I went to college, and I learned stuff.
I learned what an eigenvector is. I learned about Walter Benjamins views on modernity. I learned how to write apps for smartphones.
But I also learned a lot of things that werent on the curriculum things having to do with ADHD. Here are 4 of them.
Of everything I learned from going to college with ADHD, maybe the most noteworthy is the fact that I have ADHD in the first place.
The feeling of something being wrong that I could not exactly put my finger on, and struggling with things that should theoretically be easy, reached a point where I could no longer ignore it. I consulted a mental health professional, mainly because of anxiety and depression at first, which led to the discovery that I have ADHD.
When youre in college, you learn about learning, and you learn about how you learn in particular.
Along those lines, I came to realize that how well you learn something isnt only about the information youre learning itself, but about how its presented.
Im thinking especially about how information can be presented in writing, verbally, through a video, and so on. For example, I do not absorb information well at all if its presented in a lecture format, even if its relatively simple information.
Lectures tend to take place in an understimulating environment youre sitting there passively, listening to someone talk on and on. For the ADHD brain, thats a recipe for inattention. To make things worse, if you zone out and lose the train of a lecture, you cant go back and reread (as with written information) or rewatch (as with videos).
All of which is to say, the medium information is communicated in determines how you understand that information, and as a student with ADHD its critical to become aware of what mediums work well for you.
Whether youre in an environment that fits well with your brain determines what kind of experience you have when you have ADHD. Some environments naturally facilitate coping while others will always be an uphill struggle.
Ive written before about why school, at any level, often isnt a good environment for ADHDers. When I was a kid, I naively believed that if you were smart and wanted to do well in school, you would do well in school. So if I didnt do well in school, that must mean I wasnt smart or I wasnt trying hard enough.
Now, of course, I understand that peoples brains and environment interact in complex ways that, at least for people with ADHD, strongly influence factors like motivation, attention, and whether you achieve up to your “potential.” The environment you are in makes a difference, and you have to seek out an environment that brings out your personal strengths.
This might sound like a trivial thing to include on this list, but at the time it felt like a deep realization. It occurred to me, observing other students: many people simply do not have an issue with sitting still and focusing for extending periods of time.
Meanwhile, I would leave class and get a drink of water just to have an excuse to move around. I naturally want to move even when Im thinking especially when Im thinking, actually. For me, thinking and moving tend to go together. Even writing this post, I keep getting up to walk around as I collect my thoughts.
These arent the only four things I learned in college I hope not, anyway! But theyre four that come to mind when I reflect on my experience as a student with ADHD. If you learned some similar lessons going to school with ADHD, feel free to share them below!
Image: Flickr/Sean MacEntee