OCD + ADHD = Uh-Oh
September 26, 2006

Back in the dark ages when I was in elementary school ... back before people medicated and worked with people who had OCD (Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder) and certainly before anyone connected that eccentric and "womanly" trait of everything-absolutely-MUST-be-in-the-correct-place with abnormal behaviour, particularly in a kid, I was in fifth grade language arts class with a girl named, umm, "Laura."

First of all, let me explain this particular elementary school. (It was the third one I'd attended, so even as a fifth grader, I felt like I was something of an expert on elementary schools.)

Butler Elementary began as an "open concept" school, with grades one through six in one large "room" of the building. Each grade level was "divided" by rolling bookcases about five feet high and more of these bookcases were used to lightly subdivide each "classroom" within a grade level. Teachers' desks were in a cluster in the center of the grade level area.

It was utter cacophony and chaos in that one large room. Now the one-room schoolhouse does have some benefits ... but only when you've got a total of maybe 30 or so kids. Butler had more like 1000 to 1200 when I attended there, not counting the kindergartners, since they had their own room.

At any rate, there was a LOT of chaos in the building. A lot of noise. A lot of movement.

And then there was Laura who had to have everything just so.

Sitting down next to Laura in language arts class, I observed the ritual straightening of the books and supplies. Laura was a diligent student. Hard worker. Earnest. Determined. She was bright, too, but I think the other adjectives far outshone nearly every other trait she might possess. So, no matter what was going on around her in our madhouse of a school, she was diligently listening to our teacher.

Except, of course, for the first three or so minutes of class. It took her that long (at least it seemed that long to me) for Laura to stack her books neatly on top of her desk, largest volume on the bottom, progressively smaller as we got to the top of the stack, which was her assignment notebook. On top of her books, were her pens and pencils and the nifty eraser-thing. All placed in a particular order and lined up exactly so. Once she was done getting everything exactly right, then she turned to listen to the teacher.

As I said, back then, nobody really put fifth-grader and OCD together in the same sentence.

I, being me, would be utterly fascinated by this procedure.

Naturally, as soon as Laura turned her attention to the teacher ... her full attention to the teacher, I would carefully move the books out of alignment with one another.

She'd look back and immediately fix them.

Now, I'm not talking about shoving everything askew, here. I'm talking nudge one book a small fraction of a centimeter one direction ... another one a tad the other direction.

I mean, at first I tried the cruder methods. I simply reached over while she was looking and mussed the pens and pencils. She'd sigh and fix them all. It was after a few days of this, that I decided to become ... well, what passes for subtle in a fifth grader.

I began to keep the pens and pencils lined up perfectly ... but out of order. That took her a while to notice, but when she did ... yep, she had to get it all back to her order exactly. She got up to do something ... I re-stacked her books to change the order of two books nearly the same size.

She noticed that instantly upon returning.

Yeah, back then they not only didn't know OCD, but they really didn't know ADHD, either. I could NOT simply pay attention to the teacher and I certainly couldn't leave this scientific experiment known as the girl who sat next to me alone either.

Eventually, of course, I'd either grow bored, or distracted, or the kids around me would begin giving me THAT look ... I honestly wasn't trying to pick on Laura and I felt bad when the other kids would let me know I'd been at it too long. I simply could NOT figure out why she had to have things EXACTLY so. I could understand having things just so. But absolutely precision aligned, military corners on your bed, EXACTLY so just boggled my mind.

And if nothing else, I subscribed to the idea that you can understand everything around you in your environment. You may not want to expend the effort, but you can figure everything out if you put your mind to it.

I could NOT figure Laura out and it bugged the crap out of me.

Even at that age, I could usually figure people and their motivations out. I knew that Miss Gillette absolutely hated me and took every opportunity to pick on me ... why? No, I wasn't being paranoid. It was because at the beginning of the school year, I didn't do well on my spelling test -- because the teacher with the thickest East Texas accent I had ever heard was pronouncing the words. I was placed in the second high language arts group. Within the first six weeks period, Mrs. Gaines realized I belonged a level up, but ... and to this day I can't fault her for this ... she enjoyed having me in her class. (See, apparently flattery does go a long way.) But, the last six weeks of the school year, she bit the bullet and had me moved up because she wanted to make sure I was placed in the high group for sixth grade as well. Long story short, Miss Gillette didn't really believe Mrs. Gaines ... and she really resented having a new student at the end of the school year.

So while I couldn't stand Miss Gillette, I knew her motivations. I understood why she often made fun of my handwriting publicly. (It was atrocious handwriting ... I had no patience for trying to write cursive neatly. Legibly, okay. Neatly ... impossible!)

Laura, on the other hand, I really couldn't figure out. And that just bugged me for the rest of the school year. Luckily, the teachers did NOT allow us to sit together the next year. I'm sure Laura was beyond relieved. (Provided she didn't request it to begin with!) comments/haha.gif

Today, of course, I realize that Laura either had OCD "tendencies" or full-blown OCD. I'd treat her a lot differently today. Of course, most of us don't still act the same as our fifth-grade selves, thank goodness. But for me, it's as much because now I understand why she behaved that way ...

... and I better understand why I couldn't leave it alone, too.

Still ... to the teachers out there ... don't put the OCD kid and the ADHD kid next to each other, okay?

Posted by Red Monkey at September 26, 2006 3:45 AM | People Say I Have ADHD, But I Think - Hey Look, A Chicken | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Sue said:

I was diagnosed with OCD in my early 20's and my hubby was an ADHD kid ... so lots of fun and games at our house .. :)

I enjoyed this entry .. thank you .. :)

September 26, 2006 8:40 AM


jodi said:

HEE HEE......sooooooo true! As I being the spoiled little bratty baby sister...Would fit right in as my brother was close to neurotic(OCD) and I would purposefully move stuff on him...

September 26, 2006 11:56 AM


Ohio loon said:

At 27, I am continuing to seek help for my problems. I seem to have ADD and OCD tendancies, so I'm able to drive myself crazy. Lucky me :) Any wonder I've developed anxiety and minor depression? My husband just thinks I'm nuts.
Well, it's never boring! Thanks for the story. I really enjoyed it.

September 26, 2006 10:42 PM

I appreciated your story. It was unique in that you were speaking about yourself and your issues and Laura and hers simultaneously (naturally as that is how it happened). It' so enlightening to understand something in our past and especially to understand each human person to the extent that we can. I recently had a student who I suspect had OCD, and that is why I am browsing around. Again, thank you for sharing.

September 27, 2006 8:39 PM
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