The first time I met my disability officer I was a confident but burnt out third year Physical Science student and his vivaciousness struck me. However, as our conversations meandered, it revealed a deeper, unspoken truth – a narrative shared by many but voiced by few. Both of us have ADHD.
I am passionate about my lived and shared struggles, and he communicated this sentiment also. “I’ve always felt this need to prove myself twice as hard,” he shared. “Not because I lacked the intellectual capacity, but because my brain wouldn’t cooperate.” This wasn’t just a chat about extensions or deadlines – it was about the silent battles students with ADHD like me fight every single day.
For many, the term ADHD conjures visions of hyperactive children bouncing off walls or adults with thoughts that dart like hummingbirds from flower to flower. These notions, while not entirely baseless, merely scratch the surface of the profound depths and complexities associated with this neurodevelopmental disorder. To truly understand ADHD, one must imagine it as a journey through the mind which involves both turbulence and wonder.
In the world of academia, ADHD often finds itself trapped in a limbo of misunderstanding. Universities, whilst proud bastions of knowledge, sometimes falter in recognising the intricate challenges ADHD students face. This isn’t just about hyperactivity or distraction; it’s about a deeply embedded neurological difference.
When an ADHD student asks for an extension, it’s seldom a last-minute whimsy. It’s the culmination of days filled with mounting frustration, battling cognitive obstacles like time-blindness, emotional mis-regulation and slow processing. Whilst neurotypical students might see a clear road ahead, those with ADHD often navigate a path riddled with detours.
Yet, the prevailing sentiment among some faculty members is scepticism. “Are these students merely lazy?” they might wonder. Such sentiments, although perhaps rooted in concerns about academic integrity, can inflict profound distress on students who are genuinely grappling with their neurodivergence.
My narrative echoes this sentiment. “I remember an assignment,” he recalled: “I had every intention of starting early. But each time I sat down, my ADHD took the reins. Hours would melt away, and I’d be left feeling desolate, doubting my own capabilities.”
ADHD isn’t about a lack of willpower or intelligence. It’s about brains that are wired differently. Those diagnosed often possess brilliant minds that, ironically, become their own adversaries. They’re not asking for undue leniency but merely a fair chance—a level playing field.
However, the onus doesn’t solely lie with faculty. It is essential that students proactively communicate their needs. Trinity’s Disability Service provides the LENS report, a tool to bridge the gap of understanding between students and professors. This report, coupled with open dialogues at the semester’s start, has the potential to usher in a new era of understanding.
My story isn’t unique, but it was pivotal for me. My disability officer’s courage in sharing his personal ADHD journey with me sparked this article, which I hope is a clarion call to universities everywhere to understand, empathise, and adapt. Our academic spaces must not just be places of learning but also of inclusivity and understanding. For in recognising and supporting people like me, we pave the way for a richer, more inclusive future in education.
Over recent years, there’s been a discernible shift in the way ADHD is perceived and understood. Across the globe, increasing numbers of students are identifying as having ADHD, bringing to light the nuances of this neurodiverse condition. In just one year, Trinity witnessed a staggering 40% growth in students who identify with ADHD. This surge not only underscores the growing awareness and acceptance of ADHD but also heralds the changing dynamics of our student population.
Recognising that this increasing proportion of students has specific needs, Trinity has taken commendable steps forward. A notable milestone was the opening of an ADHD clinic, a pioneering initiative that marked its place as the first of its kind in any European university. Whilst services like these play a pivotal role in supporting students, it’s abundantly clear that more needs to be done, especially in the realm of academia.
The recent enhancements in support services are laudable, yet the broader academic landscape remains largely unchanged. Tailored to cater to conventional learning styles, it inadvertently side-lines neurodiverse students. If College, and academic institutions at large, aspire to create inclusive environments then a profound reform in the way we perceive and structure education is necessary. It’s not just about support services – it’s about reshaping the very fabric of our academic world to ensure everyone, irrespective of their neurological wiring, can fully participate and thrive.
The challenges for those with ADHD begin before the – often labyrinthine – diagnosis process even begins. Individuals often grapple with a series of internal questions: “Why can’t I focus?” “Why do simple tasks seem so challenging?” “Is something wrong with me?” These concerns can arise from years of unexplained struggles, culminating in a moment where seeking answers becomes inevitable.
Once you enter the realm of professional evaluations, the journey can be equally puzzling. Lengthy tests, comprehensive interviews, and the constant oscillation between hope and fear make it an emotionally taxing experience. “Will this test finally give me the answers I’ve been seeking?” “What if they say there’s nothing wrong, and I’m just lazy or unintelligent?”
Beyond the internal struggles are the battles against societal misunderstandings and stereotypes. ADHD is recognised medically, but society’s grasp of its nuances remains tenuous at best. Expressions like “Everyone’s a little ADHD” or “You just need to try harder” reflect a lack of comprehension and empathy. Such misconceptions can be debilitating, leading those diagnosed to sometimes doubt the legitimacy of their own experiences.
Guilt frequently accompanies an ADHD diagnosis, especially in adults. Thoughts like “I should’ve achieved more by now” or “Why can’t I manage what seems easy for others?” can be oppressive. Furthermore, given the lack of widespread understanding, many feel isolated and reluctant to share their diagnosis for fear of being labelled or misunderstood.
One of the harshest realities of ADHD is that whilst there is ample information on the diagnosis itself, practical day-to-day coping strategies can be elusive. It’s like being handed a puzzle with no image to guide you. The struggles extend beyond focus and attention: emotional regulation, time management, and even establishing meaningful relationships can become herculean tasks.
In schools or workplaces, those with ADHD often feel they’re expected to instinctively know how to “fix” themselves. But without guidance or understanding, how is one supposed to navigate these challenges? The overwhelming sentiment becomes, “I’m supposed to know this, so why don’t I?”
At Trinity, there’s an unspoken bond among students who sail the tumultuous ADHD waters. My personal journey with ADHD at Trinity was transformed by the community I found. The ADHD peer group and the Neurodiversity Society were sanctuaries. These spaces, brimming with empathetic individuals, became platforms for mutual support and understanding. Here, we weren’t anomalies; we were part of a vibrant tapestry, each thread essential, each story valued. Our informal gatherings soon evolved into structured meetings, where stories of struggles were met with nods of understanding and tales of triumph with shared jubilation. There’s a unique strength derived from realising you aren’t alone, that there are others sailing the same tumultuous waters.
In these gatherings, the most poignant moments often revolved around shared strategies. Lucas, from Physical Sciences, would demonstrate how ‘body doubling’ transformed his study sessions. Clara, a History major, shared her rhythmic study patterns, which became a revelation for many of us. We weren’t just sharing; we were co-creating solutions, tailored for our unique needs.
ADHD, while a journey fraught with challenges, also offers unique perspectives. At Trinity, through shared narratives and communal support, students like myself find not only coping mechanisms but also a sense of belonging. Our stories underscore the importance of understanding, empathy and community in navigating the intricate world of ADHD and creating a space where neurodiversity isn’t just tolerated, but celebrated.