I was five years old when I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I was probably lucky to get diagnosed at such an early age too. Because I have the combined type of being hyperactive on some occasions, and inattentive on others, sometimes the diagnosis can be tricky.
When I was diagnosed I was confused about why I did not go to my local primary school for the first two years, why I always needed a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) and what effect it would have on me for the rest of my life.
Growing up with ADHD
I certainly felt different to everyone else, which affected my confidence, self-esteem and trust issues with other people, never having more than three good friends until college.
It was tough for sure and certainly led to a lot of loneliness, particularly when I depended heavily on a group of people who did not depend on me as much for socialising. Despite being aware of my ADHD, it created a stigma which I carried with me and despite moving to my local school, it was hard to integrate to a new class and start from zero again.
Having an SNA helped to improve my awareness and be more comfortable in classwork, although I still wanted to do a lot of things on my own. My ADHD did lead to a few successes in college, such as being on the quiz team, and winning a science competition after my “friend” dropped out two weeks before the project was due, after us working on it together for two months.
Building my confidence
Getting out of primary school and into secondary school was much needed at the time. It helped me gain some independence and was an opportunity to try make some new friends since I felt I was going nowhere on that. However, as I moved into secondary school, the same issues emerged and despite making some friends, it again turned out to be the same situation as primary school was. It was not until Transition Year (TY) that I gained some confidence through my public speaking and involvement with the Student Council, later becoming a Mentor and Prefect to represent the school.
I also got involved with CTYI (Centre for Talented Youth Ireland), both in primary school on Saturdays and for two years in secondary school, until I was too old to do it anymore. The two, three week camps were incredible. It was a chance to meet fellow introverts at “nerd camp” and find a place that truly represented people similar to myself, as someone who had been considered “gifted” or in my case, “twice exceptional” by both having ADHD and good grades despite admittedly not much effort.
It was then that I truly understood my ADHD of both types, noticing my constant daydreaming, lack of routine and want of order, always ‘on the go’ and trouble staying quiet when passionate on a subject, usually politics or one time when there was a presentation on ADHD at CTYI.
Self-reflection and self-care
Self-reflection and SNA support saw me accept myself for who I am. That led to a decrease in SNA support, from only a few classes a week to one class a week. I still take time for self-reflection now, whether it be through therapy after the Leaving Certificate, journaling every day or meditating to clear my mind.
My ADHD can certainly flare up at times, but the fact people are surprised when I mention I have ADHD is enough of a sign that I might have it, but it does not have me. If I had to leave with one thought, it is to take the first step of reflecting on your diagnosis and how this impacts your day to day life. This can lead to an incredible amount of opportunities for you going forward.