Jessica Tuominen is a third-year sociology student at the University of Greenwich. Originally from Finland, Jessica came to the UK as an au pair before deciding to study here. She shares her experiences of university life with ADHD and talks about how she wants to help fight the stereotype that people with ADHD can’t achieve academically.

“I originally began studying sociology at another university, but my mental health took a dive at the start of 2020, and with the pandemic developing, I returned to Finland. I decided I wanted to go back and study in the UK, so I applied to the University of Greenwich and thankfully got in. I studied sociology and psychology for a year before switching to sociology on its own. I chose Greenwich because I could combine the two subjects, and there were high satisfaction levels for sociology. Wellbeing services were very important to me as I didn’t have the support I needed before. I was also in the process of getting an ADHD diagnosis, so I was looking at the services available.

My biggest fear about university was that I wouldn’t be good enough, which discouraged me from applying. I was much more fearful and insecure about managing to work so independently and without structure, as my first experience of university didn’t go to plan. I was very depressed at the time, and I’d lost confidence and social skills, so I was really nervous that I wouldn’t make friends. I’d lost a lot of confidence in my academic capabilities too. I never had any evidence grades-wise to believe I wouldn’t be good enough for university, but I still felt it. I later understood this is a part of rejection sensitivity, which is common with ADHD. Some people with ADHD, particularly women, often have strong perfectionist tendencies, and even the smallest setbacks in any aspect of our lives can eat at our confidence for a long time, even when it comes to completely unrelated things.

These fears haven’t left me at Greenwich. I still struggle, but I have found ways of getting support like my ADHD mentor, the wellbeing service and friends who have had similar experiences.

I had a meeting with a disability coordinator during my first year. She was just amazing because I didn’t have a formal diagnosis then. I’d been in assessments in Finland for a long time and was just about to get a diagnosis when I had to come back to England. Measures were put in place to support me. The biggest one was the targeted support for ADHD, like my ADHD mentor, who has been an absolute lifesaver for me and has helped with strategies to function.

Managing time has been a big struggle as I can’t grasp the flow of time, which is a symptom of ADHD. A huge thing that’s helped me overcome this has been working with friends to take breaks to eat and drink and not be on Tik Tok for a whole day. My ADHD mentor has given me different time management tips, such as using a Pomodoro timer and getting an accountability buddy. Rejection sensitivity is a significant issue for me too, not just in terms of not believing in myself academically. We, especially women, are socialised to stay on top of things like the cleanliness of our house and work and social life. It doesn’t come naturally to anyone, particularly not to someone with ADHD. There is a shame about not being able to stay on top of all aspects of life, and it has a huge impact on self-confidence. Communities like STAART give you peer support and an opportunity to hear other people’s experiences. We are disabled, and it’s not your fault that you are disabled and not your fault that you can’t stay on top of these things. Society is not set up for us.

I have enjoyed finding like-minded friends and eventually finding my place in the academic community. It gave me a lot of confidence when I got good academic grades. I like being a part of the academic community and getting those feelings of success and accomplishment. I’m really interested in disability rights and studies and working for STAART has been amazing. It’s great to be a part of something that is genuinely close to my heart.

After I have completed my degree, I plan to take a year off and hopefully still work in the field of disability services in higher education on the policy or advocacy side. I hope to go on to study for a Master’s degree in disability studies or inclusive education and continue to work in that field.

The biggest thing I would advise people to do is to share their disability with others.  Whether that’s someone from your school or before you go to university, let them know you are disabled and get in touch with wellbeing services. I feel there is a lot of pushback, which discourages sharing, but the only way you will get the support you deserve is by telling people about your experiences. You don’t necessarily need to feel like you have a Disabled SEN identity before entering a space where it is accepted and celebrated. Be honest, so you can start your journey with people who are going to be able to help you.

I’d also urge people who have ADHD to challenge the beliefs they have about not being good enough. ADHD often warps your understanding of achievements and blows even tiny mistakes or setbacks out of proportion.  Try to keep that in mind, and don’t let it hold you back.  We can and do succeed academically, and we need to remind ourselves of that and share our stories to break the misconceptions surrounding this.”

See what support is available for Disabled Students.

Learn more about STAART at the University of Greenwich.

Lucy King

27 Mar 2023

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