as she recognized the telltale signs. We had our daughter assessed as soon we could, and the diagnosis was ADHD. I had no idea what ADHD was or meant. Very few people did, twenty years ago!


Using my background in business, I did a deep dive into all things ADHD. Back then there wasn’t much research available. Now, we know that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental or brain-based disorder, and not a behavioral problem caused by poor parenting, too much sugar, or playing too many video games. Researchers today define ADHD as a disorder of executive function rather than of attention. Executive function allows us to manage, coordinate, plan and regulate our emotions. ADHD is one of the most common mental health diagnoses in children. It impacts a child’s thinking, feelings and behavior.


Sometimes ADHD is described as an orchestra without a conductor, or a company without a CEO. ADHD looks different in each person, but generally includes inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. People with ADHD are often creative, energetic, caring, and fun to be around, just like my protagonist, Queenie.


Studies show there is a strong hereditary component to ADHD; children are as likely to develop ADHD from their parents as their height. I don’t have it, nor does anyone in my family, but I strongly suspect my husband does. Years ago, he developed many tools and coping strategies that work amazingly well for him. 


ADHD can be harder to diagnose in girls than in boys, because girls usually present as inattentive, rather than physically hyperactive – they daydream and procrastinate and are easily distracted. In that sense, my daughter was actually “lucky” because she was extremely hyperactive as a child -- she couldn’t sit still, she fidgeted constantly, and she talked non-stop.  This meant that she was identified easier and earlier than many girls with ADHD, and was able to go through school with the appropriate accommodations -- like private spaces to write tests, and extra time for assignments and exams.


Nevertheless, as Jessica McCabe states in How to ADHD: “ADHD is still incredibly misunderstood, both by those who have it and by many professionals who treat it.” At a recent national ADHD conference in Calgary, I heard many stories from parents who struggle with school systems, teachers who lack the resources and medical professionals who scratch their heads.


"ADHD ICEBERG" - So much is below the surface. Illustration by Chris Read.


I’ve always been a big reader of all kinds of fiction (my undergraduate degree was in English and Math), so several years ago I sat down to write a funny story about a ten-year-old girl named Queenie, who doesn’t quite fit in, but doesn’t want anyone to know that she has ADHD. My goal was to create a totally immersive fictional experience through the eyes of Queenie; the reader sees only what she sees and hears only what she hears. I wanted to show the magnitude of ADHD in family life – it’s not just a thing during school hours, but a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week reality. And I certainly have lived experience with that!


While Queenie Jean is in Trouble Again is inspired by the adventures of my daughter almost twenty years ago, the novel is a contemporary work of fiction. Queenie has an easier time with school and family than my daughter did. Hopefully by telling stories like this one, people will smile, perhaps recognize themselves or a friend or classmate.


And maybe there will be a little less misunderstanding in the world about ADHD.



 

 


Hailing from small-town Ontario, Chris Read has worked as a piano teacher, camp counsellor, waitress, math tutor, chartered accountant, finance director, treasurer, and executive director. She is married and a mother to two grown children, one of whom has ADHD. After many years of working for and with not-for-profits and charities, Chris decided to return to her roots and wrote a humorous book for kids about a girl with ADHD. She lives with her family and their Labrador retrievers in a rural seaside community outside Vancouver and travels far and wide, as often as she can. She is a member of CANSCAIP and SCWBI.

 

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