Girl on a Mission
Lear how one high school student with ADHD says seeking outside support and never giving up helped her make it to the head of her class.
When Julia Filegi graduates from high school this year, the graceful, honey-haired scholar will have racked up more academic honors and community service awards than anyone else in her class at an all-girls’ school in Dallas.
“Her moral integrity is what sets her apart,” says Chris Turner, an English teacher who selected Julia for the school’s literature award two years in a row. “We looked at GPA, but also considered responsibility, discipline, focus, and participation – the things that make a well-rounded student. Julia has all those things.”
Julia also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Diagnosed in second grade, when a teacher expressed concern about her wandering attention, Julia has had her share of struggles. She often forgot to bring home her books and assignments, and her parents had to go to school after hours and beg a custodian to let them in. “Teachers were not very supportive,” remembers her father, Jim, a doctor, who also has ADHD.
“Sometimes we felt there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” says Julia’s mother, Irene. “Dealing with ADHD requires more effort from children, and more from parents, too. Reading was always difficult for her, so we read to her all the time.”
ADHD in Middle School
Middle school changed everything. “Julia was assigned to a special-ed math class, and she decided, ‘I want to do better,'” says Irene. And she did. With tutors, medication, parental guidance, and plenty of determination, Julia turned herself into a scholar.
Today, Julia, a straight-A student, still needs support: extra time on tests, assisted note-taking, and seating at the front of the class. “Reading takes me longer than most students in my class,” she says. No problem. Julia dedicates whatever time it takes to get her work done.
Medication is an everyday necessity. “When I skip a dose of medication, I can’t focus on the things I need to do, because other things get me off track,” she says. “Medication helps me in other ways as well: It makes me a better driver.”
Motivation for Students with ADHD
What drives Julia Filegi? As she wrote in a recent essay, “I try to be a responsible person and a reliable friend. I study, work, volunteer, and go to church. I believe in God, look up to my parents, respect my teachers, and have hopes and dreams for the future.” That essay helped her earn a scholarship to a university, where she will major in biomedical science.
She’s had a head start. “When I was volunteering at a cancer center, two years ago, I saw so much suffering. I saw people who had half a face, who had an ear missing. I wanted to learn more so I could help them.”
Few who know her have any doubt that Julia will succeed. Her list of accomplishments is long and impressive. The girl voted the “most studious” in her class also won a service award; first place in a district-wide architectural drawing competition; an Honor Student Medal for her top-ten ranking in her class; and a volunteer service medal, for giving more than 600 hours of community service.
“We always knew that our daughter had a big heart and was a giving person,” says Jim Filegi. “But, with all the struggles through the years, we couldn’t have guessed that things would turn out so well.”
How Parents Can Support Children and Teens with ADHD
Julia, her teachers, and her peers credit her parents, Jim and Irene, for helping Julia become a model student and citizen. ADDitude asked Jim and Irene to tell us what they did right.
- Acknowledge the problem. Julia’s ADHD was diagnosed when she was in second grade and her treatment plan included medication. The Filegis followed her doctor’s orders and learned more about ADHD.
- Seek outside support. When Julia struggled academically, her parents responded immediately. They gave her six sessions with a study-skills tutor.
- Find compassionate educators. The Filegis visited lots of high schools and interviewed teachers and administrators to make sure that the school would be a good fit for Julia.
- Follow-through at home. The Filegis gave Julia a handheld, white dry-erase board and a small chalkboard. On the whiteboard, she wrote her assignments, in the order of her classes for the next day. On the chalkboard, she worked through the steps of her math problems. To help Julia think of herself as a serious student, Jim and Irene had her write on the boards as she sat in front of a mirror.
- Provide a loving environment. Despite their busy schedules, the Filegis eat dinner together most nights. “We provided the quiet time and space she needed,” says Jim. “And we do a lot of things together as a family.” The Filegis also volunteer at Julia’s school and at her extracurricular pursuits.
- Set a good example. The Filegis are active in church, and they are community volunteers. “Julia once chose to volunteer with a group of kids who were mentally challenged, when other volunteers avoided them,” says Jim, proudly. Julia speaks of her father’s overcoming ADHD challenges to become a doctor, and of her mom’s decision to return to college as an adult.
- Teach values. Faith and family traditions keep the Filegis close. Says Irene, “Julia sees how some other girls dress and the way they treat their parents, and she doesn’t want to be like that. She’s respectful and willing to take our advice and learn from our experiences.”
- Never give up. “Things haven’t come easily,” says Irene. “We never thought we would be where we are today.”
Names have been changed.