Learning disability or difficulty, the reality - Part (2)

24 May 2017 | Focus | Thomas Peacock

If you missed Part 1 you can catch up here.

For students, university can be a turbulent and challenging time; but it is exactly these experiences that form character and strengthen individuals. The struggles are not uniform, however, and some may have a larger challenge ahead of them than others. Daniel and Ashley are two professionals who have persevered through the education system and graduated from university, despite facing hardships that have come with their learning disabilities. Both have AD(H)D but are also both adamant that their diagnoses are challenges, not excuses, and both believe there are equally as many benefits as there are hindrances that come with the disorder. I have recently interviewed them to discuss their experience at university, which entails some shocking, but also some humorous, stories. The main outcome of their experiences, they have concluded, is that the seemingly negligible experiences resultant of having AD(H)D have compounded into a domino effect, which has ultimately resulted in losing control.

Inattention means that for many students with ADHD, being able to absorb content in lectures is nigh on impossible. Both Ashley and Daniel described leaving lectures unable to recall much of what occurred and believed that their attendance was futile - reading, watching educational videos, or even just listening to a dicta-phone recording of the lecture would have all been better uses of their time. The key point to these activities is that if you lose attention, you can easily go back through the parts you’ve missed. In a lecture however, missing one important point could mean you spending the remainder of the lecture trying to work out what is going on. Furthermore, even if attention was able to be maintained throughout the lecture, both Daniel and Ashley described that recalling information was difficult; a common tendency of ADHD. This was worsened by the fact they could not simultaneously listen and take notes. As a result of all this, they would both attend lectures but still require time to read, watch or listen to further educational material anyhow. They thus had less time to complete coursework; the first domino to losing control set in place.

Working from home can cause a lot of problems; productivity can be affected by not having a clear distinction between work and life space. However, communal work environments come with their own set of issues for those with ADHD. Despite Daniel and Ashley studying very different subjects that involved working in very different environments, they both encountered similar issues. The focal point of these issues revolved around distraction; Ashley found that sounds very easily interrupted her workflow, whether it was someone talking or just a pen being dropped; for Daniel, it was all too easy to become engrossed in assisting other people with their work, struggling to prioritise his own work above others. Failing to work effectively in these environments was another domino in the struggle for control.

Generally speaking, those with ADHD often struggle with sleep; being wide awake at times when they should rest; and very tired at times they should be attentive. Ashley and Daniel often lost a lot of sleep for a multitude of reasons and all nighters were a frequent occurrence during term time - not just during deadlines. They disclosed that working during the night gave them the space to work without distraction that was often not applicable during the day, but it also was the time they felt most productive; often being alert and more focused at times when everyone else would be getting ready to sleep. But working late often meant that day-time obligations were hard to maintain and their social lives were often disrupted. To sustain either meant to lose out on sleep, which is ultimately a very corrosive action to take. A large domino in the struggle for control.

Another trait that is common to ADHD, is taking on too much. With such varied interests, it can be hard to priorities what you spend your time doing. Ashley took on a lot of additional responsibilities in her household, without considering the ramifications. Unable to prioritise and often choosing urgency over importance; Ashley incurred fines for the household and at one point even found herself abandoned at a service station when the police pulled her over for driving without insurance - her insurance had been cancelled due to payments bouncing during her exam period. Daniel, similarly, took on too many responsibilities at university; running the architecture student society and becoming student representative. Whilst these activities were very beneficial, they did come at a cost to his academic performance and social life. Daniel recounts how, at the end of first year, he had so much to do and such an inability to manage his time that he wound up attending parties with his laptop in hand; simultaneously working and socialising. This inability to prioritise was the domino that tipped in a long line of dominos.

Whilst control was seemingly lost early-on in their studies, by the end of university both Daniel and Ashley eventually devised their own coping mechanisms and had sought help with managing their time. Both advocate that getting assistance was key to turning their studies around; simply having someone to talk to objectively and openly was fundamental. But they also strongly believe that by not trying to fit into the norm and devising their own approaches to studying - tackling their issues in their way - were paramount to not only succeeding but excelling in university. When put to the right approach, ADHD can benefit as much as it inhibits.

For Part 3 - click here

Interviewed by Latha Kathirkamathamby
Edited by Jameka Neil

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