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“Luckily” Unfocused

Leah Gans | La Jolla Country Day Junior


Roving Teen Reporter, Leah Gans.
Photo Art Olson
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Focusing on something that does not immediately seize my attention is nearly impossible for me. On the other hand, if something piques my intellectual curiosity and grabs my attention, I am able to hyper-focus, spending hours researching, reading, and learning about the subject. This is not what life is like for a “normal” student, but it is the reality for those of us with ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Being someone with this cognitive difference, I experience so much difficulty completing my school work and staying on task, not because I am unable to focus, but because I focus too much on the subjects that interest me. My teacher in the Learning Resource Center at LJCDS, who helps me to cope with this difference in school, recently reminded me that, during my freshman year, I shared with her that I had no idea people actually learned things in class and didn’t need to go home and re-teach themselves the lessons. Others with ADHD feel the same frustration. Torrey Pines student Bella believes that “people with ADHD should go to different schools. It is so hard for me to complete busy-work that shouldn’t take very long, but I have no problem pulling all-nighters watching documentaries that interest me.”

Because ADHD is so widely diagnosed now, many people have recently come to believe that it is over-diagnosed, over-treated, or entirely fictional. Others believe that the accommodations schools provide give students with ADHD an unfair advantage. “You’re so lucky you get extended time,” is something that students with ADHD, including me, hear quite often. Every one of my peers that I spoke to about living with ADHD expressed their concern that other students judge them for either “faking it,” “just being lazy,” or “having the advantage of extended time or a learning resource center” that doesn’t exist in the “real world.”

What these people don’t understand is that accommodations like extended time for anyone with a documented learning difference are necessary. They are not “lucky” to have been granted accommodations, any more than a student with a broken leg is “lucky” to get to use the elevator rather than climb up the stairs. This comment is even more frustrating when made about ADHD, since the condition is much more of a disability in our educational system than it is in the real world. In a recent TEDx Talk, Carnegie Mellon student, Stephen Tonti, argued that ADHD should be referred to as Attention Deficit Difference, as opposed to Attention Deficit Disorder, because those who struggle with ADHD as students are able to use their ability to hyper-focus to succeed in fields of work that hold their personal interests, perhaps even more than those without this ability. It is only because of the way that our schools are structured that ADHD is viewed as disability, rather than doubts that people with ADHD will succeed in their careers.

Having ADHD as a high school student can be difficult at times, but it makes it easier for me knowing I will be able to succeed in a career that interests me. It would be easier if more people understood what ADHD really is, and why accommodations are fair and necessary. I believe that soon schools will realize that ADHD students need to be taught differently and that we are in for an academic revolution in the near future because the current system does not work for enough people anymore. A more individualized system would not only better benefit my ADHD peers and me, but also it would help the general population that does not fit the current criteria of the academic system today. In the meantime however, understanding better what it means to have ADHD, and why accommodations are important and fair, would probably help the many high school students who are struggling with this cognitive difference every day.


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