How I Turned My Learning Disability into an Ability

Let me start out by saying that I am clinically diagnosed with ADHD, and that I am not attempting to self-diagnose myself or anyone reading this. If you think you may have a learning disability, please talk to your doctor!

When I was in 1st grade, my parents and teachers could easily see that I wasn’t quite like the other kids. During class, I would roll around on the ground and climb shelves. During soccer games, I would pick flowers and do cartwheels around the field. I was soon tested, and was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD. While I appeared to improve with medication, I began to develop side effects around 8th grade that forced me to halt taking my meds and to learn how to handle school and life on my own.

This proved challenging at first, but I eventually learned how to not only overcome my disorder, but to manipulate and harness it. In fact, in breaking stereotypes of students with ADHD, I wound up taking all AP classes, graduating in the Top 10% of my class, and currently study within the KU Honors College! I wanted to take a minute to break down the various ways I have learned to use this disadvantage to my advantage.

person sketching on a white pad

  • How to Think WAY Outside the Box

As a journalism student, one of the most valuable things I can have is the ability to be creative. Traditionally, it seems like you would have to be super focused in order to come up with great, unique ideas. But that is far from the truth for me. When I set about writing a paper, article, or creative essay, I never force my mind to think of things. I just let my mind wander and write down every little thing that comes to mind. Sometimes this happens while I’m watching TV or reading. Other times, I’m writing an entire essay in the notes section of my phone while walking through a shopping mall. Creative ideas must come naturally, so I’ve made a habit of treating every passing thought I have as the greatest idea ever, and let my mind connect the dots from there.

person kneels to tie their running shoes. they are wearing a coat and a hat and appear to be on a bridge

  • How to Live a Healthy Lifestyle

No, this doesn’t mean that I eat salad and trail mix for every meal. I love Cheezits way too much to give into that. But it does mean that I am naturally more restless and need to harness my inner energy by taking care of my essential needs. This means not sleeping too little or too much (I generally aim for around 8 hours), getting in at least some exercise everyday (if you don’t have time to work out, walk to class!), and EATING. EVERY. MEAL. My attention is drastically better on the days I get active versus letting all of that excess energy build up. If I don’t get breakfast in the morning, I’m basically useless. Not only do this seemingly obvious tips help my brain to function, but they’re good for just general, healthy living for any and every person everywhere! School is hard, so PLEASE take care of yourself!

job applicant handing her documents and resume to employer during interview

  • How to Become Friends with Teachers and Professors

My brain absolutely HATES lectures, so I have formulated two musts that need to happen in any class, whether it’s a high school classroom or a 500-seat auditorium. 1) Sit at the front, and 2) Go to office hours. It turns out that these two things not only help me to understand the lecture, but to get to know and connect with the person lecturing. The front row kids are the favorite kids and sitting up there makes even the most daunting of lecture halls seem a little more friendly. I would recommend all students to go in for office hours before exams, because your professors genuinely want to help you and to see you understand this thing that they’ve devoted their lives to teaching. At my previous university, a professor even offered me extra help WHILE I was taking my final! Teachers are on your side, so make sure you give them reason to be!

a photo of an open planner

  • How to Organize for Productivity

If I don’t force myself to follow a schedule, I’m basically useless. Especially in this weird period of social distancing, any day that I don’t wake up early and start right away on what needs to happen, it’s a catastrophe. This has led to me becoming almost overly organized in my schedule and note taking. EVERYTHING must be color coded, and I can’t work on any subject or activity for too long or else I burn out. Therefore, I divide all my work up evenly throughout the week. Anytime you have the opportunity to not cram, your work will genuinely be better and your mind will be more at ease. I try my best to not allow breaks in between my “work periods” either, or else 5 minutes on TikTok turns into 5 hours on TikTok.

Body of water with sunset

  • How to Flow

(The picture isn't SUPER related, but I love the imagery it gives to this idea!)

This is one of the most interesting things I’ve learned about people with ADHD. While the majority of tasks are incredibly difficult to focus on, each individual has one or two subjects or activities that engages their mind more intensely than any of their peers. This is known as hyperfocus, or as I’ve seen it referred to, “flow”. For me, this has been first and foremost seen through the performing arts, and secondly through writing. I am able to invest myself into a character’s motives and persona incredibly deeply, can spend hours working out the tiniest details in a song, and could write most anything from sun up to sun down. So naturally, I decided to try to make both of these into a career. ADHD sucks most of the time, but it did pretty much pick my passions and pursuits, so I’m almost thankful.

You really can make the most out of the worst and overcome the stereotypes that try to define you. You are made the way you are for a reason, so own it!