Meet Our Stigma-Free Scholarship Winner, Aberdeen!

We are excited to introduce Aberdeen Roy, one of our two Stigma-Free Scholarship recipients! Their story highlights the importance of providing support for neurodivergent students and dismantling the stigma attached to ADHD. After facing many challenges throughout high school due to stigma and a lack of support, in this post, Aberdeen shares how they transformed their struggles into strength and advocacy.

The Stigma Surrounding ADHD & Neurodivergence

ADHD is a disorder loaded with stigma for many who are diagnosed: lazy, unmotivated, hyperactive, unfocused. General society pins these words onto us because we don’t fit into their neat little boxes, and it especially didn’t help my case that I was queer, non-binary, and a person of colour. I was in an enrichment program in high school, and everyone around me was so incredibly smart that it was difficult not to feel subpar in comparison, even though I like to think I’m pretty smart, too!

No educator in my life ever realized I had a learning disability or ADHD, and neither did I for the majority of my life. I was sixteen when I was diagnosed with ADHD, which isn’t uncommon for those assigned female at birth. Stigma and stereotypes caused little brown girls to often slip under the diagnosis radar, and I was no different. It didn’t matter that I had failed almost every math test I’d ever taken, couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes, and changed hobbies frequently; I couldn’t have had ADHD or a learning disability because I was “too smart.”

I couldn’t focus like my peers could or accomplish tasks in the same way, and before my diagnosis, I simply thought I was lazy. The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that, like autism, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder – our brains work differently than neurotypical brains. That’s why I struggled so much in school or in taking care of myself and developing healthy habits; neurotypical advice doesn’t really work for neurodivergent people.

Addressing Stigma in School Settings

In that extremely crucial and vulnerable time in my life, what I truly needed was academic support and advocacy. Without a diagnosis or an IPP (Individual Program Plan) to fall back on, I needed someone to recognize my symptoms and do something about it, because they all felt normal to me. Panic attacks masquerading as anxiety were actually neurodivergent overstimulation, meltdowns caused by noisy environments, and burnout.

Huge downturns in my grades didn’t happen because I was depressed, but instead because I had different needs than neurotypical students and was being overlooked. I needed extra time on exams and a computer for those exams so that I could more quickly to put my thoughts into words. I needed multiple choice tests that weren’t endless mind-scrambling bubble sheets, and noise-cancelling headphones so I could think without being overwhelmed. But above all else, I desperately needed someone to fight for these accommodations with me. Once I knew why my brain was different, I spent a lot of time researching and adopting life strategies and coping mechanisms specifically developed for neurodivergent people. I’m happy to say that since my diagnosis, my panic attacks have almost completely gone away.

The Importance of Advocating for Yourself

If you are a student coping with mental health challenges, I encourage you to advocate for yourself, and don’t give up when you get pushback. You know yourself better than anyone, and if you think you need help or accommodations, fight for them. You deserve to be happy and healthy, and if extra time on an exam or a note-taking service is going to relieve even a fraction of your stress, it’s worth it. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. We’re all struggling in our own ways, but you shouldn’t have to struggle alone.

I’ve learnt that I cannot “overcome” my neurodivergence; ADHD is who I am. Instead, I can make it my strength and use it to help others. I can’t go into the past and help others or myself, but I can do everything in my power to help people around me from heading down that same road. When I saw my best friend falling down the same depressive pit I had once been stuck in, I urged them to seek professional help. When my sister started recognizing autistic traits in herself and needed accommodations and support, I fought for her. And when I have children someday, I’ll fight for them too. My struggles are my greatest strengths because from them, I learnt to fight.

Future Goals and Career Aspirations

I am a double major in Cultural Anthropology and Writing at the University of Victoria. With the help of my academic accommodations and lifestyle changes, I have been able to find success in university and am applying to the Anthropology Honours program at the end of this year. I hope to go to law school or into the non-profit field after I graduate. My dad’s work with the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and the Federation of BC Community Social Services has been hugely inspiring to me, and I hope to follow in their footsteps.

By: Aberdeen Roy

Congratulations, Aberdeen! The team at Stigma-Free Society admires your advocacy and wishes you the best of luck in the future.

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