By Katie Banks
February 03, 2012
“But you can’t have ADHD or learning disabilities and get into Harvard, right?”
That’s part of the internal monologue for many bright students who suddenly find themselves struggling to cope academically and wonder if something is wrong with them. They may find that strategies that got them through high school don’t work in the academic boot-camp of Harvard. Here, they usually have much harder work than in high school—they may have to actually work at classes for the first time in their lives. Even harder, they are living independently: while that can be liberating, it also brings the stress of much greater demands on their organizational and ordinary living skills.
There is a growing recognition among doctors of how ADHD symptoms persist into adulthood and interfere with almost all areas of adult functioning: ADHD is not just the diagnosis for a young boy who can’t sit still in class and needs his Ritalin. The challenges of diagnosing adult ADHD, and of living with it, are particularly pressing for women: 45% of women diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood also present with long-standing anxiety and depression. Women frequently go undiagnosed because their “presentation” is not what doctors used to consider typical (for boys): they often don’t act out or disrupt the class, and it’s easier to miss someone who’s daydreaming than someone who’s flailing around with extra energy. They also tend to internalize their struggles more: a problem perhaps best summed up by the title of a 1993 book on adult ADHD, “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?!”
People with ADHD and learning disabilities face the stigma of these diagnoses in a culture of high achievement where “extra time” and other accommodations are thought of as unfair legs up, not reasonable adjustments. Perhaps the strongest voice of dissent they hear is their own: when it never occurs to you that there might be something going on in your brain to cause these difficulties, the quickest way to rationalize what is going on is often to take it out on yourself. But try to avoid that, hard as it is: the Bureau of Study Counsel at Harvard, and similar offices on other campuses, offer individual counseling, group ADHD and learning disabilities discussions, and referrals to therapists and other services. There is help available for those struggling with these issues.
About the Author
I am a math major also studying English education. I love teaching of all kinds. I am currently working at a children's science museum and editing popular science books.
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