• Jessy Holmes

Let's talk about ADHD & education

On Friday 13th February 2021, I was formally given my diagnosis of ADHD. I wasn't nervous about the assessment, as I already knew the outcome. I was more excited to finally have a piece of paper that reassures the fact that I didn't grow up 'lazy' or 'troubled', and that my difficulties were in fact, valid.

It was only last year that I realised my difficulties could be due to ADHD, and due to me being in my final year of university, I couldn't afford to spend two years on a waiting list for diagnosis with the NHS. Luckily, my university (Leeds Arts University) have been more than supportive and funded my diagnosis privately so I can start treatment quickly, enabling me to get the support and medication I need to finish my degree and enter the creative industry.

ADHD in women is often diagnosed later in life. Mainly due to the fact that most research has been done on men, and similar to autism, symptoms are commonly overlooked in females.

My diagnosis made me look back at my life in education and realise that there is so much more than can be done in the educational system and creative industry to support those that are neurodivergent.

I have always been creative, however, I also always had a huge interest in the sciences. Before attending Leeds Arts University for my Level 3 Extended Diploma in Graphic design at the age of 17, I attended a well-known catholic sixth form in Leeds for one year, studying AS Level Art, Media, Biology and Chemistry. I will never doubt that I am intelligent, however I absolutely needed additional support and resources to reach my full potential. For me, being in a classroom, completing worksheets and sitting exams that are practically just a memory test, is the worst possible way to be assessed on my knowledge and capabilities.

After my first year at sixth form, I knew this was not the educational route I wanted to take, so I transferred to Leeds Arts Univeristy to study Graphic Design.

Don't get me wrong, education was still hard. However the ability to learn without worrying about tests, and being provided with extra educational support when I needed it was exactly what I required to flourish. I was able to test my creative limits with no boundaries, and to work on self-directed creative briefs that I really cared about. For once, I was excited to go to college.

Eventually, I finished my Level 3 diploma, and worked as a biomedical support worker within Leeds Teaching Hospitals pathology department for a year, before returning to LAU to complete my degree in BA(Hons) Creative Advertising.

The biggest issues for people with ADHD in education

There are many different teaching styles and educational pathways, but the traditional pathway most are encouraged to take is to do your GCSE'S, A-Levels and University before looking for a professional job. I know that there are so many alternative routes, however while growing up I felt that if I took an alternative route, I would be seen as 'stupid' and 'lazy'.

While this is absolutely not the case, I remember the pressure in high school to take this traditional route, as we were taught "that's what all the clever kids do".

"But why can't I just focus and listen in class?

Why can't I concentrate when I'm reading?

Why do I leave everything so last minute?

I can't even keep my workspace tidy, how am I supposed to function on my own when I grow up?

I know I'm clever, but why does nobody else see it?"

These are all questions I have asked myself repeatedly up until the age of 21, when I realised the issue wasn't me, it was my un-treated ADHD. This had a huge impact on my mental health growing up. My ADHD was repeatedly masked by depression and social anxiety.

I start medication very soon. I am hoping that these medications will further help my executive dysfunction and enable me to feel secure, and stable.

When I started researching the effects of ADHD on women, especially within the creative industry, that's when I started to learn coping mechanisms that actually help, and even use it to my advantage.

Small things such as keeping a diary of the little tasks I need to complete, and making sure I have a visual representation of my schedule as a constant widget on my phone, really do help. I know these may seem like obvious solutions, but to someone with ADHD what's 'obvious' is often far from it.

What can be done to improve education for those with ADHD?

I think it is vital to understand that traditional educational methods do not work for those with ADHD. Things such as "silent reading time" can be painful and frustrating, and being told to "just focus" can damage our self esteem.

I went to a high school that specialised in learning disabilities, however my struggles were still overlooked. We need more compassionate teachers, that are willing to actually get to know their students and their learning style, and support them through tasks that require extra assistance.

Another point I would like to make is that during high school and sixth form, we have different teachers for every subject. This can be hugely overwhelming for someone with ADHD. In one class "sit down and be quiet" is the norm, however if you have just finished a lesson such as PE, it can be extremely difficult for someone with ADHD to settle down into their next lesson, we just need a break.

Going back to my time at Leeds Arts University, we had a maximum of three tutors that supported us throughout the week. This made a huge difference in my personal education as there was less anxiety in regards to asking for help during my studies.

While I understand this isn't possible in high school and sixth form due to studying various subjects, I believe that it is absolutely essential to have a support system that encourages the student to reach out for help, wether that is educational or emotional support.

How do I use ADHD to my advantage?

Well, this depends on the task. Racing thoughts can often be frustrating, however within the creative industry this is highly beneficial to me.

You need a creative campaign, and the deadline is tomorrow?

Easy! Give me a few cups of coffee and an iPad to scribble my thoughts down and I will come up with a unique creative strategy and an abundance of ideas for copy, art direction, and outcomes. The hardest part of the process is most likely choosing which ideas are my favourite.

The reason I enjoy working within creative advertising is because I am an ideas person. My ideas are fantastic, but the reason I never persued graphic design or illustration is because I am a perfectionist. I struggle to stick to one style of work.

To me, being a creative is about collaboration, and getting excited about a new brief and brand every week.

Creative collaborations are also necessary to produce the best work. Sometimes my ideas race too fast, and I need to bounce my ideas back and forth to refine them into something worth creating. At university, I mainly work with my peers on projects, but even working alone, I find it beneficial to talk my ideas through with my partner, housemates, or even my mum, to achieve the best outcome. Talking your ideas through with another person allows a fresh perspective and to see wether your ideas truly work.

So, what now?

I am still learning how to work to my full potential. This is just the beginning of my creative journey and career. I am excited to find out ways I can utilise my "learning difficulty" and turn it into a real advantage.

I have so many ideas for blog posts and articles that I would like to share with others that ADHD, and also advice for how teachers and potential employers in the creative industry can support those with ADHD, from my own experiences.

I would also love to collaborate with anyone who is interested in ADHD, on creative brief's, talks, and articles aimed at making the creative industry more accessible to those that are neurodivergent.

For more information about collaborations, or to get in touch, please email me at: