For most students, the worst thing about multiple-choice tests is the ScanTrons with rectangles instead of bubbles. You know the ones I’m talking about.

For me, choosing the correct answer is only half the battle. My mind creates an obstacle course of random thoughts and distractions as I try to pay attention:

Why is this room so cold?

What should I eat for lunch today?

I should pay my Comcast bill…

They grow louder when everyone finishes before I do:

Do they have to pack up so loudly?

How much time do I have left?

This is one example of the challenges I face as a result of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which affects roughly 8 million adults in the U.S.

Despite extensive research illustrating these challenges, it seems like the only people who care are the ones suffering. If professors and classmates were more aware of the barriers ADHD creates, the anxiety, stress and shame I feel on a regular basis would be much less significant.

Courtney Jellar, an ADHD coach and counselor at the Accessible Education Center at the University of Oregon, is studying adult ADHD. She works with students to educate them about their symptoms and how to cope with them academically and personally. It helps that she, too, has ADHD.

No one suspected that ADHD was an issue for Jellar until her first year in the Ph.D program.

“It was really intense. I was in five classes, I was a GTF and I was also trying to do independent research outside of classes. It finally got to the level where all the ADHD challenges that I had were kind of showing,” Jellar said. “It was never the quality of my work, but it was just so hard to get everything done in the amount of time everybody expected me to get it done.”

When making deadlines became a problem, she went to be assessed and was diagnosed with ADHD.

After researching, she found that most of the information on it was deficit-focused, and little research has been done on the positive aspects, which are just as important.

So she decided to do the research herself.

“I tell people ‘I know ADHD with my head’ because I’ve studied it and written papers about it and things like that,” Jellar said. “But I also tell people ‘I know ADHD with my heart’ because I’ve had the experiences myself. I don’t think I would have worked so hard to understand the balanced view of ADHD otherwise.”

She found that many of the symptoms perceived as weaknesses can also be strengths.

An example of this is “divergent thinking.” ADHDers tend to see connections where others don’t or find solutions that are unconventional. Often people affected are characterized as right-brain thinkers. This means they are more creative, passionate and deeply aware of the surrounding world.

This may be a struggle when communicating their thought processes, but it can also be an asset for brainstorming or discovery. People with ADHD often become pioneers, inventors, entrepreneurs and leaders in professional and academic fields.

It’s widely believed by psychologists and historians that Albert Einstein had ADHD. Others include Van Gogh, Benjamin Franklin, Emily Dickinson, Mozart, Henry Ford, Elvis Presley, Abraham Lincoln — the list goes on.

People with ADHD have proven to be capable to succeed just as anyone else.

However, learning about their symptoms and how to cope with them is necessary for them to thrive — especially today. Lack of education and awareness tends to prevent that.

Kaitlyn Garish, a senior sociology major who was diagnosed with ADHD her freshman year, said her classmates and professors have been understanding for the most part. But the struggle to keep her GPA up prevented her from being able to declare her first choice major, journalism.

“I don’t necessarily think the teachers should change, but I think certain programs should have more understanding of the drawbacks and effects it can have on grades and the students,” Garish said.

Anjuli Chitkara, a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology and GTF counselor in the UO’s Accessible Education Center, says the best way for professors to eliminate some of these issues in their classroom is by teaching and testing in ways that cater to a variety of learning styles. (Chitkara has ADHD as well.)

“Everyone has a unique way of learning. Some people are good at taking tests, while others are better at writing or doing projects,” Chitkara said. “So this would be an improvement for everyone — not just students with ADHD.”

Free weekly visits with a counselor in the Accessible Education Center, like Chitkara or Jellar, are one of the many ways the UO accommodates registered students with learning barriers, such as ADHD. Counselors help the students tackle challenges for the week, from planning their schedule to understanding an essay assignment, or studying.

These meetings also provide students with a safe and supportive space where they won’t be judged or shamed for their symptoms. Here, you don’t need to apologize for being late. Since ADHDers often struggle with time management, this can be a huge relief.

ADHD tends to be highly generalized: It’s primarily associated with hyperactivity and short attention spans. In reality, its symptoms and their severity vary — often pretty dramatic.

While one person with ADHD may be hyperactive, another may struggle to be active at all. ADHD isn’t characterized by an inability to focus, but an inability to control one’s focus.

One of my biggest struggles, which is common among people with ADHD, is hyperfocus.

When writing, I often spend hours just on preliminary research, and another few hours developing an argument or thesis. It’s not uncommon for me to spend over 30 hours on a five-page essay.

While it’s a good thing to be meticulous, I don’t have enough time to hyperfocus on every task I’m assigned, and that’s where the all-nighters come in.

“This disconnect between the label ADHD and the actual behavior observed in ADHD can be confusing for parents, partners and friends,” said Keith Miller, licensed psychologist and Access Advisor at the UO. “It is also often confusing for individuals with ADHD.  It is one of the factors that can delay diagnosis, and lead to disbelief and misunderstanding of ADHD even after a diagnosis is made.”

I was diagnosed almost three years ago, but like many others who are diagnosed as an adult, I had a limited understanding of it.

First, I was relieved. When the doctor handed me my prescription, I was convinced all my problems would disappear. My grades went up, and my ability to put my ideas into action were stronger than ever.

But as school became more demanding, the problems came back with a vengeance.

Last term during finals week, I pulled two all-nighters in a row, and received my first failing grade.

I was depressed, anxious. I was so stressed I had a panic attack at work.

That’s when I finally went to the Accessible Education Center, and learned more about my brain. For once in my life, I feel like I’m understanding myself.

The truth is, these issues won’t go away overnight. Awareness is merely the tip of the iceberg. Forming new habits that are better suited to my abilities is a process that might take years.

I appreciate knowing what I do now. At the end of the day, I don’t feel nearly as alone or incapable as I used to.

And if I would’ve learned this sooner, I wouldn’t feel like I wasted so much time. Time that could’ve been spent enjoying my senior year.

Follow Andrea Harvey on Twitter @andrearharvey


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