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I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was twelve years old. At the time, I was precisely that stereotypical example I just described. If you need some help painting the details of that picture, let me guide your brush. My typical day in middle school consisted of being asked to leave the class frequently for being disruptive. I would try to make jokes, talk to my peers, and quite frankly drive the teacher insane. But the struggles didn’t stop when I got home – they just got worse. I was nearly incapable of doing homework. The thought of trying to sit down for more than fifteen minutes and work on something thoroughly that I didn’t really care about was uncomfortable in theory, and agonizing in my practice. Outside of academics, I was extremely high energy across the board. I talked faster than the speed of light, yet I was virtually unable to participate in the listening side of conversation. Overall, it’s fair to say that I was a bit of a hyperactive mess.
This all must be very hard to believe now for anyone at my college who knows me. I have been on the Dean’s list each semester thus far, I only speak during class when I am participating, and I am very attentive during conversations (if I do say so myself). This is what’s on the surface, but beneath it lies a hidden story. It took years of hard work and coaching to train my executive function skills to be, at the very least, equivalent to my peers. Countless refills of my meds. Seemingly endless nights where procrastination catches up to me, forcing me to focus on piles of work with due dates mere hours away.
Yeah, so those are the experiences and efforts that have led me to success despite ADHD. But does that mean I am completely cured from my diagnosis?
Sadly, no. I don’t think that I will ever be “ADHD free”. That’s not really possible. It is a biological and cognitive issue that I have accepted will always be part of my genetic make up. And if the science couldn’t prove that, the daily interferences certainly have. Whether it be studying, time-management, organization, or writing papers, focus is an ongoing challenge. Even writing this piece required me to constantly refocus my attention. But does that mean I am crippled by my diagnosis? Of course not! Despite all of this, ADHD has undoubtedly taught me the value of hard work and dedication to catalyze effective change. When you are diagnosed with something that seems to reflect poorly on your intellectual capabilities, it can be easy to get discouraged, but this is only because the misinformed societal stigma about ADHD has altered your perceptions. Instead, it’s important to understand that the diagnosis does not mean that you are forever incapable of learning academic skills. I recommend understanding which aspects of ADHD you struggle with and then set incremental short-term goals that will help build those skills. This is easier said than done - but with help from a good coach, some hard work and, most importantly, full dedication, these skills will develop over time. The difference between the individuals hindered by ADHD and the individuals succeeding despite it really comes down to the actions they take after their diagnosis.
For those who have the fortune of being free from any kind of learning disability, I invite you to rethink how you perceive ADHD. Instead of doubting someone’s diagnosis on the account of current successes you may see, feel inspired. Chances are, that person has been doing a ton of hard work behind the scenes.
So, if you find yourself asking, "Can you have ADHD and still be a good student?" - I'd say I'm living proof that a learning difference is no barrier to success.
Self-advocacy is a critical skill for all students to develop - especially for students with learning differences. Download our Self-Advocacy Checklist of specific skills that students need to be successful in school and beyond.