After the call connected, Cassie and I exchanged greetings, and as she spoke, I noticed her laptop and a notebook sprawled out on her coffee table & a pencil in her hand. It was nearly 10 p.m., and I assumed, like me, Cassie did all her schoolwork during the day, so I asked her about it. When she said she was working on homework, I asked her why she started so late, but she told me she started that afternoon the same time I did, but couldn’t focus.
“A video and quiz for calculus is supposed to take sixty minutes, but it takes me three times that long,” Cassie said.
Senior Cassie has predominantly inattentive type ADHD, a disorder that manifests itself in distractions and inattention to detail. Through medication and routine, Cassie has successfully made her way through high school, albeit with the struggles that come with ADHD; but as her senior year closes, online learning proves to be a new challenge.
“People with ADHD work well with structure,” Cassie said. “When you’re directly held accountable, it makes things so much easier, but I obviously don’t have a teacher in my home.”
Cassie has tried to set a schedule for herself, but attempts at that have been unsuccessful. School used to start at nine, and if you didn’t attend, you were marked absent and missed a day of class – but attendance isn’t counted virtually, and without that threat, Cassie ends up missing a lot.
“It takes so much for me to sit down and do my work because it seems like the worst thing in the world,” Cassie said.
Cassie’s struggle with the workload comes primarily from the fact that when teachers post assignments for the week, they label each assignment with the approximated time it should take, usually being thirty minutes to an hour. As Cassie explains, however, these assignments take much longer than that for her because of her low attention span, and this can be a source of guilt for her.
“I work on something for so long, and then I’m just frustrated because I think ‘if that was supposed to take sixty minutes, then I really failed,’” Cassie said.
Cassie elaborates on this, saying that unfortunately for her, distractions are plentiful in her home, with her pets, other chores and responsibilities, and even decorations on the wall in her workplace being able to lapse her attention. She goes on to say that the inherent switching of environments – from school to home – is troublesome on its own, as she had gotten so used to working at school.
“It’s difficult to be forgiving of breaking focus when I know how much more efficient I would be if I were working in an environment that reinforced these things,” Cassie said.
Cassie’s worst experience so far has been in calculus, where the subject’s difficulty has increased exponentially since online learning.
“The other day I realized that in calculus, I just missed a whole assignment because I just forgot to look at it,” Cassie said, laughing.
Conversely, Cassie cited macroeconomics as a course that was “user-friendly.” Mr. Wahlers posts videos of concepts from the course being taught by teachers from Khan Academy, a popular online resource used by students, and Cassie finds it helpful as someone who is a visual learner.
“When teachers try to put those resources out there, they’re taking it upon themselves to do what’s best for students instead of trying to stick with what was the ‘regular’ style of teaching,” Cassie said.
Cassie said that all of her teachers have been great thus far, and she appreciates them for doing what they can during a difficult time for students and teachers alike.
“Teachers have been great at being patient and listening to feedback that students have,” Cassie said.
Although Cassie feels that online learning has been a struggle for her, she wants to make sure teachers know that it isn’t just online learning that is disproportionately worse for students with ADHD & learning disorders. Students like that are often discouraged from academics early on.
“Learning is a really personal thing and it’s different for everyone for a variety of reasons,” Cassie said. “And any sort of discouragement from learning, whether it’s intentional or not, is just going to push students back.”
Overall, Cassie encourages students with ADHD to push through, take medication if it’s been prescribed, and know that their difficulties are not laziness.
“When you’re diagnosed with ADHD, you almost feel this sense of relief,” Cassie said. “Because a lot of times you feel gaslit from people telling you you’re lazy. You’re not lazy. You care.”
By Madeline Tredway, Staff Writer
Featured photo by Cy Bruni