Samuel Gunter wasn’t staring lazily out of the window because he couldn’t stand the teacher. He thought it was OK that his teacher had to repeat instructions to him once more than the rest of his class.
The SF State art major wasn’t an apathetic child, he just seemed like one.
“In elementary school I was the dumb kid, I guess. I would zone out really hard; I still do it today,” he said. “I was always off in my own head.”
Gunter, 22, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at the age of 9 and he isn’t the only student working to overcome the struggles of ADD in college.
The disorder, which is a subtype of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, was diagnosed to 4.5 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 in 2007, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While studies have not been done on the number of college students being diagnosed with the disorder, the main criterion is that symptoms must have been present before the age of 7, according to Florida-based psychotherapist and author Stephanie Sarkis, who specializes in ADD/ADHD treatment.
“It is a disorder that causes impairment in all aspects of a person’s life,” Sarkis said. “It’s not about losing your keys occasionally or not paying attention in one of your classes. It is a pattern of behaviors that causes a person difficulty in virtually every aspect of life – academic, social and occupational.”
The complexity of the disorders has made it hard to provide a strict definition; although, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders test is often given to define it.
“The DSM criteria was originally written for children, but we’re finding that people don’t just grow out of it,” Sarkis said.
“Your hyperactivity may lessen somewhat as you get older, but you continue to have difficulty on a daily basis.”
“They put me on Ritalin at first from about 9 to 11, 12 maybe. At first it was great. When I started doing well (my parents) were so excited and so was I,” Gunter said. “What happened is as I got older the dosages got higher but a big side effect was that because you are very focused on your work, it’s hard to disengage sometimes.”
More issues arose, when Gunter used Adderall from age 14 to 19, something he calls “a terrible, terrible drug,” eventually leading him to quit his medications cold turkey.
“I was studying for an art history exam and I spent my weekend studying for it,” Gunter said. “I came out of my dorm room one day and my friends are like, ‘Sam, what happened to you? We haven’t seen you in three days.’ I realized that I had not left my dorm except to eat.”
SF State student Zehra Mohsin, 21, was always described by her teachers as a hyperactive student.
When diagnosed with ADHD at 13, she began taking Concerta alongside the anti-depressant Prozac in order to better focus and maintain motivation.
Like Gunter, she quit taking her medications in favor of fighting the struggles of ADHD herself.
“I quit Prozac at 16 and when I turned 20, replaced Concerta with a high intake of coffee to keep me alert,” Mohsin said.
There is still the question of the disorder’s existence due to its unrefined definition.
“That’s the hard part about the disorder,” Gunter said. “There isn’t a whole lot of evidence that comes about with these (DSM) tests. I’m actually on the fence about whether or not it exists. I have known people who have been greatly helped by (taking medication for) it and greatly hurt by it.”
Moshin states that although it is a medically recognized ailment, she believes that it is often over-diagnosed.
“If you really want to know what I think,” Mohsin said. “It’s an over-diagnosed problem that is easily manageable with behavioral therapy and discipline and a healthy diet.”
Gunter said that through great difficulty he has been able to manage his condition without medication.
“It was hard at first, just trying to work without it. My grades kind of dropped for a little while. They went from being As and Bs to Bs and Cs and that went on through sophomore year and a little bit through junior year,” Gunter said.
“It was just hard to figure out ways to make myself focus without medication.”
Editor’s note: Zehra Mohsin was recently diagnosed with dyslexia. At the time of the interview she had been misdiagnosed with ADHD