Proud of the Person I Am

Profile of a person with long hair outlined against a sunset.

By Yamila García

Before coming to the US, I tried to do several things in many stages of my life and none of them worked out. I was frustrated but somehow accepted that my life was going to be like that. I never stopped trying though. However, when I came here, things changed. I had some tough moments, of course. But everything I was trying turned out well, and that made me scared. I was too used to dealing with adversity but never learned to deal with any kind of success. The fact that everything I was doing was going well scared me a lot, not because I was afraid that things would “go back to normal,” but because I just didn’t know how to go through it or even enjoy it.

I have wondered so many times why this happened and if the place had something to do with it. It was even funny to see how things never worked out for me. I contemplated several possible reasons, including being in survival mode or simply having fewer distractions. However, time went by and most of those options stopped making sense in my current reality. So, it was then that I realized that the only thing I had here that I never had in my country was my diagnosis as neurodivergent. I always felt different, I always knew that my differences with others went beyond the differences that are acceptable for society. However, I never had a full understanding of who I was or how and why I worked the way I did.

My journey in this country has been full of learning. I learned a lot about myself. I learned how to prioritize myself and my needs, how to better handle my struggles, and how to enhance my abilities, but most importantly, I learned how to respect my essence. I don’t force myself to do things that harm me anymore. Yes, I challenge myself as a way to keep learning and growing, but I am kind to myself. This is why I can finally say that I am proud of the person I am. Needless to say, I couldn’t have gotten to this point without knowing who I really am. Obviously, I’ve been neurodivergent my whole life but, as I didn’t know it, I was expecting myself to act as if I wasn’t. As a consequence, for years my focus and energy have been put into trying to act “normal” or do what others do, while it should have been put into whatever I was trying to do at the moment. I’m still learning how to change the focus from masking to what really matters, and so far I’ve only seen improvements in my life.

The Space Between

Black and white image of a maze, with spaces in between the walls.

By Yamila García

A few days ago, I was registering for a new service that I wanted to access when something happened that left me wondering. The person who was registering me told me that I must access the website to complete the registration process. He told me the website, and I understood while he was saying it, but as soon as he stopped and I had to enter it on my cellphone, I couldn’t remember it. So I asked him to please repeat it to me, and while he said it, I repeated it in my head. But again, as soon as he finished saying it, I couldn’t manage to write it on my cellphone. I tried one more time, and while he said it, I simultaneously completed the sentence in my head. But once again, it was as if I were looking for something in my memory that I knew was there, and that I repeated 1 second ago, but could not access that space at the moment. The person who was with me at that moment helped me to complete the process because that could have been an endless conversation.

This has happened to me many times. I know that if I give it a minute, maybe I will be able to access it. But at the moment, I end up requiring some assistance. There is somehow a “space” between the moment in which I received information verbally and the moment in which I can use that information. I cannot access it unless I withdraw from the situation and think about it alone, without any social interaction. This happens with lectures at school too, and with regular conversations, although I learned what to say and how to act to pretend I’m following the conversation, so people don’t realize it. So this makes me think about why it is assumed that oral communication is preferred or most effective for everyone. How difficult would it be to have something written with basic instructions such as web pages, phone numbers, addresses, etc.?

Likewise, at school many times those of us who have these auditory processing difficulties find it difficult to take advantage of the lectures. The classrooms are usually very large, there are many background noises and visual stimuli that, in addition to these problems, make it even more difficult for us to concentrate on what we are listening to. However, it would help us a lot to have the recordings of the classes, or the professors’ notes at least to be able to cover what we miss at the moment. That’s why I truly appreciate the professors who see beyond their own reality and provide videos, notes, and more, recognizing that not all of us learn in the same way.

Math Without Numbers

An irridenscent soap bubble floats in front of a background of green bushes.

By Yamila García

My silence may seem empty, but it’s full of questions. My mom always says that when I started asking “Why?” I never stopped. There’s been a barrier between what I think and what I can say my whole life, and that makes me seem like a very different person from who I actually am. I always have questions, but very few times I am able to put them into words. I try to understand the reason for these barriers, and the first thing that comes to my mind is that I am aware that I communicate differently from the majority. Whether it’s with the choice of words I use, the intonation, or the content of what I say. In addition, I also know that I see things that others do not see and that things which are obvious to others I do not see.

The pile of questions in my head continues to grow with the passing of the years. It mutates, nourishes me with new perspectives, and pushes me to answer several by myself to satisfy my curiosity. In that search, I found a surprise that gave rise to a new (or perhaps very old) passion: Philosophy. My questions were never just based on a result or a simple explanation. I always wanted to know the essence of everything. Watching someone do something not only made me curious to know “why is this person doing this?” but also made me feel the need to know: Why do they think this way? How did they grow? In what values would they have developed to think or act in this way? How does this fact influence the life of this person? And those of those around them? My questions are deep. They not only try to understand how the people around me work but also those in the rest of the world and even existence itself. They aim to analyze and understand everything, almost like an unconscious attempt to do philosophy. I have done this since I was little; my mind never shuts up, and when I discovered what philosophy was all about, I was dazzled! I felt like it was a kind of math without numbers, and that feels like magic for me!

It’s crazy to think that I’ve been trying to avoid the humanities since I was “aware” that letters and history were not my thing. I’ve missed out on a lot of things by pigeonholing myself into the stereotype that many thought of me. I don’t have the power to change what others think of me. However, changing the way I see and talk to myself is something I can and should do. Now I know that there is a lot that I can discover, enjoy, and learn by doing so.

Embracing Challenge

A light-skinned person stands in a room with a box over their head.

By Yamila García

Before coming to the United States, I had never moved in my life. The impact of such a change on me was immense. Moving to another hemisphere, with a different language and such a distinct culture, was a shock. I know that for many, it would be the same, but I also realize that my way of perceiving the world made it even more intense than it might be for others. Not only logical aspects, like adapting to the new language or customs, affected me, but everything sensory. The scents of different seasons (especially fall), the smells of greenery, the flavors of unfamiliar food, and attempting to comprehend the background voices unsuccessfully tormented me daily for a long time, leading to many hours-long headaches.

Many times, I simply wished to hide in a hole and stop feeling everything that overwhelmed me. I clung to the items I had brought from my country in an attempt to endure everything that this significant change was causing me. However, it was this very process that brought the most significant learning to my life. Chaos and crises demand action and oblige us to adapt in some way or another. It can be painful, overwhelming, and frustrating, but when we get out of it, makes us stronger individuals. We are enriched by the battles we fought and conquered, once again overcoming one of the most profound fears that several neurodivergent individuals face: change.

Sticking to a routine serves as a lifeline to alleviate some discomfort from our lives, but discomfort often leads to learning and growth. I’m not suggesting that we should all live in discomfort each day or merely endure whatever comes our way. What I mean is that when something is inevitable, we might approach the challenge with greater appreciation. Acknowledging that it won’t be easy but can significantly contribute to our personal growth. Embracing challenges permits us to dedicate 100% of our efforts to overcome them. On the other hand, when we resist the inevitable, our minds expend excessive energy fighting it, and the fear of confronting it becomes more overwhelming than the actual task itself.

Instructions on Repeat

A young woman with long, wavy brown hair sits in front of a laptop with a hand on her forehead and an irritated look on her face.

By Yamila García

When a professor asks me something in class, I usually say, “I don’t know.” But the truth is, I don’t remember at the moment, maybe because I panic when I have to talk in front of many people, and so my brain is busy trying to speak properly and not sound too weird. I want to get out of the “situation” as soon as possible. Saying “I don’t know” is like an ostrich hiding its head in the ground. I do my best in my classes to participate in class and lab activities, but when I am asked to work on something that was explained just a few minutes before, I can’t do it. I don’t process things that fast in the classroom, and that is mostly because of the many stimuli I receive in the classroom. I hear all the noises at the same level, so I notice how my focus is interrupted by my classmates commenting on something, passing pages on their manuals, typing, people walking in the hallways, etc.

However, I remember a lot of things when I listen to someone speak, but in a more neurodivergent-friendly environment. I even used to record myself reading because I memorized more easily by listening than by reading. I like reading, but if it is not something I can visualize or draw in my mind while I read it, I get lost so quickly. I can keep going through the text, maybe, but I have no idea of what what I’m reading means. That is why many times when I have to work on exercises from school that have very long instructions, I find it really hard to even start them because I am unable to read the whole thing. I read the first sentence, move to the next one, and I ask myself: what was the previous sentence about? And then go back to the first one and could repeat this for hours. I say the words in my mind but do not connect their meanings somehow. I can “read,” and do it out loud, and still don’t get any idea of what I read. On the contrary, when I read a story, I paint all the descriptions in my mind with so much detail that feels like a movie, and that makes focusing so much easier.

I never heard of simplified instructions as an accommodation, but I could make good use of them. There is no way that knowing how hard it is for me to focus on long texts (no descriptive texts) they expect me to work on a simple exercise but give me 3 pages of instructions including the history of a certain number or symbol, and more irrelevant (to me) information that we do not really need to be able to demonstrate that we know what we have to know. Giving the possibility of choosing between simplified or detailed instructions could improve how many people work at school.

Living with ADHD: A Testimonial by Michael Tola-Godfrey

In the year 2012, when many believed the then-interpretation of the Mayan calendars’ abrupt end date to be a prediction of the end of times, I was finally diagnosed, officially, with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. My family learned that teachers are legally not allowed to tell parents to request an educational evaluation. It took my family until third grade when they noticed that I seldom had birthday party or playdate invitations to realize that something was amiss and they demanded an educational evaluation that resulted with ADHD..

I was eight years old at the time, attending Booth Hill Elementary School as a third-grader. About halfway through the school year, after consulting numerous medical journals, reports, and studies on the positive results effected by the combination of ADHD medication with talk therapy rather than talk therapy alone on children with this diagnosis, my mother, a family physician, decided that she would go against her Ecuadorian culture upbringing (despite being a first generation American) and let me begin ADHD meds in addition to talk therapy as treatment for ADHD.

According to the DSM ADHD is present when the following criteria are met:

“People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning and/or development:

  • Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
    • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
    • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
    • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
    • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
    • Is often easily distracted
    • Is often forgetful in daily activities.

  • Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents age 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to the extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
                        • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
                        • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
                        • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
                        • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
                        • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
                        • Often talks excessively.
                        • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
                        • Often has trouble waiting their turn.
                        • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
                                      In addition, the following conditions must be met:
                                      • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present before age 12 years.
                                      • Several symptoms are present in two or more settings, (such as at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
                                      • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
                                      • The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (such as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or personality disorder). The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.
                                            Based on the types of symptoms, three kinds (presentations) of ADHD can occur:
                                            • Combined Presentation: if enough symptoms of both criteria inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity were present for the past 6 months
                                            • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: if enough symptoms of inattention, but not hyperactivity-impulsivity, were present for the past six months
                                            • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: if enough symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity, but not inattention, were present for the past six months.

                                                Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well.” (1)(3)

                                                Let me describe what schoolwork was like before beginning medications and still is once my meds wear off: absolute torture! I’ve heard ADHD described as running a marathon with boulders in your pockets. Of course you can still manage to pull off completion of the task but every step is so much harder than it has to be. For example, I remember so many nights where my Mom would lovingly sit next to me trying to keep me focused on the task at hand since she realized the moment she left I would begin to go down the rabbit hole of learning interesting science facts on the internet with no end in sight until her return. Those assignments seemed to not get completed until right before midnight. Many times, despite the imminent due date, such as the next day, even after all the work and extra time put in and sleep lost by both of us; I would invariably seem to purposely sabotage myself and forget to turn in the assignment costing me precious points, resulting in a lower grade. She always emphasized that she was certain I was a great writer; it’s just that it always took hours to collect my thoughts enough to get me to even start writing. Once I began, it would take some time to get me to stop. I would almost always completely forget to bring home assignments and when I did complete them, I would often forget to turn them in.. Everything took hours for me, all the activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing and even eating. One slice of pizza would take hours to eat and I love pizza! But I would get so distracted that I would have to heat it up in the microwave at least 2-3 times and so by the time I got around to earning it it would taste like cardboard.

                                                Test-taking was the worst! It would take me a good 25-30 min just to settle in to start my test either because of anxiety or distractions from the nervous jitter of the other children or from the repetitive tapping of my own foot on the floor. By the time I could finally concentrate on what the first question was asking me, over half the testing time had gone by. Invariably, most of the questions were left unanswered. In the rare instance, I would finish a test in time, I would find out much too late (when the teacher returned my test with not an A) that there was a whole back of the test page I failed to answer because I never looked!

                                                Once I began ADHD medication, it took a while to figure out which one would work for me. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Devine noticed something was different right away saying “Michael has always been very polite and extremely intelligent but now it seems someone has taken his cover off and he shines more brightly.” Once accommodations began, my family still had to deal with more than one teacher who felt as if  I’d been given an unfair advantage. They did not realize that what these accommodations were doing was leveling the playing field. I’ve heard ADHD described as running a marathon with boulders in your pockets. I completely agree.

                                                The Americans with Disability Act was passed in 1990 and is a Civil Rights Law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. (2)  Thanks to this law, there are accommodations offered to children with  neurodiversity from elementary to high school and even college years.  I have been very impressed with the University of Connecticut’s Center for Students with Disabilities and the provision of continuing educational accommodations from secondary school to college. This provision is invaluable to me as a neurodiverse student since it continues to help me learn how to work well and even succeed with my diagnosis.  Hope this gives you a little better understanding of your neurodiverse peer.


                                                1. CDC. (2018). Symptoms and diagnosis of ADHD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
                                                2. 2010 ADA regulations. (2010).
                                                3. CDC. (2021, September 23). What Is ADHD? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC.

                                                Texture and Sensation

                                                Bubbles and ripples within an ocean wave.

                                                By Yamila García

                                                My perception of the world differs greatly from that of neurotypicals. While textures are irrelevant to many people, they are of the utmost importance to me. Certain textures help me connect with the present moment, focus on my activities, or even provide comfort. On the other hand, certain textures can stress me out, make me nervous, or even cause me pain. I experience textures with my entire body and mind, almost as if I become a part of them.

                                                Many external stimuli can radically change how I feel. One of them, perhaps the most relevant for me, is water. Whether from a pool or from the ocean, for me water is comfort and peace. The water does not make sudden movements, loud and changing sounds, or sudden changes in temperature. It doesn’t introduce any additional external stimuli. Instead, it remains quiet, and peaceful, and allows me to flow with it. In the water, I can let my heart rate slow down, free my mind from worries, discomforts, and pains. It feels like being in a shelter where I have complete control of the situation, and nothing can disturb me.

                                                However, there are other stimuli from different textures that cause me pain and overwhelm. The sound of a nail clipper, someone touching rough wood, many types of wool, the rubbing of clothing labels, and even Styrofoam cause me great discomfort. They upset me, hurt me, and sometimes make me want to escape the situation as quickly as possible. Some textures make my skin crawl, cause pain in my teeth, and make my eyes fill with tears, similar to the sensation of eating something highly acidic. Many of these textures also give me an electric feeling throughout my body, and they do not let me function normally. I have learned how to hide it, but I cannot make these textures feel comfortable to me.

                                                Many neurodivergent individuals perceive the world in vastly different ways from others. This has nothing to do with seeking attention, justifying our actions, or being spoiled. However, our needs are often misunderstood. Our bodies and minds simply process stimuli in different ways, making some experiences more pleasant and others more uncomfortable. We don’t all have to feel or think the same in order to empathize with each other. It’s not necessary for everyone to fully understand how someone else perceives the world. However, we can all ask one another how to accommodate and support each other, or how to avoid causing discomfort.

                                                Changing the Exam Environment

                                                A woman holding a pen while writing formulas on graph paper in a notebook.

                                                By Yamila García

                                                Every time I take a test, I sit down, look at the sheet, and I don’t recognize anything I read. Although I have studied a lot and know the subject very well, as soon as I look at the sheet, everything I studied seems to have been erased. I know it sounds scary; maybe at some point many years ago I could have been nervous about this situation, but not now. Yes, it worries me a little at first, but as soon as I remember that I always work like this, I am sure that I will start to remember. If I still feel anxious about it, I repeat to myself: “It’s coming, it’s coming,” and simply try to rewrite my test questions or the data that they include in the statements.

                                                After so many years as a student, I know that everything I studied will start to come to me after a while. Sometimes I start to remember slowly, but other times everything comes like an avalanche, remembering many things at the same time and at great speed. In the latter case, I tend to write down everything that comes to my mind in a rough draft. Sometimes everything comes so fast that I can confuse things. Once that burst stops, I start working with the notes I made, and it all makes more sense now. The exam becomes doable this way.

                                                As you can imagine, that takes up part of the time I have to do my exam. Sometimes it has taken me up to 1 hour or even more… And it’s hard to keep calm because even if I repeat to myself that this always happens and that “it’s coming,” I start to wonder: “What if it doesn’t this time?” Actually, it has never happened to me that I didn’t remember anything. Always, sooner or later, the information reaches me, and I am able to do my exams. The thing is, in order to have extra time and a quiet place to do my exams, I need to request accommodations. Otherwise, I could not carry out this process in a reduced time and in a shared space with constant noise and movement. Although I am grateful to be able to have accommodations, I wonder how we could have regular exams more accommodating. Maybe some folding panels and some noise-canceling earmuffs available in the classroom could help more people than just the ones with an official diagnosis. I know many people struggle with the same and could take advantage of a more accommodating environment too.

                                                When and Why I Mask

                                                A pair of blue shoes peek out from underneath a multi-colored umbrella.

                                                By Yamila García

                                                As someone who discovered being neurodivergent not too long ago, I continue to analyze and discover myself. Through this process, I have gained a deeper understanding of how I unconsciously mask many of my differences. I’ve also noticed that this behavior varies depending on the person I’m interacting with. One aspect I consistently mask is my avoidance of making eye contact. I’ve realized that when I force myself to do so, I blink more frequently, and this only happens with people who are unaware of my neurodivergence. However, when someone is aware and accepting of it, I feel more at ease, allowing myself not to make direct eye contact or occasionally break it to regulate my feelings. Besides, I have also noticed that in the first case, I mask and wish not to, whereas, in the latter, I don’t need to mask, but sometimes I try to make eye contact as a sign of appreciation for the person’s openness and understanding, knowing that it’s often considered a way to show respect.

                                                I’ve noticed that when I don’t fully comprehend what others are saying, I tend to assume a shy and quiet role. Not because that’s truly who I am, but because it’s easier to justify my minimal interaction in such situations. I have heightened sensitivity, and how I communicate often depends almost entirely on the person I’m engaging with. It’s as if I absorb their energy completely. When the other person is calm, understanding, and respectful, I find it much easier to communicate harmoniously. Conversely, if the person comes across as egocentric, arrogant, or pushy, it becomes almost impossible for me to interact effectively. In these instances, my body responds physically, making it difficult to breathe, and I experience a strong urge to escape the situation, leading to an increased heart rate.

                                                Masking is not a conscious choice; it’s a learned behavior that I adopted unconsciously to avoid drawing attention to myself. Perhaps my unconscious thought process was that it’s better to blend in rather than reveal my many differences and face scrutiny. I’m still trying to understand my motivations. What I do know is that becoming aware of when and why I mask helps me better understand myself and empowers me to decide whether I want to continue doing it or not. I’m not saying it’s as simple as pressing a button and turning off this protection mechanism that I’ve created for myself, but I believe that self-awareness is a valuable tool in determining who we want to be, when, and with whom we choose to be that way.

                                                Learning Through Patterns

                                                Photo of a tile floor with hexagonal tiles of different patterns of white, gray, and black.

                                                By Yamila García

                                                My ability to recognize patterns allows me to learn in a very different way from most people. Typically, in the classes I have taken, particularly those with a practical component alongside theory, the topics are presented orally, sometimes with accompanying slides displaying formulas or graphs. Then, students are assigned practical exercises. However, I am unable to immediately complete these exercises since I don’t process auditory information automatically. I require time to contemplate the material, and most importantly, I need visual demonstrations in order to identify the logical connections on my own. This is how I learn.

                                                As my eyes wander, scanning the visuals without any apparent order, I search for similarities, connections, and logical patterns. Thus, I get a deeper understanding within seconds, as opposed to spending hours listening to an oral explanation. This learning approach proves highly effective in subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, and physics, as long as the necessary conditions are met. If, on the other hand, I am only provided with an oral explanation without step-by-step guidance, it becomes nearly impossible for me to learn. Additionally, classes in which nothing is logical or deducible are extremely challenging for me. Subjects like history or literature have always presented difficulties for me since there is nothing to deduce, and I must solely rely on the oral explanation.

                                                Based on my unique learning experiences, I wish I could choose how I learn. I believe it is crucial not only to study subjects aligned with our passions but also to learn in the most efficient way for each individual. I am aware that there are others like me, but there are also individuals who learn better through oral theoretical explanations or demonstrations of concepts in laboratory experiments. Considering the limitations of traditional classroom settings, I have consistently felt that I haven’t been able to fully leverage my abilities. Consequently, my performance has often been mediocre. Unfortunately, some people label neurodivergent individuals as disabled, when in reality the incapable is the system that does not know how to take advantage of our abilities.