UC Berkeley Press Release
Youngest student to publish ADHD memoir
(Jeffery Kahn photo)
BERKELEY – Freshman Blake Taylor can add "self-help author" to his resumé as he enters his second semester this week at the University of California, Berkeley. After two years of writing his life story during vacations, his memoir, "ADHD & me: what i learned from lighting fires at the dinner table" (New Harbinger, 2008), is available in bookstores.
Taylor is being considered the youngest American to publish a personal account of his life with ADHD. A determined 18-year-old from Weston, Conn., Taylor says he wants to give readers insight into what it's like day-to-day to have ADHD, and to combat the stereotype that the widespread neuro-developmental disorder is really just an excuse for unruly behavior or the result of bad parenting.
"I want to change the view that ADHD doesn't exist or that it's solely a disability. It's a gift," says Taylor, a recent graduate of San Francisco's International High School, and whose tall, blond, chiseled, model looks are offset by nervous tics that can be associated with ADHD.
He controls his wandering mind with daily medication, near-obsessive scheduling and nine hours of sleep a night: "I can't function on less than eight hours," he says. Without the ADHD drugs, he adds, his mind will jump from thought to thought like a remote control randomly flipping through TV channels.
His new paperback chronicles his turbulent journey from a hyperactive 5-year-old who couldn't sit still or make friends, to an adolescent who impulsively set a fire at the dinner table, to a highly organized 18-year-old who studies hard, works out, plays piano and enjoys an active social life.
"I get my papers in on time. I go clubbing. I go to the gym. I do sports," Taylor says. "I have a normal college life."
But to get to "normal," Taylor had to learn to harness the impulsiveness and soaring energy he was born with. His book uses personal anecdotes to humanize the disorder that affects at least 4 million young Americans, and an untold number of adults, many of them never diagnosed.
Roughly 120 UC Berkeley students have registered with the campus's Disabled Students' Program requesting ADHD accommodations that allow them to negotiate for more time and other adjustments to help with schoolwork and tests. Taylor signed up for ADHD accommodations when he started classes at UC Berkeley last fall. As a result, his professors are notified of his condition and asked to make reasonable adjustments.
His nonfictional debut has earned Taylor high praise from some of the nation's leading ADHD experts, including UC Berkeley psychology professor Stephen Hinshaw, who has led groundbreaking studies on boys and girls with ADHD.
"It's one thing to read about symptoms of various conditions in diagnostic guides or textbooks. But it's an entirely different story when you hear firsthand how a person with a disorder really lives," Hinshaw said. "Blake Taylor's book humanizes ADHD and reveals, in clear, pointed prose, both daily struggles and the hope that emerges from well-delivered treatment."
Hinshaw said that although researchers are still a long way from making a clinical ADHD diagnosis on the basis of a brain scan, brain imaging studies are indicating that, in people with ADHD, the key connectors between frontal lobes and deeper brain areas responsible for attention and motor control differ from those without the disorder.
In addition, research suggests there is a strong genetic component, he said. "It is now well known that genes are highly related to ADHD. In fact, genes related to the neurotransmitter dopamine are the leading candidate genes for this condition," Hinshaw said. "And although parenting does not cause ADHD, how parents respond to a child with ADHD may make a huge difference for ultimate outcomes."
Taylor's mother, Nadine Taylor-Barnes, is living proof of this. She always suspected her son was more hyperactive than the average toddler. When he was 5, she took him to her Vassar College reunion, and her best friend, who also had a son with ADHD, told her to get Blake checked out. "She took one look at him and said, 'Get him to a specialist and get him treated. Don't go through what I went through with my son,'" she recalled.
At the time, when Taylor was first diagnosed with intermediate-to-high ADHD, a lot less was known about the condition. Other family members had resisted getting Blake diagnosed and were opposed to ADHD medication, so it was an uphill battle from the get-go, she said.
After reading "Driven to Distraction," Edward Hallowell's book on how to cope with ADHD, Taylor-Barnes put together a comprehensive plan to channel her son's erratic energy and improve his academic and social skills. "I felt that if all his high energy could be channeled into academics, music, community service and sports, a lot of positive could come out of it," she said.
She also enrolled her son in a social skills class. "When a child has ADHD, he or she is not able to read the nonverbal cues very well. You literally have to teach them how to pick up the phone and chat with a classmate," she said.
At first, Taylor says, his mother told him that the pills she gave him were vitamins, but he quickly figured out that they helped him concentrate. He started out on Dexedrine, moved to Adderall, and later to other long-acting psycho-stimulant drugs.
Once, he recalls, he forgot to take his medication before an English exam, and dearly paid the price. "I was trying to write about (Homer's) 'Odyssey,'" he says. "Then I started looking at pictures of World War I. Then I thought of skiing, and then about sailing, and by the end of the hour, I didn't have much written."
Today, he says, the medication allows him to enter a "hyper-focused" state so he can concentrate on one task for as long as eight hours.
The idea for the book came to Taylor in the winter of 2003 when he started writing high school application essays about challenges he had faced. As he dug deep inside himself, he realized that his story needed to be told so that other kids wouldn't needlessly suffer. Two years later, he started writing.
"I want the book to help other people my age recognize their ADHD and view it as a gift," he says.
Aside from being a published author at 18, Taylor speaks fluent French, and his charity work includes finding good homes for former racing greyhounds. His family in Hillsborough, Calif., adopted three of them. Among other things, his plan at UC Berkeley is to major in molecular and cell biology and French.
"I want to join a frat, do some research before I go to medical school, take the MCAT, get good grades and make long-term friends," Taylor says, his boyish grin breaking through the frowns and tics. "I'm on the right track."