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Friday, November 15, 2013

Controlling My Internal Restlessness: How I Learned to Manage My ADHD

From NCLD.org - The National Center for Learning Disabilities

By Jillian Levy
November 1, 2013

ADHD is defined by inappropriate levels of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. I can tell you from personal experience that those characteristics are indeed true.

When I was a kid my parents would always tell me to “sit still” or “stop fidgeting,” as I was constantly moving around. In fact, I would often kick my family members under the dinner table just so I could find a comfortable position. Still to this day, I find it difficult to sit in the same position for a long period of time. I marvel at people who can sit down and stay in seated in the same position for longer than five minutes.

I found this internal restlessness especially difficult to control during school. Trying to stay focused during a 40-minute class while sitting in an uncomfortable chair was pretty torturous for a young student with attention issues. I remember asking to go to the restroom during most classes, not because I needed to use the facilities, but because I needed to get up and walk around.

I often found that my attention issues affected my ability to follow classroom norms. At a very young age, you’re taught to raise your hand when you want to participate during a classroom discussion or when the teacher asks a question. This idea made perfect sense to me; in reality, though, I would blurt out the answer or comment on a topic as if there were no other students in the classroom. My teachers would get annoyed that I was speaking up out of turn and not giving my classmates a chance to share their thoughts.

This behavior really wasn’t intentional, and for a long time I didn’t even notice that my behavior was disruptive. In middle school—before I got my diagnosis—I remember thinking, If I know the answer to a question, why wouldn’t I say it proudly…and loudly?

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I was diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia and auditory processing disorder. Some may say that this is late in the game, but me? I didn’t care. I finally could point to a reason for the restlessness and impulsive behavior. The diagnosis validated all of my stereotypical ADHD symptoms. It was then that I started to work with my family and teachers to manage my symptoms in a calculated way. I was given an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which had specific accommodations in it to help me with my learning and attention issues.

For example, before my IEP was in place, I was frequently distracted by other students during exams. Whether they were handing in their exam early or tapping their desks nervously with a pen, these distractions really threw me off my game. With specific accommodations established, I began to take my exams in a separate location in order to diminish classroom distractions and allow me to concentrate, which lowered my anxiety level. In time, my grades and self-esteem improved, and I began to feel excited about college knowing that there were programs out there that could continue to help me with my learning and attention issues.

Throughout college, like any other student, I became more self-assured and in tune with the strategies that helped me succeed. I figured out which studying tactics I needed to use in order to perform well on exams. Over time, I realized the most impactful resource I had to help me with my learning and attention issues was organization. By organizing my classes into separate folders on my computer and color coordinating my assignments in a semester calendar, I felt that I could manage.

It was so helpful to know when things were due so that I could figure out where my attention should be focused, instead of freaking out that I wasn’t going to have time to complete my assignments. To this day, I use these organization skills when I am working, and I believe these skills help me when I have time restraints on high-stress projects.

I am fully aware that having ADHD is a lifelong experience. Everyday I have moments where I feel restless and irritable. However, I try very hard to not let my learning and attention issues control my life. I’m always working to understand why certain situations may trigger symptoms, moving forward with the knowledge that I’m not perfect and that mistakes—whether intentional or not—are human nature.


Jillian Levy is the web production assistant for the online strategy and engagement team at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). She assists in the publication of content on all NCLD websites and in the dissemination of NCLD’s email-based communications. She also writes about her own experiences for LD.org. Jillian is particularly excited about using communications tools to implement smart and creative online strategies that advance the organization’s goals.

During college, Jillian was a participant in the
Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center (SALT), a top-ranked LD program based at the Univ. of Arizona. She also interned for the prestigious Health Career Opportunity Program (HCOP) at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. Jillian, who has dyslexia, is a champion of self-advocacy and, through her work at NCLD, hopes to educate children and adults with learning disabilities to self-advocate as well.

Jillian graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Arizona.

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