We hope that the following true stories of WPI students will help incoming freshman with AD/HD feel more comfortable about their transition from high school to college. Although these stories only represent a small range of AD/HD experiences and are not necessarily the same for every student, we hope they will give insight into some of the ways that students have learned to cope with their disorder in WPI’s fast-paced environment.
When I came to WPI as a freshman I was terrified. Like most freshman, I had to worry about living on my own, being far way from my friends and family and meeting new people. However, I also had to question my ability to survive in the intense academic environment at WPI. I had this fear because I have a learning disability, specifically a deficit in my active working memory. Although this is not the primary focus of this website, I believe my experiences and feelings about my disorder are very similar to those experienced by students with AD/HD.
When I came to WPI, I had already been diagnosed with my leaning disability and had an up-to-date psychological report. After WPI reviewed my documentation, they were able to interpret what I was able to receive in the way of accommodations. I received the use of a non-programmable calculator and double time and a quieter location for exams as well as some others that I never really use. For me, learning to advocate my needs to my professors was very difficult. Unlike high school, you must explain your disability as well as the accommodations you are entitled to in order to receive them. Early in the term, I stay after class to talk with my professor and tell them that I need to talk with them and ask them when would be a good time for them. Some would listen to me then and others asked that I come to their office hours or set up an appointment. I simply tell them that I receive some accommodations for exams and briefly explain why I need these accommodations. I show them the paper work supplied to me by the Disability Services Office that specifies my accommodations. At this point, I ask him/her how I should go about receiving my accommodations and the professor will tell me to talk to Dale Synder in Academic Resources or they will provide a way to meet my accommodations by him/herself. Talking to professors to receive accommodations has become easier and easier. I know that if I ever have difficulties receiving accommodations from a professor, I can go talk to Dale about it.
I quickly found that my disability set me far apart from the general student population in terms of academics. When living in the dorm environment I noticed how fast other students were able to finish their homework relative to me, who on average took twice as long. I needed to learn to budget my time, more so than I had in high school. I found that college demands a larger amount of time, even more so as a junior. I recognize that I have to plan on putting in twice as much effort as any other student to receive the same grade. This was difficult, and even discouraging at times, but with a little effort I was able to make it work for me. I took advantage of every spare minute in between classes, in the morning before class and at night. By prioritizing and finishing my work in the time that is usually wasted during the day, I found I had free time that I could use to spend with my friends.
WPI is not an easy school, and even more difficult with a disability, but by understanding your abilities and where your deficit lies it is easier to succeed. For me, learning to cope with my disability was the most important aspect to my success at WPI.
As a young child I was diagnosed with ADHD. One of the common symptoms of ADHD is having no sense of how my words will affect others. When I was younger, I would say absurd or inappropriate things at rather awkward times. I was able to subdue this tendency after years of practice and coaching through services which my high school provided for me. Even after all of the training, I still have problems making big transitions in life. Coming to Worcester Polytechnic Institute was one of the most far fetched goals that I could ever imagine so I took a year off between high school and college to prepare myself. For the first two terms of my stay at WPI, I lived on campus. I was very emotionally distraught and lonelier than I could ever imagine. I was coping by doing things I know I shouldn’t have been doing and becoming friends with people who didn’t fit me very well. My productivity and attention levels were on a rollercoaster and if I didn’t have a period of time in which I was very productive during the day, little to no work would get done and I would start to fall behind quickly in the short seven week WPI term. This is a very common symptom of AD/HD and it is very hard to control so when you are having a productive moment, you must learn to use it. I was getting very little done during my first semester and it really began to set in that I wasn’t here to waste my time, I was actually living my dream and I had to start acting like it. The final wake up call was failing one of my classes. Over winter vacation I was very upset and so was my mother. Parents tend to do this thing called caring where they pounce on you when they think you’re in trouble. So I sat there and reluctantly accepted the criticism and then went on my own to think. I had one month to completely evaluate, rethink, change and reevaluate my life from what it was to how it had to be. This was the first time I had to apply my own transition to my life, one that would change everything. I chose to drop all of the friends that I had made already, except one. I chose to overload on the course I didn’t pass. I made a solid plan for time management using techniques, such as to-do lists, that I learned from Academic Resources. I restricted myself to enjoyable activities because the enjoyable activities I had chosen during the first semester were having a negative impact on my life. I also had to learn to eat and sleep right. Somehow it dawned on me that pizza, chips and soda, along with a daily sleep regimen of four hours a night starting around four in the morning, was not conducive to good grades.
Somehow the change was very easy. I had it so well planned out that all I had to do was follow the steps and since each step was a step toward changing my whole life, it never got boring. Throughout my life, I have always become bored quickly. If something got too normal or average, I’d lose enthusiasm for it and move onto the next best thing. But my plan for change was so extreme that it took all my energy and attention. I made a habit out of my new lifestyle over my first term back at WPI. The best treatment for any type of attention problem tends to be habit formation because it eventually becomes second nature to act a certain way. However, if the habit is bad, it can be especially detrimental to a person with AD/HD. Although that term I managed to get straight A’s even with the extra class involved, I found that when I get overwhelmed with work or social stress, I continue to go downhill. I tend to revert back to bad eating habits and get very down. Part of my salvation was medication, however my case of AD/HD is so severe that medication is not enough. For some it may never be needed and coping strategies can get someone through the tough years but, for me, multiple strategies are necessary.
There are a few people that have helped me keep my head above water for the past three years at WPI. My mother, who continues to smother me with worries and care, was always a stronghold in my life. Although I have admitted to my mom once or twice that her advise and “nagging” was the real reason I was able to stay motivated all this time, I usually deny this fact. The other main contribution is Dale, a counselor in Academic Resources who has coached me once a week for three years. Our meetings usually consist of checking up to see if I’m on track and to see if I am doing enough work to get good grades. I find the meetings very helpful because they give me a chance to tell someone my accomplishments or force me to admit my lack of success that week. Dale also helps me receive accommodations, such as longer time on tests, from reluctant professors. However, most professors do not have a problem accommodating me because they are willing to do whatever it takes to help me learn the material, which is the most important thing. I have also made good friends who make my free time, and sometimes even study time, enjoyable.
One important key to concentrating on homework in your dorm room is a clean and organized room. Things I have gotten to help me organize myself are two giant book cases. Some shelves are used for my many movies but there is also one for my bathroom accessories. When I accidentally miss my alarm clock and I need to rush to class in the morning, searching for my tooth brush in a very messy room can be reason enough to just skip class. There is a high priority shelf of things that I need everyday which I absolutely cannot forget if I want to make it through the day. An example: have you ever forgotten to put on deodorant and then realized it when you could smell yourself later....very distracting and awkward. I also have a section for mail and very important papers that cannot be ignored. I try to keep my desk clean because it is harder to approach a desk to do your homework with a giant mound in your way than a nice clean one with space for you to work.
For any incoming WPI freshman, I would warn them to keep their cool and learn to live life at WPI. Keep in contact with Academic Resources and get to know your professors. Remember that others have an advantage over you but you also have some advantages over them, such as an “out of the box” thinking style.
Please e-mail your own personal story about living with AD/HD to firstname.lastname@example.org