Learning To Thrive With Attention Deficit Disorder Emily Algire earned good grades in elementary school. But by middle school, there were signs that something was wrong. Emily was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. After being coached with specific learning strategies, she is now entering her second year of college with an upbeat attitude and good grades.
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Learning To Thrive With Attention Deficit Disorder

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Learning To Thrive With Attention Deficit Disorder

Learning To Thrive With Attention Deficit Disorder

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It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. In "Your Health" today, college bound with ADD. Adjusting to the independence that comes with campus life can be a challenge, especially for students with attention deficit disorder. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports one young woman worked with a personal coach to learn how to avoid the pitfalls of distraction.

ALLISON AUBREY: Lots of us find ourselves a little scattered at moments. Who hasn't spaced out during a meeting, or BlackBerried their way through a conference call, only to find out later that they'd missed the one important point? For 19-year-old Emily Algire, it's not just the result of too much technology in her life. In school she recalls the moments a teacher would call on her as she happened to be staring out the window.

EMILY ALGIRE: The teacher would say, do you understand, Emily? Yeah, yes, yes, a little bit.

AUBREY: Emily's mother Betty Overby says her daughter didn't act out or cause problems. She was shy and creative, and early on made very good grades. But in middle school things changed.

BETTY OVERBY: The first time I remember was in sixth grade when she wrote two beautiful book reports and didn't turn them in. They were in her backpack. And so she got her first D in sixth grade, and we were just completely stunned and appalled.

AUBREY: The same thing happened in French class. Emily seemed to be learning the language, even enjoying it, but didn't finish assignments. Overby says she herself is very detail-oriented, so her daughter's behavior was a real mystery. Here she had this bright child who just couldn't keep it together academically. Early on, school counselors dismissed the idea that Emily needed special assistance. In ninth grade when she was finally diagnosed with ADD, medicine did help. Her grades went up, but she stopped taking it because she felt nauseated and lost weight. So Emily needed to find a different way to solve her problems. Her family eventually got help from a group of psychologists who specialize in attention deficit coaching. Kathleen Nadeau heads the group.

KATHLEEN NADEAU: I am a believer in doing absolutely everything you can to get your brain to function properly. We are very reactive to our environment, so we need to carefully choose the environment we put ourselves in.

AUBREY: Take for example homework. Organizing is everything. Nadeau's partner Kara Goobic says she doesn't just preach about the importance of organization. She shows it. With Emily she sat down with a daybook planner, and in a very visual way she sketched out how to break big projects down into smaller chunks.

KARA GOOBIC: Things that may seem simple to people who don't have ADD, like, will just have a binder for each subject out and clear your desk. I mean, when I think back to college, I always cleared off my desk before I started work. I think that's just a natural tendency that most of us have. But for someone with ADD, it may not be an automatic thought.

AUBREY: Emily is now starting her second year at Pacific Lutheran University, and her mom was surprisingly pleased that she finished her freshman year with a 3.4 grade average.

OVERBY: Just speaking to her on Saturday she said, I've cleared everything off my desk so that when I need to study I can go there and there will be no distractions. So, she's still processing this kind of information.

AUBREY: The freedom of campus life, as appealing as it is to most college-aged students, can turn out to be pretty stressful. And Katherine Nadeau says stress intensifies the decision-making problems that lots of ADD kids have.

NADEAU: The more stressed and anxious we are, the more we are thinking with our emotional brain instead of our rational brain.

AUBREY: To preempt the stress, Nadeau says she helps her college-bound students come up with plans for exercise, eating well, and setting a realistic class schedule.

NADEAU: I'm much more likely to tell them, don't sign up for any classes that start before 11 a.m. rather than go to bed at 11. That's not going to happen.

AUBREY: Talking to Emily yesterday as she made her way to class, she said she's really trying to use all the advice and see what works best for her. For example, her freshman year she had another student take notes for her so that she could pay attention in class.

ALGIRE: And then I realized later that it was so much easier for me to take the notes instead of having someone take them for me.

AUBREY: Emily's mom says finding her own way is really serving her well.

OVERBY: She really, I think, has very good self-awareness now. And I think that learning strategies makes her feel strong.

AUBREY: And perhaps better prepared to keep distraction at bay. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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