Adding up to more than ADD

Photo by Dara Levy

“It’s a hawk,” junior Alex Isler screamed as she stood by the window, finishing a lab in her Honors Biology class in eighth grade. As the hawk perched by the window, Isler said she was unable to focus on her lab, and instead, found herself flitting around the classroom, telling other students of her find. However, her teacher, seeing her actions as distracting to other students, called her aside to tell her to focus on her work. What Isler and her teacher did not know, however, was that her difficulty focusing stemmed from her Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

At age 14, Isler was diagnosed with ADD, a chronic condition that inhibits an individual’s ability to focus and control impulsive behavior. Two years later, Isler said she has adapted to her ADD to find academic and musical success as a member of the Philharmonic orchestra and the top three percent of her class.

Despite her hard work, Isler said she also relies on her ADD medication to stay productive.

“Mainly I use the medicine just to remain productive, especially in junior year of high school, since I can’t really get my work done without it,” Isler said. “It’s really hard to buckle down and be like ‘Okay. Let’s do it.’”

Although she relies on her ADD medication, Isler also said the medication has many downsides, including preventing her from making connections between classes and activities.

“This may make me sound a little crazy, but when I’m not taking my medicine, which I’m trying to wean myself off of, my brain works so much faster,” Isler said. “It’s not necessarily slow when I’m taking my medicine, but it’s just a lot quieter. But when I don’t take my medicine and just let my brain run wild, I can make connections with a lot of different subjects.”

Isler also said her ADD medication blocks her continuous flow of thought, while without the medication, her thoughts move so quickly that she cannot focus. Therefore, Isler said she is trying to find a middle ground between both sides.

“(My brain is) not necessarily slow when I’m taking my medicine, but it’s just a lot quieter. But when I don’t take my medicine and just let my brain run wild, I can make connections with a lot of different subjects.”Junior Alex Isler

“When you’re just thinking, and you’re just in the hallway making observations, there’s constantly that line of thought or stream of consciousness, if you will,” Isler said. “With the ADD medicine, that voice in your head is just silent. You can make observations, but it’s so much harder to make connections, and you kind of lose that constant stream of thought. Your brain just kind of goes quiet, but on the other hand, without the medicine, that constant voice and stream of thought in your head is just like yelling. I wish I could get more in the middle ground like most people and have that constant stream of thought without it being like it’s yelling.”

One aspect of her life that she said she has trouble finding this balance between being distracted and losing her ability to make connections for is music. As a violinist for the Philharmonic orchestra, Isler said music is a big part of her life. However, she said she continues to struggle to focus during practice sessions even though her hard work has helped her cope and become a better musician.

“For orchestra, I really have a hard time focusing on my practice,” Isler said. “I can’t focus at all on the music, and when practicing, it’s so difficult to just sit down and do something kind of strenuous and challenging in one sitting. You have to work on each piece with diligence, but my brain just shuts off, and I get distracted by everything. I really enjoy orchestra. I just have to rely on my own determination and focus to pull me through it, so that I can get better at violin and be a better musician.”

Isler said she has many different strategies she uses to deal with her ADD so that she can succeed in music and academics. For example, Isler said it is vital for anyone with ADD to find a quiet environment with few distractions to work. Also, she said dividing up big tasks into small parts or jumping from one task to another can help her stay productive. Isler said even doing exercise like push-ups or sit-ups between tasks provides a helpful distraction that can increase productivity.

Isler’s mother Karanne Isler said she is proud of how her daughter has used these strategies to help her succeed, despite her ADD.

“She is a brilliant girl, and I’m very proud of her. Even though she struggles, she has managed to cope well and keep her grades up,” she said. “She is now able to balance her schedule much better among her chores, schoolwork, orchestra and club activities.”

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Christine Fernando