Cate Semini is in her early 20’s with ADHD who works at a school with children who have special needs. Cate was recently asked to talk to all the teachers and colleagues from junior to senior school on her experiences at school and her personal coping strategies. We are very privileged to be able to share Cates speech on Safe Counselling Australia's website.
“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I don't agree with this definition as we do not lack attention at all, we just hyper focus on the wrong things at the wrong time."
Obviously adhd affects everybody differently and I can only speak from my own experiences but the best way I can explain it is like hundreds of thoughts spinning in a circle around my head and I can never grab the right thought for the right time. It can become very exhausting even on days when I do nothing.
I can get very overwhelmed when there are lots of conversations happening in 1 room.
I struggle to regulate my emotions when dealing with conflict.
Trying to hold one thing in my memory while I'm doing something else is extremely difficult. The problem essentially lies with my working memory.
Some may say I have the best memory in my family, I can remember things no one else can, for example every detail in a movie I saw 10 years ago or 100 songs in my head, remembering every lyric, but if you ask me something that happened just a couple minutes ago, I often won't be able to tell you.
During primary school, my grades were standard and I was passing all subjects. It wasn't until high school I began to struggle.
For example, reading a text, 2 pages go by and I have got no idea as to what I just read. Or in class, raising my hand to answer a question, the teacher calls on somebody else first. I have to wait and by the time it comes back to me I am totally clueless of what I was going to say.
This one used to frustrate me the most, studying for a test, walking in the next day confident I know the answers then all of a sudden my memory has been erased, then a few days go by, I'm trying to sleep and the answers suddenly pop back into my head.
I was diagnosed with adhd in year 10 and started on medication straight away. I still remember the first time I took medication, I could not believe how quiet my brain suddenly was. I was able to complete one task at a time rather than starting 10 and forgetting about them. My grades improved and so did my confidence. For years I had all these great ideas and I was finally able to make them happen.
But there are definitely harsh side effects to this medication, such as loss of appetite, sleepless nights and mood swings. Some days I did not feel myself, I felt anxious or angry. Juggling between the pros and cons, and many doctor appointments, I have only just found the right dose that works for me. There is definitely a lot of trial and error when it comes to adhd stimulants.
After trying lots of new ways to help cope with my diagnosis during and after high school, these are the strategies I found were most effective.
1. Writing everything down: If you are verbally telling someone with adhd, homework or jobs they need to complete and they don't write it down, there is a 99% chance it won't get done • Diaries never worked for me in high school,
• I always said, if i can't see it then its not there
• Using sticky notes, having white boards up at home, setting timers or reminders on your phone is the best option
2. Working with time rather than against it: Tests can be very stressful as we tend to hyper focus on how much time we have left. Setting a timer at their desk with the required amount of time and if at any point they are feeling overwhelmed they can stop the timer and take a breath.
3. Brown noise: I use this almost everyday. I play it through my headphones when I am cleaning, sleeping or completing any task that requires me to concentrate. I find it relaxes my mind from all the noise and distractions happening around me.
4. Colour coding/Dot points: simplifying large amounts of information into dot point form or highlighting notes in different colours is super helpful when studying for tests
5. Exercise: I am definitely still working on this strategy myself but people with adhd naturally have less dopamine than a neurotypical. So getting outside and exercising releases the dopamine that we need to make us feel a lot more relaxed and happier.
Although adhd can make life really difficult sometimes, I have definitely learnt to also embrace the positive things that come with it. Our brains are unique and creative and usually have great ideas laying beneath the surface. So my best advice for teachers when dealing with a neurodivergent student, is to be patient, allow time for their brain to process information, make sure you ask them first if they have their hand up in class and to have a conversation with them about their strengths and use them to help with their learning.”
I hope this helps someone that way I know it would have me!