How My Burden Was Lifted

After facing college dismissal, Brian Polk was diagnosed with ADHD and began using coaching, medication and counseling to earn his degree and become a teacher.

Sharing His Gifts, Part 2

Geri: It’s common for people with ADHD to read slowly, and to have trouble visually tracking and scanning. Medication sets the stage for learning how to “survey” the text. But Brian was also helped by his own insights, and by the strategies he had learned. The physiological and psychological complemented each other.

Brian: With Geri’s practical guidance and support, I learned how to be productive again. That felt good. She had lots of ideas—like varying the scenery. I found that I was more productive when I went somewhere I didn’t usually work — the library or my living room. Geri also had me try writing by hand instead of typing, and had me read with a pencil in my hand, so I could take notes in the margins and underline. They were minor changes, but they made a big difference.

Geri: I gave Brian lots of specific strategies to try. If he was doing research in preparation for writing a paper, for example, I’d urge him to read the table of contents first and see where his topic was discussed. That way, he could find quotations supporting his thesis without having to spend time reading the entire book.

Brian would try out a strategy, and then come back and talk about it. Did it help? Did it make it worse? It’s one thing to be told, “You can do it.” It’s better to learn how to do it, and see your success.

Brian: My psychologist helped me become aware of when I was doing something counterproductive. Once I was telling him about the problems I was having working on my computer — how I felt tied down to my desk, and how I often got distracted by the Internet or with playing solitaire. He suggested I get a portable word processor. At first, I resisted the suggestion, telling him all sorts of reasons why that would never work. Then I gave in and bought one.

It gave me the mobility I was looking for, and there was no Internet connection to distract me. I’d start working at the library or the student union, or outside the classroom while waiting for my next class. Later, I could hook it up and transfer what I wrote to the computer.

Geri: At one point after he went back to college, Brian sent me an e-mail: “Although I’m busy, I’m not much busier than I was before. I feel how much I’m learning. Most important, I’m enjoying being in class. It really feels good to be a productive student.”

Eileen: In his senior year of college, Brian was having a hard time with a particular course. He had been in contact with the university’s disabilities office when he re-enrolled, but he had never needed much in the way of accommodations. But this class was just too unstructured.

We urged Brian to tell the professor that he had ADHD, but Brian said, “I need to do this by myself.” We convinced him to talk things over with his doctor, and the doctor said the same thing we’d told him: Talk to the professor. The professor turned out to be very understanding.

Brian: I wound up doing very well in college, earning all As and one B. In 2005, I graduated with a math degree, and then got my teaching certificate. Teaching is what I’ve wanted to do since the fifth grade. I always enjoyed discussing and exploring math, and I realized that I wanted to teach high school. The kids are old enough to talk to, and young enough for you to impact their lives. Teaching is fun, though it takes work. Grading papers is monotonous, but the toughest thing is the planning aspect. I had trouble structuring my own life, and now I’m supposed to structure the curricula for 175 students. My own ADHD helps me recognize it in some of my students — and I think that makes me a better teacher. It’s made me more sensitive to other learning issues, too.

ADHD is still a constant battle. I still take medication, though less than I took last year. I procrastinate less now, but still not as little as I’d like. I think being intelligent is both a blessing and curse. It enabled me to cope, and that made me put off getting the help I needed.

Eileen: When he took me on a tour of his school, Brian showed me his desk. It was so neat, I couldn’t believe it was Brian’s. He’s come such a long way.

This article comes from the December 2006/January 2007 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: ADHD and College, ADHD Accommodations, 504s, IEPs,

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