The Story of My ADHD Evaluation in College
Mar 15, 2016
Kerri MacKay/Understood, The Inside Track blog post
My attention issues finally caught up with me in my third year of college. I’d failed Human Anatomy for the second time and was struggling to deal with that. My bedroom looked like a tornado had hit it. And to make matters worse, I was constantly arguing with my parents.
I’d reached the point where I knew what was going on in my head wasn’t the same as everyone else. I knew about ADHD and had often thought that it sounded like me. But a lot of people would joke about ADHD, so it was hard for me to take my own concerns seriously.
With a helpful nudge from a professor, I finally decided to look into an evaluation. But the process wasn’t as simple as I’d expected.
When I shared with my mom that I wanted to be evaluated for ADHD, her first response was: “Why would you want to do that?”
She knew how much I’d been struggling, so hearing this really hurt. I didn’t ask her again. I didn’t want to set myself up to be upset.
This meant I had to seek out an evaluation on my own. The problem was I could only use health insurance through my parents. To get around that, I chose to go to a free clinic.
My first appointment lasted an hour or so. I essentially told my life story to a student therapist and her supervisor. We went through my medical history, as well as school and work experiences. They asked about my parents and friends, what I did for fun and what I thought I was good at. They also listened to my concerns.
Talking so openly was tough. I told them things I’d never put into words before.
Over the next three sessions, the therapist gave me different tests for memory, attention and thinking skills. Each session was on a different day and lasted a couple of hours.
One part of the evaluation was to see if I had ADHD symptoms as a kid. The therapist wanted my mom to come in to tell them about my childhood. I hesitated, but in the end, I asked her. To my surprise, she agreed. She’d discovered that one of her colleagues had ADHD and had been learning more about it. Just knowing she was interested made me feel better.
Two months after I finished testing, I was handed an eight-page evaluation report.
The evaluation shed light on more than attention issues. It found that my ability to express myself in writing was especially strong. But my processing speed was very low. I talk quickly and don’t really struggle in conversation, so I wasn’t expecting this.
It explained a lot, though, since things like mental math, remembering directions, taking notes and even playing team sports are all very challenging for me. I also learned that my struggles in anatomy class were connected to weak visual memory.
While I’d gone into the evaluation thinking I for sure had ADHD, the results threw me a curve ball. They couldn’t say if had ADHD or not. I was in a “maybe” category. (Thankfully, several months later, the report helped another professional diagnose me with ADHD.)
I called my mom to share the results as I left the clinic. I told her I could now get support at school, and she was happy to hear that. She also told me she’d been reading online about learning and attention issues.
It had taken some time, but she was starting to make sense of my diagnosis. Today, she not only tries to understand me, but to help others make more sense of ADHD, too.
Getting evaluated for ADHD was about more than just finding out if I had ADHD. It was about getting help in school and support from those around me—like my mom. It was about understanding how my brain is wired and how to best work with it. And it was about how to explain to those around me why I see life differently.
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