Thursday, January 21, 2010

My ADHD Story Part 4 – UMass, Diagnosis, and graduation

I was the first person to ever transfer from MIT to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. I know this because EVERY person involved in my transfer told me. It was also the rationale as to why they had to review every class credit transfer on a case-by-case basis. In this review, the difference in MIT’s system (1/2 the classes per sequence, but twice the curriculum per class) and the UMass system meant that I lost 1 credit for every 6 that should have transferred. Because you cannot get a 1 credit class in Biology 2 or Organic Chemistry, I was stuck taking the whole class over. This now cost me another semester. If you are keeping tabs, this is one semester of MIT Tuition and one semester of UMass tuition lost to undiagnosed ADHD.

Taking an entire semester of classes that I had already managed to pass at MIT sucked the life out of my self-esteem. I was no longer living with brothers at MIT, but in a dorm at a state university of some greater than 20,000+. I was pretty much another face in the crowd. I remember sitting in Biology lab. Instead of enjoying the attractive and smart lab partner who was making an effort to socialize with me, I was wallowing in self-pity thinking, “I should be TEACHING this class, not taking it.” I was too socially inept to notice if she was flirting, trying to be friends, or just a nice lab partner. She was self-conscious about her hearing aids. Maybe not noticing things helps sometimes?

This was actually a hidden blessing. I knew this curriculum. I sequenced DNA and RNA at MIT, and they want me to learn to use a microscope!
Then, I bombed my mid-term.
My self-esteem took another hit, but the scientist in me had firm data. Something was wrong. An F was not a valid representation of my understanding of the curriculum.

I don’t remember the details, but I ended up telling my story to someone at UMass Student Services. I ended speaking to an intern at the Berkshire Assessment Team, now called Counseling and Assessment Services.

I do remember her parting words after one session.

You sound like a text book case for learning disabilities and/or ADHD screening. It would be inappropriate for me to make any predictions based on this visit, but we have a two-tier approach. You will get an initial screening to look for obvious rule-outs or determine if you fit the profile for more rigorous testing. This may take some time, so I STRONGLY encourage you (wink, wink) that you research the study skills recommendations for student with ADHD.

At this point, my understanding of ADHD was an occasional joke or newscast about Ritalin. But I would be damned, how was it that every single case-study in these flyers and books were about me?

I bought the book and audio-book for Driven from Distraction. I read the book and listened to the audio-book so much that I wore the audiotape clear through. I don’t remember learning anything concrete from these—not that there was not good information. I was listening from too emotional of a state. I just knew that there was a name for my problem, and, more importantly, a plan to overcome it. I cannot explain the joy, relief, and uncertainty that I experienced. A diagnosis is just a label. There was still a lot of work ahead.

In time, I received a world-class assessment and diagnosis. (In retrospect, probably overkill. I bet some interns needed practice on some assessments. Glad that I could help.) Like I have said, in my 12 years in the field, I have not yet run into a discrepancy as large as mine. My deepest thanks to the folks at UMass. That is how you do Student Services correctly!

I also got a proper prescription for Ritalin. I still take methylphenidate in the form of Concerta today. However, that is the topic for another post. I will tell you that I tested myself then, and confirmed again this year, that my productivity from medication improves by a factor of six. This means that one hour of work on medication yields the same product as 6 hours without medication. I remember packing snacks and a lunch for a days worth of homework… only to be done by 11:00 am. What did I forget? Spanish, done. Biology? Chemistry? Holy Cow.


For the most part, I was a lost soul at UMass. Even with diagnosis and my academic turnaround (GPA before Diagnosis was a 2.7 and a 3.7 after diagnosis and services.) I was still obsessed with my academics and my situation. By the time I was diagnosed, I “should” have been graduating from MIT and choosing what medical school I was going to. A co-worker at the Greenough Snack Bar told me about how excited she was to get accepted to Tufts School Psychology program. Until then, I have never heard of school psychology. Thanks Eden!

It is not surprising that I had not made much social progress considering the fact that I was so self-absorbed in finally coming to terms with myself, focused primarily on academics, and completely clueless to my social issues. I did not want to make lifelong friendships, I wanted my damn diploma!

This does not mean that I did not run into great people at UMass. I became involved in competitive cheerleading. I was not that great, but I loved it. Organized sports help amazingly. I burned energy. I had an external structure to my life. I was surrounded by great people that provided support. I know most stereotypes that people have about cheerleaders, but the ones that I know are great people. They are the most kind-hearted that I have met. They are true athletes, and, in fact, lack the legal protections that NCAA-sanctioned athletes enjoy. They are not just academic achievers, but they also have the social skills and connections to be very successful. In fact, former cheerleaders are some of the happiest, if not most successful, people that I know.

I did get my diploma, but I was so focused on my immediate problems that I had no plan for life after a Bachelor’s in Psychology. I was in debt, had no job prospects, and no true support system unless I moved back home. I was way too proud to move back home after proving my dad’s worse fears true. I had a degree in psychology, but what would that get me?



  1. Very nice article blog like it so much
    keep posting and updating the blog ....

    Smith ALan

  2. Hey - this is great. I've just reenrolled in university to start YET another degree. I just kind of had an epiphany today to research ADHD because I guess I have been wondering why I have "so much potential" yet can't seem to get to the finish line...
    Thank you for sharing.