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It’s that time of year again — the dreaded exam season! While for most it means a bit of added stress, time spent revising and having to work a little harder that usual, for someone with ADHD, it means something much more terrifying.

The mere thought of having to sit in a room for an hour, with no change of mental stimulation, no break from concentration and the pressure of a time limit is enough to make me anxious. Let alone the fact that some of my exams are up to five hours long. I struggle to keep concentrated in an hour and a half lesson, often finding myself starting to show my tics and getting frustrated with being unable to concentrate on anything the teacher is saying or what I have written in front of me.

When I cast my eyes over my exam timetable this year, I outwardly groaned! Friends asked me, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve only got four exams!” I groaned because I saw the time for one of my written exams — two hours and 45 minutes. How anybody is physically meant to be able to write for that length of time is beyond me, but for someone who is already starting to zone out writing this post, I can already see my grade dropping — and it has nothing to do with my academic ability.

My usual coping mechanisms would have me disqualified — Listening to music or taking 10 minutes to change the subject and check Facebook on my phone. So how on earth am I meant to cope? It’s taken getting to my second year at college to finally find some things that help. They are both external and things I can do myself. Here they are:

1. Small group and rest breaks (the exam gods’ greatest gifts!)

If I hadn’t discovered this exam concession, I would probably have dropped out of college last year and be sitting around with no A levels to my name. But surprisingly, in a college of over 4,000 pupils, I finally received the help I needed through my tutor.

He introduced me to the idea of having these. At first I turned my nose up — I didn’t need special treatment. I felt I didn’t deserve that! But he reassured me it really wasn’t a big deal and directed me to Study Support. They informed me a note from my doctor would have me whisked away from the huge sports halls lined with hundreds of students taking exams to a smaller room where I could simply raise my hand and ask to leave the room (escorted) for as long as I needed without it affecting my exam time or grade.

As someone who also experiences back and joint pain from hypermobility, this also meant I could have a stretch and a walk and return with a fresh mind and body ready to continue my exam. I honestly can’t tell you how much these helped me. I suddenly became an A student, but more importantly, I felt a lot less stressed in the exams and was able to continue college for another year.

I really stress to anyone who has from ADD, ADHD, any concentration disorder, anxiety, pain or anything else to please talk to the necessary people — teachers, your school’s equivalent of Study Support or your doctor will all be able to help you. I didn’t even know it existed until my tutor told me about it!

2. Add some fruit and vegetables to your diet.

No, I mean it this time! Chocolate chips really won’t help! I know everyone says the same thing about healthy eating — “Vegetables give you brain power!” But they really do! Eating a more balanced diet and helping your body to not be working overtime to find nutrients in what you are eating really helps your brain to focus on the task at hand — exams!

I dare you to try it. I’m not saying don’t eat chocolate, but just think about adding some extra fruit and vegetables to your diet, it will really give your brain the upper hand to help you concentrate and focus and generally have more energy.

3. Avoid energy drinks.

I speak from experience! This time last year, I could not function if I didn’t drink a particular brand of energy drink before every lesson. I’ve never really drunk other energy drinks, but friends have told me they pretty much do the same thing. I genuinely thought even the drink wasn’t doing enough to keep me focused. My heart would be racing in a lesson and I wouldn’t be able to even focus from the beginning. I couldn’t keep this up let alone afford to buy one for every class!So I started to wean myself off of them. Eventually, I made the connection that they made it worse. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know why, but I presume it has to do with the sugar and caffeine making my body and mind work overtime.

4. Take some time for yourself.

You needn’t spend every hour of your life studying! It’s hard work trying to prepare for exams, let alone when that work doubles when you have ADHD or another concentration disorder. If you have a free period, you don’t always have to use it productively. Spend some time just sitting and chilling sometimes — read a book, look at your phone or have a nap if you can find somewhere!

It really helps to just reset your brain once in a while and have a recharge. Don’t feel guilty about it it’s simply a bit of self-care!

5. Know you aren’t alone.

People might not always be able to understand, but they are willing to help. I spend a lot of my time in a bubble. If you tell someone you can’t concentrate, they might laugh and tell you to just concentrate. Little do they know it isn’t as easy as that! I spent a lot of time struggling in silence until I discovered a community of people with mental disorders on social media. They’ve helped me realize a lot of things I thought only happened to me, actually happen to a lot of people. Knowing this has helped me talk to people to help them help me. My teachers will all check in with me once in a while now, to check that I’m up to date with everything and have managed to catch up on what I’ve missed in a “zone out.” I’ve asked to be emailed PowerPoints used in lessons, which has actually helped others in the class too when the teacher has shared them. It’s almost impossible for anyone to take in all the information they learn in a lesson!

It’s really important to never struggle in silence, and one thing I have learned is that other people don’t want you to either. But they can’t help unless you let them and help them do so. They may not understand how my brain works, but if I decipher the code for them, most people are willing.

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Thinkstock photo via macrovector.

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Each day begins with a bang. Not a gentle, “time to get out of bed,” and then the rest of the routine just comes. Each day and each morning require routine and reminders. And words. Constantly. At 9 years old, my son is capable of dressing himself, getting his breakfast and getting out the door, but he requires prodding and reminders at each step. Things must often be repeated. Tasks that might seem simple to some can take more than 15 minutes to accomplish when your brain is in constant alert mode.

The world is full of stimuli to my son who has ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). There is so much going on in his mind that even tying his shoes can be besotted by constant distraction. To him, there are just so many other things he could be doing or seeing. Why can’t the shoe tying just wait?

The thing I wish more people understood is that he is not doing these things to be difficult. He is not purposely taking longer to tie his shoes, or eat his breakfast, or choose a treat at the store. His 9-year-old brain is just full of so much more! He is in almost constant “go” mode. I believe he sees the world as full of possibility, as many of us do, but he sees it all at once. And he does not understand yet why he must wait to see or do it all.

I also wish more of us understood all that ADHD encompasses. It is not just hyperactivity and inattention. It is also emotional dysregulation, anxiety, difficulty interacting with peers, emotional immaturity, difficulty adjusting to new things and so much more. Most days my son enjoys being with friends and learning new things at school. Other days he cries with frustration because his mind won’t allow him to concentrate enough to learn a new idea. Don’t get me wrong. My son is very bright. But for him to learn a new idea requires more effort and patience.

ADHD means we do a bit more for our son. I spend some days on the phone for an hour or more seeking the best providers in our area we can find. It means I spent almost a full year getting him into a behavioral and mental health center at a top-notch children’s hospital in our city. It meant I made call after call to get that first appointment. It meant that he stayed behind with his dad when my grandmother passed away this winter so he could attend that appointment we waited eight months to get. But I would do it all again. And more. Because this specialist at this top-notch children’s hospital has been wonderful and amazing and kind, and my son is thriving.

I have a son with ADHD. I have a son who also is loving, kind, caring, funny and bright. And I wouldn’t change him one bit.

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In second grade I would kick my feet under my desk. This wasn’t a light paddle kind of kick, but wildly kicking the desk up with my feet, causing a commotion and a lot of noise. It would completely disrupt the class and I would get yelled at. I would have to stay in for recess because of something out of my control. I remember my regular ed teachers putting heavy books on my lap to try to get me to stop, but I had so much energy my legs would just kick. There was also a time they put tape on my legs (I could easily break the tape) that would lightly tug on my clothing as I started to kick, trying to act as a reminder. But still, my feet swung.

As much as I tried to stop, the second my mind lost focus (which as a child with severe ADHD was literally every three minutes) my legs would start going again. My special ed teacher found a solution, a piece of fabric I could play with in my hands, and suddenly my legs stopped kicking. Over the years I’ve tried different things to get the relief, and I have found nothing more helpful than my fidget cube.

Students with disabilities need these cubes and spinners, but non-disabled students have now taken these objects and are treating them like toys instead of what they were actually invented for: therapy. Kids with anxiety, autism, sensory processing issues, ADHD, and many other cognitive and even physical disabilities really benefit from these tools. While they might be fun for some, they actually serve a purpose to many. They’re now being banned in schools because students who don’t need these objects are misusing them.

Please talk to your kids/friends/family about disabilities, and how some students/fellow employees may get items or services they do not get. Many kids in elementary school are angered by this, but if these kids are informed of the reason for these differences, they are more likely to accept them and help create a better environment for students of all abilities. The fidget “toy” is a great place to start a conversation about ability and disability.

I don’t mind when non-disabled people use fidget tools, but please talk to your kids, siblings, and peers about the importance of them. Teach them to use them appropriately so those who need them don’t have to suffer the consequences from those who use them for fun. For you, they may be a toy, but for me, they are essential in my everyday life.

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Having adult attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a constant battle in the brain, like two opposing sides fighting each other.

My anxiety wants everything to be clean and organized. My ADD wants a disorganized mess.

My anxiety hates myself for being such a “slob.” My ADD can’t keep me focused on cleaning.

My ADD always wants to go out and be doing something. My anxiety tells me something is always going to go wrong and I’m safer in bed.

My ADD makes plans often. My anxiety always makes me bail.

My ADD wants to make lots of friends and be social. My anxiety says they all secretly hate me and they’ll hate me more when they get to know me.

My ADD makes studying very difficult. My anxiety tells me I will fail and disappoint myself and everyone around me.

My ADD tells me I should make a Facebook tab and scroll through it until I get bored. My anxiety knows I should be studying.

My ADD wants to make plans with friends. My anxiety makes me want to be alone.

My ADD wants to be spontaneous in relationships. My anxiety tells me every day that he will decide to leave me.

My ADD keeps me talking to him, maybe more than I should. My anxiety thinks I’m annoying him and that he’s going to leave me because of it.

My ADD has me talking more and more. My anxiety uses those words to look for constant reassurance.

“Do you hate me?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you ignoring me?”

My anxiety causes me to break down because my worries become a reality. My anxiety and ADD have ruined every relationship I’ve been in. My anxiety and ADD has destroyed many of my friendships. My anxiety and ADD dropped my GPA so low there may be no way out.

My psychological disorders will not win, even though they have in the past. I’m taking control of my actions, not being afraid to get help and not get frustrated when my medication cocktail fails. Taking control is being patient and knowing those who care about me will keep me moving forward.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz


Every year we received the email. And every year I’ve been able to ignore it. Until this year. In the state where we live, the first year standardized testing is mandated is the 3rd grade. Our son is now in 3rd grade. I could not ignore the email and attachment this year. The attachment was a letter stating the steps to take to opt out of the testing for your child.

I was afraid. I was anxious.

What does it mean that my child would not be participating? Would he have to stand in the hall while the other students took the test? Would he be berated with questions from his peers about why he wasn’t taking it?

As a parent of a child with an ADHD diagnosis, I often worry how he will be treated at school. He has a 504 plan, which gives him special accommodations that other children may not receive. He is able to move around more, is given the choice to sit closest to the teacher, can take tests in a smaller group outside of his classroom and other supports which allow him to be successful in school.

Children can be cruel and a parent always worries. As a parent of a child who is unique, I worry more.

In the end, our decision was based on our own feelings about how this would affect him and also the opinions of his teachers. Without our addressing it, a teacher brought it up. Taking these tests would not be beneficial to our son. She sees him daily and knows him in the school environment. How could we go against our gut-instinct and her professional opinion? We wouldn’t and we didn’t.

Even if you do not have the support of your child’s teacher — which we are enormously grateful to have — know your rights in your state. The pressure to meet the 95 percent federal guideline for standardized testing is intense. States that receive federal Title I funding can have their funding withheld if they fall below the 95 percent mark. This means the school district can lose funding if less than 95 percent of their students take the test. But changes to the law in 2016 gave discretion to the states in dealing with those who fall below this benchmark. How this plays out is yet to be seen. But know your options. Your loyalty is to your child, not to a school district.

For our family, this wasn’t about whether or not we agree with standardized tests on the whole. What it was about was our child. And he is our ultimate responsibility.

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Coming out with ADD feels sometimes a lot like coming out the closet. There is a nervousness when I’m about to tell, a vulnerability and question in my mind if the person will think differently of me. People often feel a need to contradict me when I tell them I have adult ADD and offer their own theories about what could be going on with me. So I have created a small guide for what to (not) say if someone tells you they have been diagnosed with ADD.

1) Don’t say this is a conspiracy of the pharmaceutical industry to over-medicate me.

I am aware ADD can be over-diagnosed in schools. I am aware of the pharmaceutical industry’s love of placing profit over people. This response doesn’t help me at all and is very patronizing, for it suggests I am a sucker who hasn’t devoted careful and pained thinking to all of these matters. If I am choosing to communicate that I have the diagnosis of ADD, it is because I have chosen to accept this diagnosis.

2) Don’t tell me “everyone” is distracted sometimes and this is just part of my personality.

Very similar to response one, this suggest I have foolishly run off to medicate myself with no real basis or thought. It also puts me in the awkward and difficult position of having to defend myself to you and “prove” my diagnosis. It’s similar I think to the “you’re not depressed, you’re a bit blue” response. It’s shit.

3) Don’t start suggesting cures unless I ask you for advice.

Believe me, no one spends more time thinking about how to treat what is going on than the one experiencing the condition. I have chosen which coaches/peers/blogs/websites to consult. Your telling me to down cod-liver oil while swimming six laps every morning isn’t going to help me.

And now for the do:

1. Do respond sensitively and recognize I have chosen to tell you something I feel vulnerable about.

2. Do ask questions.

Things like “How does this affect you?” “What was the process that led you to seek psychological counseling?” and “How is it going?” are all great questions. They all show me you respect my judgment and are interested and want to find out more about my experience.

3. Do ask how you can help.

Follow this journey on 1ADDPHD.

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