A 12-year-old on life with ADHD: ‘I was, like, Why do they not like me? Why? And I just didn’t know’

Evan Wilson was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the age of four

Making friends in the early years of primary school wasn’t easy, says Evan Wilson, who is 12 and was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, at the age of four.

“I remember in junior infants I got invited to everybody’s party and the year after that literally nobody invited me,” he recalls. “It was really, really sad to see everybody going off to a birthday party. Everyone giving out cards and waiting for your card to be given to you and then the card didn’t come. I think people found me very fast paced and annoying, and I just didn’t get it. I didn’t realise why. I was, like, ‘Why do they not like me? Why?’ And I just didn’t know. I didn’t understand. To me I was normal.”

His mother, Natalie, interjects during our Zoom call from their home in Swords, Co Dublin, to say that Evan has very good friends now. But she acknowledges there were challenges, with some children not understanding Evan’s feelings and behaviour.

“If Evan struggles to control his emotions once, that’s only something that happened, it’s not who Evan is. The kids he is friends with are the ones who understand that ‘Evan had a bad day’ and that’s it. And they will move on from it.” The exclusion he has experienced can happen to lots of children, she points out.


The eldest of two children, Evan’s issues were flagged as soon as he started at creche. “He had always been a very active baby and required a lot of attention,” says Natalie. “I don’t remember Evan ever walking; he seemed to go from just standing to running and kept running. He was also really clever from a young age and had a huge vocabulary.” However, when he began to interact with peers, problems arose. “We were getting quite a lot of negative feedback from creche,” she recalls. A standout incident was when Evan was regarded as the “brains” behind him and another three year-old escaping from the premises through a fire door.

As Evan kept getting into bother, she took him to their GP who said not to worry, he would probably settle in the more structured setting of primary school. The creche staff, says Natalie, were surprised at this feedback.

The GP did recommend a parenting course, which she and her husband, Pete, both attended. “It was helpful in teaching us how to be consistent, but there was no silver bullet,” says Natalie.

“Things escalated then and we were having basically a daily call with the creche. It was very stressful. I am sure it was very difficult for Evan at that time as well, although he didn’t understand.”

On his first day at primary school, the principal was waiting for Natalie when she went to collect him. “He said ‘do you know there is an issue’? I started crying and said I knew.” The principal said he just needed to know she was aware and that they and the school could work together. By October, Evan’s teacher said she believed it wasn’t just a behaviour problem, that he was trying really hard, but there was something else. They returned to the GP, who said it might be ADHD and referred him to a psychologist.

“When we came home that night and googled ADHD it might as well have said ‘Evan Wilson’. It was so textbook,” says Natalie. The following January he was diagnosed, just before his fifth birthday. He has “combined” ADHD which is a mix of the inattentive and hyperactive, along with dyslexia and sensory processing difficulties.

The diagnosis was “very upsetting because you are looking at the lifelong nature of it”, she says, yet “there was relief too because it explained a lot of things”.

His self-esteem was very low. “He was struggling to make friends at school; he was only four and saying things like ‘I need to go in the bin because I’m rubbish’,” says Natalie. The psychologist recommended the Wilsons try to get Evan put on medication, which he started to take the following May. The decision was driven by safety concerns, as he was running out in the road and climbing trees with no sense of danger.

Natalie believes the early diagnosis made a difference to the way things have gone for Evan since and they found both expert and peer support through ADHD Ireland (adhdireland.ie). “We knew what we were dealing with early enough to inform the people who needed to know, so he didn’t have that label ‘disruptive’, or whatever, hanging over him. School always understood what exactly was going on.”

“I haven’t been unfortunate enough to have a bad teacher; all the teachers have been amazing,” says Evan.

Difficulties Evan had at school, says Natalie, tended to arise outside his own class, for example in the yard, which is a very challenging place for a child with ADHD. Often he would have a good morning and then something would happen in the yard, a dispute with another child or a ticking off for his behaviour, and in the afternoon he would get in trouble in class as a result. “Getting involved in things that don’t concern him is a challenge,” which, she explains, is typical of children with ADHD because they are impulsive and have a great sense of social justice.

Evan’s little sister, Lauren, was such a different baby, Natalie never suspected she also had ADHD. She started school fine but it was in senior infants that she began to have separation anxiety; developing issues with emotional regulation and struggling with school work. After the school advised them to get Lauren assessed, she was diagnosed at age six.

The Wilsons see marked differences in how the ADHD manifests in Evan and Lauren. While their daughter struggles to pay attention, not being hyperactive she never has, for instance, had trouble making friends, although sustaining friendships can be hard. She is going to be 10 in September but is still not in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs), says Natalie, unlike her brother. “We have had no support at all for Lauren.”

Evan is looking forward to starting secondary school at the end of the summer. He believes being able to move between classrooms will “definitely make the day much more manageable”.

What does he want other children to understand about ADHD? “If somebody is being very hyperactive, don’t classify them as an annoying person. Classify them as someone who finds it just hard to stay focused on what you’re talking about and finds it hard to stay still.”

Don’t judge them as a bad person because they don’t seem to be listening when you’re talking, he adds. “It’s very hard to focus on stuff but eventually you can learn to.”

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, family and parenting