My brain runs as fast a Lamborghini but has the breaks of a mountain bike. This was how my therapist explained my Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I struggled with ADHD since early childhood. But I wasn’t diagnosed until my junior year in college because I rarely exhibited the classic symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD), and successfully hid my fidgeting and procrastination from doctors. Catching ADHD late is not the end of the world. With proper guidance and family support, a student can manage ADHD and excel in life.
The challenge of late diagnosis is chronic because ADHD can take many forms; symptoms can be subtle and often differ between genders. A child who just doesn’t seem to “get it,” has a tendency to daydream, is always anxious, or can’t seem to do homework no matter how much he or she wants to, can also be suffering from ADD/ADHD. In my case, I get easily distracted (think Dug from the movie Up!), struggle with procrastination, talk fast, am constantly anxious about school, daydream, struggle to take tests, study for long hours, fidget, and often try to finish someone’s sentences.
Growing up, I was lucky to have a supportive family who mediated my challenges through meticulous organization. My parents helped me create an in-depth planner, with color-coded binders for each class. I had a list of assignments for the entire year on the first page, which my mom checked everyday after school. We set designated study schedules, with built in relaxation time that included an activity that I loved, and my mom would often sit up with me for hours as I studied difficult subjects, just so that I could spitball ideas off of her. What helped me most was teaching. When I was struggling with a certain topic, I would pretend that I was a teacher, and would give a very thorough math lesson to my dog (he was very adept at Algebra 2). To this very day, when I struggle with a subject I will continue to talk it out with one of my three pets until we all understand.
These things might seem small, but it made it feel like I had a team on my side cheering for me when I was struggling, and as a someone who is about to start a PhD program, I can say that a support system is the key to succeeding with ADHD or any other chronic illness.
Despite these strategies and my support network, I always felt like I was different. I had to study twice or even three times as long as my friends. The difference made me feel inadequate and “stupid,” which caused me to isolate myself frequently as a teenager. I struggled with anxiety and depression, common misdiagnosed symptoms of ADHD.
I was able to succeed because I had clear goals and a wonderfully supportive family, but those who aren’t as lucky can often fall behind, which can make the anxiety that often comes with ADD/ADHD even worse. I had a hunch I had ADD/ADHD starting my freshman year in high school, but because I was ashamed of being different, I would lie to my doctor or would hide the few “classic symptoms” that I did exhibit. As a result, my struggles were written off as a side effect of puberty.
If you believe there is something different with your student, do not let one doctor dissuade you. As someone whose grades went from straight B’s and C’s to straight A’s after my diagnosis, I wish my family had pushed harder for a diagnosis. A diagnosis can do many things for a student: it offers access to medication that can improve the ability to concentrate and allows students to receive academic accommodations. But in my opinion, the most important thing was the peace of mind that nothing was wrong with me. I had a common condition that many people struggle with, and that reassurance relieved a portion of my anxiety, and allowed me to push myself further than ever before. But with a few extra color coded binders to help me.
There are many resources out there to help parents figure out if their child is struggling with ADD/ADHD. My favorite is ADDitude Magazine, which offers articles that range from diagnosis to study skills.
Jenna Wiegand is a former Tungsten Prep tutor. She relates how her own learning differences, and her late diagnosis with ADHD, that helped her build resilience, strengthened her compassion for others, and fueled her desire to educate and empower students with diverse learning styles. She loves sharing her story and talking to our Tungsten Prep families about how they can help their sons and daughters succeed despite their ADHD.