I am lucky I have learnt to thrive with my random ideas as I’ve built a business which makes use of them and I know Bedford Tutor wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful without my ADHD mind. I’ve always been hyper-focused on learning and for me, school was a great outlet for my creativity. Even though I look back and know I could have done better, I was always a good student and put that down to the way my brain has been hyper-focused on learning from a young age. However, socially speaking, I really struggled in school and never a close group of friends like most of my peers. I was an impulsive, loud child who spent her playtimes in worlds of wonderful imagination (or in a creative club of some kind) and I also had great difficulty understanding why other children seemed more mature than me; most of my friends were two to three years younger than myself. I was always fascinated by learning, but remember jumping about from interest to interest in a wave of insatiable curiosity – I was, and still am, a Jack of all trades, master of none.
Looking back, my academic life wasn’t anywhere near as affected by my ADHD as my social life; I sometimes wish I could go back to my nine year old self and say to her ‘for goodness sake calm down and stop being so loud!’ Of course the teachers also noticed my impulsive behaviour when I was young (shown in extracts of my reports), but I did enjoy the learning side of school and know this fascination with education led to me setting up Bedford Tutor.
As ADHD goes, I am slightly more hyperactive-impulsive than I am inattentive (quite rare for girls) and this was definitely my biggest challenge in the classroom. I really struggled not to shout out the answers to questions and spent much of my childhood with my hand waving so widely in the air, I was at risk of doing myself an injury. When I was younger, I was frequently criticised for starting my work prematurely and not listening to instructions (although I improved a little as I matured) and I always recall seeing work as a kind of competition. Even though my coping mechanisms for the classroom really helped me come out with decent grades, as all those with ADHD will know, success in some areas doesn’t equate to success in all.
When I was eleven I struggled with an anxiety disorder related to vomiting (and generalised fears) and this disrupted a large part of my education that year. Unfortunately, even though I improved in years seven and eight, the phobia returned again when I moved schools in year nine and was exacerbated by the fact I didn’t really have a group of close friends with whom I could confide. I also developed a perfectionism when I was around ten, and this, although useful to some degree, was incredibly difficult to manage. I remember re-doing work just because I made a small mistake and also recall the emotional turmoil of scoring lower than I’d hoped. Unfortunately though, ADHD makes it hard to check though work and most of my late primary school books make it clear I hated checking even though I strived for perfection! I don’t think my young mind fully understood that if perfectionism had been replaced by a better quality of proof-reading, most of my problems would have disappeared! Additionally, my perfectionism meant I struggled to work in groups and I was very disruptive in class if we were told to work together. I know my reluctance to engage in collaborative work really affected by social life and I had great difficulty understanding how to delegate and work effectively as part of a team.
Let’s interject here with a funny story. When I was thirteen, I got a whole group lost on an orienteering trip in the countryside. We were supposed to get back to school, but I insisted on taking the reins (as per usual) and didn’t listen to instructions properly. We ended up walking in completely the wrong direction and the police were called out. Not surprisingly, I haven’t done orienteering since, but I do still struggle with giving directions – put it this way, I am no human sat nav!
Luckily, most of the teachers enjoyed teaching me, but I know they all found me an enigma. When I was eleven I had an overwhelming emotional response to 1492: Conquest of Paradise, by Vangelis and remember begging mum to buy me the CD; this is still my favourite piece of classical music and seems to do something truly wonderful to my brain. I suppose I’ve always felt different and, until my diagnosis, I never really knew why. I struggled intensely with footwork in netball (I still don’t competently know left from right) and maths lessons became unbearable for me when GCSE algebra was introduced in year nine. As a teenager, I remember feeling as though I was always failing at mathematics because I couldn’t grasp algebra. The numbers (and letters) just felt like they were suddenly speaking a foreign language and my brain tied itself in knots trying to unravel the mysteries contained within those confusing simultaneous equations! I hate to say it, but I spent most of my GCSE maths lessons talking about the latest rock bands!
Additionally, I did, and still struggle with anything involving a large amount of planning. Although I got an A* for my GCSE art sketchbook, I had to do an extensive amount of planning for my final piece and also had to spend hours working on it. As my friends and family will tell you, my creativity comes in unplanned bursts and, on this particular day, I didn’t feel like drawing the picture I had planned. Consequently, my GCSE art grade dropped to a B and I am still angry at myself for being an ineffective planner. Problems with planning have always affected my life and I never enjoyed lessons where we had to plan something before writing it.
In general though, apart from the social issues, anxiety, perfectionism and love of spontaneity, I did largely enjoy school and often wish I could go back to those structured classrooms where my life was timetabled and I could learn something new and exciting every day without having to worry about organising myself. I was usually lucky to get good teachers and I know that, even though I was loud and disruptive at times, I did always have a thirst for learning. Additionally, when I was at my most impulsive, I was placed in the loudest class in the school, so I think my behaviour was largely covered up by those around me!
How I did well at school, even with ADHD:
Timetables: I was given a timetable at the start of the year and followed this. Everything at school was beautifully structured and, so long as I had my homework diary in my bag (mum always ensured it was), I knew what was going on! I never remember having too much of a problem with homework as it stopped me from getting bored at home and mum was always there to ensure it got done on time. I think my mother’s organisation is part of the reason why I did well at school and manage to keep my business running smoothly.
Lesson Structure: Lessons never included more than 20-minutes of a teacher speaking and these periods usually included lots of questions which I was usually desperate to answer even if I didn’t know the correct response. I was, and still am, useless at focusing for long periods of time (unless it is something which instantly grabs me), but lessons were never more than 50-minutes in length and I usually found this bearable (algebra being the exception).
Support: When I had anxiety, I was supported by the whole school and my teachers were also very kind with regards to my social problems. I was usually allowed to work independently, rather than in a group, and also was able to spent time at student support if I ever felt too anxious to carry on in the classroom.
Creativity: Looking back at my school books, the curriculum we followed back then was very creative – the numerous drawings prove that! Even though I struggled with basic punctuation, I always made up for it with my beautifully labelled drawings, thrilling stories and poems.
Hyperfocus: I was, and still am, hyper-focused on education. The embryonic idea of Bedford Tutor came to me at age eleven and I was always determined to do something related to learning. Although I struggle to focus if something doesn’t interest me, my brain is naturally fascinated by most things related to vocabulary, history, geography, science, art or music – I was pretty much covered at school!
Competition: I am vehemently competitive and, when combined with my perfectionism, this definitely helped me through school. Although when I was younger my impulsiveness led to social faux pas and careless punctuation, as I got older and developed ways of coping with my competitiveness, it helped me gain admirable results.