An ADHD Learning CurveI’ve always loved to teach – and loved to learn.

Last Friday, I had a total, teary, ADHD adult-learner meltdown.

You’d think after blabbing and blogging about having ADHD for so long, I’d be ok with sharing that I learn more slowly than others. Not so, as my recent bass guitar lesson proved.

Triggered trauma

My emotional reaction was in part fueled by memories of the first time I had to tell an instructor about my ADHD. It was literally a case of do-or-die: put on the brakes or break my neck.

I’d been cantering around an arena, about to take one of my first jumps when my riding instructor shouted out an instruction. By the time her command reached my ears, she might as well have been speaking Klingon.

I slowed down, stopped my horse, and burst into tears. My teacher listened as I explained that I’d become overwhelmed by too much stimuli. To her credit, she agreed to work with me in a way that was new to her, but would keep me safe and accommodate my ADHD.

Déjà vu all over again

Once again at my guitar lesson, I found myself feeling embarrassed and ashamed at being such a slow learner. All the old memories from childhood of feeling (and being treated like) I was stupid were stirred up.

I know I’m not; my teacher knows that too. This only makes it sound more implausible when I explain that I pick things up more slowly than others, which in turn fuels my feeling of awkwardness.

Class klutz

I’ve outgrown being an ADHD class clown, but I’m still the class klutz. I come by it honestly; lots of ADHDers have poor coordination.

In spite of being hyperactive, when I first learned how to play a Djembe, I’d force myself to drum at a snail’s pace for long, tedious hours. I had to, to train my muscles until they were coordinated enough to do it. Then I’d speed up just a teeny bit; repeat; until I could drum at the right tempo.

I’ve taught African hand-drumming for years, and people are always shocked to hear that this is how I learned.

Pilates and pratfalls

Me, ADHD, and Nia

Me, ADHD, and Nia

Even more unlikely, in spite of not being able to follow along in a dance class – ever – (I’m the one standing still at the back, mid-way through the class, trying to figure out what direction everyone else is facing) – I once taught aerobics at the Y.

Again, I had to work out the routines slowly, step-by-step (literally), training my body to do them without tying myself in a knot. Then I had to teach them while avoiding tripping over my own feet and landing in a faceplant in front of a class of 20 or so students.

I’m addicted to learning

When I explained to my guitar instructor it would take me longer to learn than his other students, it was based on years of learning in the slow lane.

This time, my teacher had exactly the right answer.

“You know what, Zoë?” he said. “I have adult students say, ‘It’s a bass guitar. It only has four strings. How hard can it be?’ and quit after four lessons. You haven’t quit.”

That’s something else I’ve learned: how to pick the right teacher for me.

I may be singing the blues about being a slow learner, but in my own sweet time, I won’t be singing the blues – I’ll be playing them!

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    Last reviewed: 25 Apr 2012

APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2012). An ADHD Learning Curve. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2015, from


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