Unlocking ADHD writer Jnanee Krishnasamy finds unexpected figures in the ADHD family.
Medicine. Law. Dentistry. Secure a spot in any of these courses, and you will be the envy of all and sundry.
In Asian society, we commonly put students with top grades in prestigious courses at top universities on a pedestal. “You will be the future leaders of society,” was a phrase I often heard throughout my school years.
You may not think elite students have underlying issues that hamper academic performance. But this assumption underestimates an ADHDer’s resilience.
ADHDers compensate for their shortfalls – there is a plethora of research in well-established journals such as the British Medical Journal and Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) to support this view. As they progress through life, their challenges become more complex and ADHDers are used to developing more coping mechanisms.
Myth: Top Students Don’t Need Help
There are accounts of students who beg for treatment to help them with their academic struggles, but did not receive a timely diagnosis. They are told they “could not possibly have ADHD because they are in medical/law/dental school”.
I know someone who did reasonably well in her undergraduate science degree. She decided to go on to medical school in the US. This was when she started to struggle. She attempted to get tested for learning difficulties, but was dismissed by her professors and psychiatrists as simply being “stressed”. She failed medical school and was diagnosed a couple of years later.
She had fought hard to get there. But left without a medical degree, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt, and a dead-end job.
Many friends from my ADHD support group have similar stories about crashing due to a late diagnosis. Unemployment, jail terms and estrangement from relatives are frequently mentioned. These stories are hard to find, partly because they are ignored and partly because they might be perceived to be whiny losers who “play the disability card” and make excuses.
Rays of Hope in Sunny Singapore
Amidst the doom and gloom, there are ADHD success stories in Singapore itself.
One example is Deborah. She was assessed to be gifted (99.99th percentile) at six years old. Although she breezed through primary school (and even topped her cohort at times), she underperformed at the PSLE.
In secondary school, she faced challenges when she had to cope with an increased number of subjects and balance them with the demands of competitive sports. She lost track of assignments and even exam schedules. This left her with self-doubt. It was only a month before her A-level examinations when she was diagnosed with ADHD. However, she chose not to seek accommodation for her A-level exams.
Deborah has since graduated with a double major in neuroscience and psychology. University was not always smooth-sailing. However, she learned to juggle her studies, house-keeping duties and research work while studying overseas. She is about to pursue her post-graduate studies with a view to a career in research.
Another example is Indhu. Indhu is a university student who is pursuing a major in engineering and a minor in film studies. She did well in primary school, but her grades got progressively worse. Her teachers frequently remarked that she had immense potential, but needed to take responsibility and do her work. In her words, “everything fell apart” when she reached university and began to fail her exams.
Indhu chanced upon a Youtube video on ADHD. After finding that the video resonated with her, she decided to get herself assessed. Her psychiatrist confirmed her suspicion of ADHD.
Indhu finds that she is much more organised with medication. She is able to maintain a planner (which she found impossible before her diagnosis), that allows her to juggle a major and a minor. She also has a supportive network of encouraging friends.
A third example is Sanju. Sanju has always been a top student. However, they would pressure themselves to get top grades. Sanju developed depression and anxiety as a result. When their depression and anxiety were treated, their adrenaline levels dropped. As a result, Sanju’s ADHD symptoms became more prevalent. They realised that they needed lots of coffee to remain focused, and decided to get themselves tested.
Sanju has developed several coping strategies. They do yoga 4-5 times a week, follow a vegan diet and have supportive friends who provide emotional support and hold them accountable for responsibilities (e.g., completing a task on time). They still make top grades, but with less stress involved. Today, Sanju is studying clinical psychology in the United Kingdom. Sanju also works as a special needs teacher for kids.
From failing students to top scorers. With the right diagnosis, treatment and support, these lucky students are well on their way to bright futures.
Our mission is to reach out to the Singaporean diamonds in the rough, help them succeed and share their stories here.
[If you liked this story and found it helpful, please SHARE it. For more personal stories about ADHDers, please click here.]