Facing my ADHD head-on

ADHD labelFor the first time in my life, I am going into an education setting with a label, and its corresponding accommodations: ADHD.  It’s a very odd feeling for me, because it’s not like I was hit by an attention deficit bus, and am different now than I was when I was last in a formal learning situation.  I am the same “me” I always have been, with the same promise, same creativity, same leap out of the starting gate.  Only now, I may ask for and receive help when the sprint becomes a marathon.

Here is my usual performance pattern: I start off with loads of promise, and often get an early reputation as “the smart girl”. If the class is easy, I can run into trouble from a pace that’s too slow.  I end up doodling all over my notes and zoning out in class, missing important information, like when our assignment is due. My public school report cards were riddled with comments like, “Catherine would do much better if she would stop starting out the window.  She dreams for most of the class and then rushes through her work at the last minute, and does not hand in her best work.”

If the class is challenging, you might find me halfway through a course, staggering under the burdens with overwhelm and paralysis, not knowing how to break a big job into small parts. University was a bit like this.  In high school, I was used to being “the smart girl” and getting As and Bs even when all the work was done the night before an assignment was due.  At UVic in the 80s, suddenly I was one of a class full of “smart” students, and the ones who learned how to study in high school suddenly were performing far better than I was. I didn’t have a chance at a scholarship, or even keeping my grades high enough for a co-op program.

Now, in my late 40s, I am trying out a new pattern.  I’m starting my work when it is assigned.  I’m doing the readings.  I’m taking time every day to work on this Master’s degree.  And I’m asking for help ahead of time.  For me, that means meeting with an academic coach, for assistance with planning out my work.  It also means letting my fellow learners and teachers know that my strength is found in being “in the moment”.  Improvisation and synthesis is more my style than organizing and classifying.

This goes some way to address my own learning style, though I haven’t seen a good match so far in the reading materials.  It will inform everything I do in the Learning and Technology program – don’t be surprised if I consistently look at learning and teaching methods through the lens of ADHD.  I hope that it adds to the overall body of knowledge, instead of being a distraction for others.  Goodness knows, I know what it means to be distracted!


One response

  1. I think that if I had been raised in North America I would have been labeled ADHD. It amazes me how overused this term is and how easily it is stamped upon people here. It is almost like some sort of dark humour. Children are not paying in class? So what? I don’t blame them! Lectures are boring! Leave them alone to construct their own meaning, to learn by letting their minds wander about whatever is more important to them. When I studied psychiatry as part of my Medicine curriculum and worked for a year at a psychiatric ward I realized people who seemed so different from one another were labeled the same. When I read the DSM IV it became obvious that there are so many overlaps between conditions, and that definitions are often so vague, that it becomes a matter of personal choice on the part of the observer, the clinician, to label the observed one. In my ward, half of our patients had been labeled bipolar. Maybe that was just the trendy diagnose of that year. Like ADHD in North America, I thought the label was overused. It was simply a convenient diagnose to avoid describing the person in any more meaningful way. It was a straightforward way to initiate chemical treatment. Then, after days or months of trying out a drug or two or a chemical cocktail dutifully recommended for bipolar disorder, if it hadn’t yet worked at normalizing the patient, a new drug for some other label would be tested on the live subject. Eventually, if that drug worked, the label would be adjusted accordingly to that for which the drug was intended in the first place. If you think this could just be a problem of the third world, and that it wouldn’t happen here, let me assure you that we do things down there by the book, that is by what the New England Journal of Medicine and similar gods prescribe. As any medical student from the global South would tell you, we read more in English–dictionaries in hand–than in our languages because we don’t care to wait for the edited, reduced, translated version. When it comes to our brain, we know so little, that in psychiatry, drugs are used to diagnose: if drug X works, then it must be disease Y. At least it appears we no longer use amphetamines to “treat” ADHD. Drugs like Ritalin seemed to have been designed with rave parties, rather than children, in mind.

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