• Hannah Van Laethem

My Experience as an Undergraduate Student with ADHD

“Please. I really don’t think you have ADHD, look how well you did in high school'' were the first words someone close to me uttered when I told them that I had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by a registered psychologist. I’ve since heard a series of similarly dismissive remarks at many crossroads. It was often difficult finding the support I needed, as others’ opinions of my lived experience would fuel my anxiety and self-doubt. If I’ve learned anything about ADHD, I’ve learned that it’s a condition that a plethora of different types of people can have, even if they are largely viewed as being successful in the eyes of family, friends, and peers.


Despite what my mom thought or what my high school transcript had indicated, I felt as though I was barely getting by in school. I adopted disastrous coping mechanisms to excel, and these habits were only reinforced through receiving good marks and praise. This vicious cycle continued well into my undergraduate career too. Before learning about ADHD and typical experiences that those with my condition had, I believed my experience was completely normal. Little had I realized, writing ten-page term papers in a single day was anything but healthy or typical. Becoming anxious and deflated when I couldn’t find the motivation to complete simple criminology readings and assignments was a daily ritual. I only noticed that my experience was atypical after learning about ADHD in an intro to psychology class and after talking to a friend who had similar experiences.


Navigating university life can be a daring and difficult experience for anyone. However, this experience is often even more daring and difficult for people living with undiagnosed and/or non-visible disabilities. This reality exists because many aspects of the university experience are not always inclusive and accessible for those who are neurodivergent and/or are disabled. Many disabled students aren’t able to reach their full potential as a result of the barriers they so often face. It’s also quite difficult to openly discuss barriers and experiences such as these within academic settings that thrive upon notions of excellence. Although our experiences may be trivialized or may simply go unnoticed, many students who face these barriers are merely coping and are struggling to just get by.


Post-diagnosis, my university experience has improved. I’ve been privileged and fortunate enough to be able to navigate systems and obtain adequate support. Although my university experience has improved tremendously, I still struggle and face new challenges. Take writing this blog post for example. I’ve been sidetracked multiple times throughout the process of writing it and now I’m submitting it late! Although, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through my lived experience as a university student with ADHD, it’s to be patient and understanding of myself and my needs.


I hope that sharing my lived experience can help other students who find themselves in similar circumstances. If anything about my personal experience resonates with you, I strongly encourage you to reach out and seek support if possible. There are a number of different support options available for students on campus, such as Health and Counselling services, the Centre for Accessible Learning, and student groups like the Disability and Neurodiversity Advocacy Network (DNA) and Hi-FIVE. If anyone ever wants to chat, feel free to shoot me an email at hvanlaet@sfu.ca.


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