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ADHD and Certification Tests- A Tale of Disaster

I don’t talk too much about my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, (ADHD) brain outside of the occasional squirrel joke and more often view it as a super power, but when it is a challenge, I think it’s important to share what we go through.  You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know it is one.

ADHD and Autism

For those that aren’t aware, I was diagnosed with ADHD/on the spectrum for autism back in 2004-2005.  Its not that I wasn’t before this, I just grew up in a very rural area. I fully demonstrated traditional traits for a kid that suffered from both, just no one diagnosed me until one of my own children was diagnosed, (which is quite common.)  At that point in my life, I’d developed numerous, effective, coping mechanisms, but it still created enough challenges that I required medication to address some of the more serious symptoms.

As a kid, I had great difficulty interacting with other children, I became over-stimulated in places with large crowds, bright lights, loud noises and would easily react with tears.  To this day, if I’m not careful, I can become overwhelmed in public and seek out quiet spaces.  I hyper-focus on things I’m interested in and can exhaust those around me on the topic.  I still am quite sensitive to tags, seams and stitching in clothing, making it my mission to dress as comfortable as possible.  You will also notice that when I stand, I often rock back and forth, which is a comforting mechanism I never outgrew.

Do The Thing

In my adult years, I’ve learned how to navigate the world around me and protect the part of me that works a little different than the majority.  It’s happened through extensive trial and error, but it’s because these were situations that I dealt with regularly and was able to figure it out….except for one thing-  taking tests.

Written tests aren’t something you do often once you’re outside of education.  I wasn’t oblivious-  I knew the challenge existed when I would take compliance training at jobs-  which is an annual event at the most.  Where most peers would finish in an hour or two, it would take me five or six hours.  I DREAD annual compliance training not for the training, but if there is a test at the end of it, it will take extensive additional time to get through it.

What’s ADHD Like?

If you don’t have ADHD, it might be difficult to understand what it’s like, so hopefully the following explanation will help.  When an ADHD’r is engaged-  either through interactive experiences or working on something they’re interested in, simply put- the activity levels in the temporal lobes are maintained, allowing them focus and control.  This is why those with ADHD are able to do just fine when they are playing a computer game or another activity their frustrated teachers/parents see as “fun”, when the real term should be “engaging”.  When the situation is the opposite-  tedious or monotonous, activity levels in the temporal lobes decrease, often significantly and we’re no longer able to maintain.  It’s not that we want to pay attention or stand still-  WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER EITHER.  This is why we’re prescribed stimulants, which can seem very odd when those with ADHD are identified as hyperactive.  These stimulants are designed to increase the activity levels in the temporal lobes, letting us regain focus and self-control, which in turn, let’s us control our emotions, actions and decreases the hyperactivity.

For me, my ADHD when triggered turns most noises, including voices, to sound like  “nails down a chalkboard”.  Those individuals speaking directly to me are drowned out by the distractions, like a bad connection on a conference call, where I receive only half of what they’re saying.   The written word, immediately after read, can’t be recalled-  I simply can’t process the information.  If I have to transition between screens on the computer, the simple act of switching screens causes me to lose track of what I was switching the screen for in the first place.

It can cause a lot of frustration, as most with ADHD have suffered demoralizing misconceptions about how their brain worked as a child, (“If you’d just pay attention”, “You’re not living up to your potential”, “He/She is just lazy”).  We are embarrassed about the condition and try to force ourselves to focus, which often makes it worse.  This creates a domino effect, making us more frustrated, resulting in less focus in our already distracted brain.  It’s obvious to a bystander that my ADHD is effecting me to this level, as my hyperactivity will override my medication, (and FYI- hyperactivity often presents itself differently in men vs. women) which means the speed of my speech will increase, my foot will tap, my skin will seem irritated, especially my ears, nose and scalp and I may fiddle with items in front of me.

Many have asked me how I treat my ADHD and I believe in a combination of nutrition, life structure/routine changes, followed by medication.  I decided I did need medication after an experience that left me quite shaken. I was driving down the street, my children were chattering in the backseat of the car and it was a significant distraction- so distracting that I couldn’t focus long enough to tell you if the traffic light in front of me was red or green.  This type of dangerous situation is definitely an indicator you need medication and needing medication for ADHD isn’t a sign of failure-  Treat ADHD for what makes you successful, don’t treat it for what others deem a success.

Timed Tests, Set Up for Failure

Some of the best steps to successfully working through tedious or monotonous tasks that trigger our ADHD symptoms are:

  1. Streamline the process to remove any added frustration or monotony.
  2. Perform the task, broken up in smaller sections of time, so a 1 hour task we’ll do in four, 15 minute sessions, taking breaks between.
  3. Insert interesting, short distractions in the middle of the tedious task to raise the activity levels in the temporal lobes and regain our focus.
  4. Have something to eat or drink that can help increase focus, (controlled distraction)
  5. Wear headphones and listen to music/podcast while performing the task, (controlled distraction)

So this is where my difficult week came into play.  I have two certifications, comprised of three tests that are part of my yearly goals this year at Microsoft.  As any of you who’ve taken certification tests know, these tests are done under a very controlled environment and have strict rules that must be adhered to:

  1. Complex and poorly designed UI for logging in, scheduling and authorizing the test which enhances frustration.
  2. Timed test- must be performed beginning to end, no break
  3. No outside interaction- no headphones, drinks, food or interruptions.
  4. Test isn’t interactive in any way, built complex to test your knowledge
  5. Due to travel, I was to perform the test at home, (the RV)

I was aware through previous compliance testing, which often took me two to three tries to get through stupid, mundane questions that this would not be easy for me.  It didn’t matter if I knew the material, I would have difficulty “absorbing” the questions, even after reading them 2, 3 or more times and it had less to do with what I knew and more about what I could get through.

Happy Girl

My anxiety has seriously decreased while at Microsoft, to the point that Esme, who is a trained service dog to deal with my sleep anxiety attacks, failed to wake me up this last week.  My anxiety has decreased so much, my service dog is out of service. It surprises me how the little things can take some of us down, not the big things you’d expect.  Job change?  Sell your property, sell 95% of your stuff and move into an RV?  Kids move out?  All four at once?  Handle it with grace and calm.  Give me a certification test to pass?  No sleep for a week!

While preparing for the test, I haven’t slept and had two sleep anxiety attacks, (oh those are lovely, we should talk…) hardly eating and all in all, pretty much a tense freakazoid.  Seriously-  major crisis?  I got this.  Certification test?  I don’t got this. </p />
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