October is ADHD Awareness Month and to honor that, as well as celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Center for Students with Disabilities hosted a conversation to define, destigmatize and offer support for those living with ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactive disorder. Lorri Comeau, a disability specialist at the Center for Students with Disabilities and John Ballantine, the Ph.D assistant director and faculty member of the Center for Excellence and Learning and the Geography Department, facilitated this conversation.
“Students come to the table in college very unaware of what the diagnosis means and with very negative language around it,” Ballantine said, “During my college experience, I was diagnosed with ADHD. So I asked myself, ‘How can I use those lessons I’ve learned in pushing those ideas to students that there are ways to work with this and it’s not just a disadvantage?’”
Much of Comeau’s research is based off the work of Dr. Thomas Brown. The definition of ADHD she provided derived from his working model.
“Increasingly, ADHD is being recognized as a developmental impairment of the brain’s management system -- its executive functions,” Brown said in an article entitled “Growing Up With ADHD: Clinical Care Issues.”
On a biological level, ADHD can be explained as a chronic impairment to the chemistry of the management system of the brain. In a brain with ADHD, there is inefficient uptake and reloading of the two neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine.
Much of the presentation was focused on the negative language and stigmas associated with ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. One of the activities Comeau and Ballantine planned for the group was to write down the words or terms they associated with ADHD. Many of them were negative, but there was also a large amount of positive terms, such as creativity, memorization, compassion and more.
“Disorganized, distracted and inattentive are almost part of the definition of ADHD,” Comeau said. “I have yet to meet a student with ADHD who isn’t highly motivated, who doesn’t want to engage. Their brain simply doesn’t allow them to engage when they wish to.” She and Ballantine explained that while ADHD may make it harder for some students to focus on a single task for a long expanse of time, which provides challenge in the business and college setting, these students hold other advantages. People with ADHD tend to be more creative, make logical leaps and are strategic and innovative thinkers.
Some of the secondary effects and symptoms of ADHD were also discussed, including mental illness like depression or anxiety, as well as an increased chance of substance abuse, due to situations of self-medication. Feelings of failure and inferiority can also result from some of the stigma around ADHD.
Accommodations, medication and appropriate resources can be used to help overcome some of the disadvantages faced by students with ADHD. These include acknowledging the gifts and drawbacks of the disorder, time management, seeking help from psychological and medical professionals as well as building a community of people who understand.
“This means having a social network,” Ballantine said.
Some of the resources that CSD offers for UConn students include alternate media, note taking services, reduced distraction spaces for testing as well as a variety of technologies that have proven beneficial, such as speech-to-text pens, memorization tools and a variety of apps that can be found on their website.
A large percentage of the group that turned out for the presentation were parents of children with ADHD, people diagnosed with ADHD themselves or people who work with ADHD students. Many of them shared personal stories, opening up to the group about struggles they’ve faced in school systems or with medication, but also about tools and resources that have been beneficial in their lives.
“We need to talk about this because it is still a very chronic issue out there. We need to be able to provide empathy and understanding,” Comeau said.
Julia Mancini is the associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org.