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Student nearly fails out of college because of refusing ADHD treatment

By Brad On April 18, 2011 Under ADHD In The Real World, ADHD Medication

This is a story about a young lady in our ADHD support group.

She was very intelligent and always did very well in school. (Though, we learned later that it was always a struggle for her to complete her work and do assignments.)

She was accepted into one of the top 5 universities in the US, but when she started attending college that’s when her ADHD caught up with her, her world started falling apart, and she nearly failed out of college.

(We see this pattern quite often…a child can live OK with their untreated/undiagnosed ADHD because they have a strong family support system (usually the mother) who does almost everything for them. Then when they leave home, that support system is not there anymore, they have to start surviving on their own, and then their whole world collapses in upon them. That’s when so many people realize that they have ADHD.)

Actually, we first learned about the young woman from her mother, who came to our meetings to try to learn more about ADHD and to support and help her daughter, even though her daughter did not want help and did not even accept that she had ADHD.

Denial of ADHD

The young woman was diagnosed with ADHD, but she refused to “accept it” mentally. She refused to accept any accommodations that she was legally entitled to under federal law (such as extra study time) and she refused to accept any treatment (medications) because in her school (again, one of the top 5 US universities) it was common for people to use and abuse ADHD medications for studying.

Taking medication would be “cheating”

In spite of, or perhaps because she was such an intelligent young woman, she apparently felt that she could handle it. Even though she was failing out of college because of her ADHD, she still refused to take any medications or get any treatment whatsoever, because in her mind it was “cheating”.

Since so many of her fellow students (who did not have ADHD) did indeed use the meds to “cheat” (to study longer and stay focused on boring reading), her perception was that if she took the medications, she too would be cheating (or would be perceived to be cheating by her fellow students), even though she has a medical condition which warranted it.
Side note: I can’t imagine this train of thought in any other condition. Would a person with a physical handicap be made to feel as if they were “cheating” if they used a wheelchair to get around? I don’t think so. But it just goes to show you how many people think differently about nearly all mental conditions, and especially it seems, ADHD. Somehow there’s still a perception that it’s not “real” or that people who take the medical treatment are somehow “cheating”, being lazy or not applying themselves.

She tried to deny reality and tried to muscle her way through school, but eventually, I think the girl either did fail out of college or dropped out voluntarily because she could no longer handle it. She came to our meetings a couple of time with her mother but was still in denial about her condition.

Actually I think a certain amount of blame for the situation rests on the mother. My impression was that the mother expected her daughter to be “perfect”  and to excel, and she seemed to push her very hard, perhaps too hard. So if the daughter was expected to be “perfect”, accepting that she was not perfect (having ADHD), would be a let down to her mother and so in a way it seemed that this was part of the conflict in accepting that she had ADHD.

Even though mom was there trying to help her daughter, I could see that mom was disappointed in her daughter’s situation (that she was no longer “perfect”) that I’m sure the daughter could feel that too. There was a bit of a co-dependency and forced helplessness on the daughter, and mom didn’t seem to be able to let go and let her daughter grow up and be an adult.

Obviously our lives, parents, and social conditions have a huge effect on how we react to life. If a person is told or made to feel that it’s unacceptable to have ADHD (or any other condition or situation for that matter) then that will have a huge impact on how/if they accept it, get treatment, and go on to live their lives.

…I don’t know what happened to that mom and daughter. I haven’t seen them for a year or so. I hope that not seeing them at our meeting is a good sign–maybe they got it all figured out and no longer need help figuring out their situation.

But I also fear the worst—that they gave up and didn’t end up getting treatment and that this young and intelligent woman with so much potential desperately needed…that indeed would be tragic.

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