Extend Your Compassion

Sophomore year, math was my antagonist. I continually found myself having to make a conscious effort to absorb the lesson, literally commanding myself to listen and tune out everything else.

But these attempts to channel my focus proved futile. Previously, I had been able to slip by in math class, test by test, quarter by quarter, year by year, with a partial understanding of what I had been taught in class. And I could rely on myself, or my Dad, to re-teach what I just couldn’t seem to understand.

To my great revulsion, however, Algebra II wasn’t compatible with my previously foolproof system; I could no longer simply wing it, and my Dad had finally hit the boundary of his seemingly infinite knowledge (no offense to you, Pop, your efforts were much appreciated).

And with our first test of the year came the first D I had ever received in High School.

I was enraged; I knew I was smart enough to handle the material and willing to put in the time and energy it required.

But the cycle continued. I wouldn’t understand the lesson and would then go home and not understand the homework. As the class moved on I was left behind and by the time I got to the test I wouldn’t even be able to finish.

Yet, it seemed like I was doing everything possible to change the course of this class.

Every odd day, when I had math class, I would arrive at school by 7:15 a.m. at the latest to review the previous night’s homework; homework I had often done with the aid of a tutor, one who my parents shelled out $100 for every session on a weekly basis.

This worked, and I finished the first two quarters with a B.

But, I was still unsatisfied. This course shouldn’t be such a continual source of frustration.

I needed a change.

Despite a family history of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, my parents had resisted the idea that I needed medication to complete my school work and were concerned about me becoming reliant on medicine to function.

I hit a breaking point, however, and could no longer tolerate not being 100 percent present during lectures. My mom decided to book an appointment for me to be tested. A month later and multiple all-day Saturday testing, I was diagnosed with ADHD for my (lack of) ability to concentrate, accompanied by a processing disorder. This meant I had issues in translating ideas in my brain onto paper and into speech, and that it just took longer for me to piece together my ideas into a whole.

Both my diagnostician and my pediatrician prescribed medication for me as well as a recommendation for classroom extended time, which was determined from a separate set of tests.

My life changed completely.

I could participate in class again, and I spent less time agitated and more time understanding. My math grade rocketed. And I felt myself genuinely enjoying school and my classes instead of dreading them. I no longer slugged through each day.

My homework time was cut in half because I no longer had to read, re-read, and re-re-read the same passages over and over. In all of my classes, I benefited from a higher quality work, which was directly linked to my ability to put my thoughts to paper more clearly and quickly.

Tests were easier now because I had the time I needed, and I no longer found myself scrambling to finish as the teacher came to yank away my test. I worked less with this new efficiency slept more and consequently did better in my classes.

After medication, I also became a much better driver. I was no longer distracted by things I was seeing in my peripheral vision and was less impulsive. Much to my surprise, I realized that my ADHD extended beyond the classroom in ways I didn’t even know were directly correlated.

Because of this, my entire quality of life improved.

The HDHD diagnosis methods are not flawless. The tests are subjective, and we’ve all heard the stories about your friend who knows a girl who has a dad who paid a doctor to prescribe Adderall. ADHD medications and extended time are often abused by people who don’t need them and are immorally seeking to gain a competitive edge in a competitive world.

But that causes the misconception so prevalent today. The fact is that my medicine and extended time do not give me an advantage over people who don’t have it. Instead, it levels the playing field. 

Some complain that extended time should be eliminated from the ACT, SAT and other academic tests because it is not the way the “real world” works. Extended time applies to all aspects of my life not just standardized testing.

It applies in every aspect of work I complete. Medication doesn’t help with processing speed, and my homework still takes longer than it is designed to, longer than it would take if I didn’t have ADHD and a slow processing speed.

But that’s okay; life isn’t fair.

I do ask one thing. Before you make a snide remark about how unfair it is that some kids receive extended time on the ACT and SAT and how insane it is that this accommodation isn’t reported to colleges, and how you would make a score much higher if you had it too, see extended time and ADHD medication for what they truly are, coping mechanisms.

Know that I would happily trade out my medication and extended time for an unmedicated learning experience, one without side effects like nausea, unexplained dizziness, frequent headaches, mood-swings, irritability and insomnia.

The decision to medicate is not an easy one.

Without sufficient management of my learning difference, I wouldn’t have felt prepared or confident enough upon entering junior year, and for that I am grateful that extended time and medication exist.

– Molly