In high school, I began to really understand what I was dealing with when it came to my ADHD. I understood not only how ADHD affected me, but also what I needed to succeed in an academic setting. I was still getting distracted, but I learned to use bursts of hyper-focus to keep up with my classes. Of course, that super-power was most readily available during classes that interested me. I also started to use different note-taking strategies. I organized myself and often went to friends for help when I didn’t understand the material. However, the most daunting part of this chapter in my life was learning self-advocacy skills and using them with my teachers.
Author’s note: You may be interested in catching up with my “Growing Up With ADHD” blog series. My previous blog posts were “Growing Up With Undiagnosed ADHD” (elementary school) and “How I Learned to Control My ADHD and Anxiety” (middle school).
The Room Where It Happened
In high school, I remember meeting with my parents and teachers to discuss my needs related to my ADHD. The purpose was to develop a 504 plan with accommodations (to be reviewed annually). This plan would support my needs and held everyone accountable. This was quite possibly one of the most intimidating meetings I have ever been a part of.
Looking back at this annual meeting, I remember how strongly some of the teachers felt about not providing accommodations. For teachers who had hundreds of students, remembering accommodations for various students was very difficult. Seeing their level of disdain towards accommodations made it nearly impossible for me to approach them when they ignored my accommodations. This was not an ideal learning environment.
On the other hand, there were teachers who embraced the opportunity to help. They understood and supported the idea that I should have an educational environment that met my needs. For instance, Mr. G, who taught psychology at my high school, was more than happy to provide accommodations. He would often go above and beyond expectations, serving as a prime example of how a teacher should handle accommodations. Mr. G would hand out the tests and, instead of singling me out saying, “If you have an accommodation, you may leave the room now,” like some teachers did, he would do the opposite. Mr. G would talk to me ahead of time and make a plan for me to take the test elsewhere. Because of his approach, the students with accommodations did not have to feel singled out for being different. That’s a big deal in your high school years!
My Original Self-Advocacy Champion
Luckily for me, my parents were there to help me with every step in the self-advocacy process. My mom was ready with both questions and answers about various aspects of my 504 plan and my diagnosis. She was what I would consider politely persistent. My mom would, politely, not take “no” for an answer. She really set the gold standard for self-advocacy. She showed me how to have this sort of reasoned and persuasive conversation with teachers. It helped that we had a very thorough assessment and diagnosis prepared by an educational psychologist that included accommodation recommendations specific to my particular needs.
Recently, I spoke to my mother about my 504 plan meetings, and she remembered that some teachers had strong biases against giving me accommodations. This was because I was a bright student. Some teachers treated the discussion as if I was asking for accommodations that would give me an unfair advantage. This was certainly not the case.
One of the most important things that my mother displayed in the 504 planning meetings was an understanding of what I needed. She showed me that I should ask for everything that I needed. That’s because she quickly realized two things: (1) My teachers were not going to provide any accommodations that weren’t explicitly requested; and (2) They were going to argue against many that she did request.
For instance, between 9th and 11th grades, several of my accommodations dropped off my 504 plans. These were things such as access to the teacher’s notes and PowerPoint presentations. What we realized was that, if my mom or I did not explicitly ask for those accommodations to remain part of the 504 plans in those meetings, the teachers wouldn’t bring them up. It was up to us to ask for everything anew each year.
In some ways, the streamlining of my accommodations was not altogether a bad thing. Over time, I began to understand which of the accommodations were most meaningful to supporting my ability to learn and to let go of those that were less impactful.
Being the Self-Advocacy Champion
Once I had seen my mom in action as my original self-advocacy champion, it was time for me to take the wheel. In high school, the teachers really didn’t want the parent to talk much during the 504 meetings. As I got older, there was an increasing (and reasonable) expectation that I would speak for myself and advocate for my own needs.
Still, self-advocating with my teachers was intimidating! That said, I found that speaking up for myself during these 504 meetings increased my self-confidence. This was great for me, as I was finally putting my own wants and needs first! And I was able to mimic some of the things that I had seen my mom do in these meetings.
Preparation Is Key
What helped me get through these meetings was preparation and planning. I would think through what the meeting was going to be like. And while going through that mental task of imagining the meeting, I was able to psych myself up, as opposed to psych myself out. I would write down specific accommodations that I needed and make sure I had my old 504 plans available for reference. Getting myself ready mentally, emotionally, and physically for the meetings was essential for me. I was more confident and surer of what I wanted, why I wanted it, and how to advocate for it. As a result of the preparation, I found that I was better able to advocate for the accommodations that were most important to my success.
Knowing Your Resources
When it comes to having ADHD as a high school student, it is important to know what and who you can lean on for support. Of course, you have your accommodations, but it is also important to surround yourself with supportive friends and people who want you to succeed. I was very intentional about the company I kept. I had some friends to whom I knew I could vent, if necessary (serving as my emotional support team), and others to whom I would turn if I was falling behind in a class that we had together (serving as my academic support team).
Having a mix of friends to support you inside and outside of class is very important. However, it is just as important to have people who can help support you beyond your friend group. For me, one of those people was my therapist. Through most of high school, I suffered from anxiety, which often co-exists with ADHD. Having a therapist to talk to helped me address my anxieties and reduce them so they would be less distracting to me. Her support kept me on track at school and helped me to stay on track in life in general.
My parents also played a key role in my high school support group. Of course, they would take care of me by providing food, shelter, and clothes. But they also would be there if I needed help on an assignment or if I needed someone to remind me of something coming up. And I don’t know what I would have done without my dog, Bear! There are other people who could have provided that support as well, though, had I only known!
Getting Support Through Coaching
I wish I had known that ADHD coaching was an option for me in high school. I know I definitely would have benefitted from having a coach! If either you or your young adult child has (or thinks they have) ADHD and/or anxiety, please check out our coaching services and contact us to explore coaching options. We would also like to hear your comments (below) regarding ADHD and accommodations as well as any way in which you have been your own champion.