Monday, January 11, 2010

My ADHD Story Part 3 – MIT


“Getting an education at MIT is like trying to drink from a fire-hose.”

Man, they loved repeating this quote during orientation. I am at MIT, away from home for the first time, a small-town 17-year-old with a nasty case of undiagnosed ADHD.

First and foremost, the best thing that ever happened to me at MIT was that I pledged the Gamma-Pi Chapter of Kappa-Sigma Fraternity before I started classes my freshman year. Whatever stereotypes you have of fraternities, it gave me an immediate support system and linkages to some of the best guys I know. It is a complete shame that freshman are no longer allowed to pledge.

Many freshmen have a hard time adjusting to MIT. Kids smart enough to get into MIT can usually get through high school on natural talents. As a result, they do not necessarily develop the study skills necessary in college that other students already have started developing in high school. In addition, most classes at MIT were graded on a curve. I remember one 8.02 Physics exam where the test was so hard, I earned a “B+” with a 28% average – all partial credit; I did not correctly answer one question fully. Now, the fire-hose simile makes more sense. All freshmen at MIT were graded pass/fail. It gave us a year to transition and to develop those skills. Well, I did not transition or develop so well.

Student Support Services at MIT failed me, BIG TIME. I had many contacts with them: my fraternity pledge program, self-referral, and when I was on academic probation. Their response? The same worthless, canned, and crappy time-management spiel and a one-page weekly organizer. I could have presented their spiel. A copy of this “planner” is now available online. I guess PDA’s or Smartphones are too high-tech.

In addition, they “helped” me by waiving their own rules and letting me stay an extra semester. They based this on my academic advisor’s comments that I was, “capable of doing far better than my grades suggested.” SOUND FAMILIAR? People with ADHD are used to hearing things like this. Only this time, it cost me an extra semester of tuition that my family really could not afford. My self-esteem may have felt differently, but I wish they would have followed their own rules and kicked me out instead of letting me stay (and fail) another semester until I left on my own.

Now, the professionals in the business should know that MIT has no legally liability. In higher-education, identification and advocacy for students with disabilities are the student’s responsibility… the responsibility of the undiagnosed teen-ager with poor self-awareness and self-esteem who has not yet heard of ADHD or Ritalin. Would it really have been too much to expect more from MIT than the same crappy time-management lecture and a “not legally negligent” quality of service?

Socially –

MIT was a time of extremes for me. Socially, I found a great group of guys who took me in, called me brother, and let me develop from a sheltered, small-town teen to a young man in Boston. Of course, I ended up leaving prematurely under difficult circumstances.

Dating and relationships are an entirely different situation. I was still an undiagnosed, un-medicated train wreck. On one hand, I was able to get dates. This was great for both my self-esteem and social skill development. However, dates very rarely turned into anything. I quickly got categorized into “not serious” or “just a friend” material. (No, I will not be writing anything about the possibility of “Friend with benefits.”) Of course, this is my side of the story. If my evaluation of my past relationships is completely wrong, doesn’t that just prove what they say about people with ADHD and relationships?

I can say with confidence is that I did a lot of stupid things back then. Have the parents of kids with ADHD ever, while completely dumbfounded, ask, “What were you thinking!?!?!?” I had to ask myself that question a lot back in those days. I thought about giving some specific stories, but I have chosen not to for many reasons.
• I don’t need a catalog of stupid things that I have done on the internet.
• I am not big into regrets… or whining.
• Being happily married while analyzing what happened 15-20 years ago is REALLY weird!

I think that this brings up a serious question. Is ADHD a condition that I have, or is it part of who I am? At work, I am very politically correct and work with the label, “Student with ADHD.” For myself, I don’t really see the difference. If someone reads this and asks me for an overdue apology, I would never say, “Sorry, but it wasn’t me, it was the ADHD.” The adjectives that people would use to describe me back then are very likely the same adjectives that could be used to describe the condition.

I will revisit that question at a later date when I talk about people who know Eric versus those that know Dr. Beam. Until then, off to being the first ever transfer from MIT to UMass.


  1. Thanks for sharing Eric. We walked the same hallways and very rarely crossed the same chaotic paths. Look forward to the next entry.

  2. Very nice Blog post thanks a lot for this nice blog creation and handling the issue like ADHD.
    keep posting and updating the blog on regular basis.

    Smith Alan