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What Does Online Education Mean For Someone With ADHD?

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India is currently dealing with an almost apocalyptic reality, with the ongoing pandemic, a crushing economy, and a crumbling democracy. In the past seven months, India has gone from lockdowns and migrant crisis, to unjust student arrests and irrational debates over a celebrity’s death. One can track the rapid changes in India’s socio-political climate by just glancing at all the major headlines in these past months. However, despite this continuous upheaval, a very crucial system of our society has remained ignored—our education system.

After continuous resistance from students and parents alike, schools and colleges did not open up for the new session. Instead, they switched to digital education. While India has been hopping onto the digital learning train for the past few years now, it is still far from mastering the medium. In trying times like these, it would seem a bit entitled to criticize this arrangement, however considering its real effects on the people involved and the uncertain time limit, a little critical analysis might prove worthy.

At the outset, there are some very obvious problems: poor infrastructure, economic inequality, language barrier, and the sheer disconnect between practical subjects and online teaching.

However, amidst the online education debate in India, along with the aforementioned challenges, a very crucial addition should be difficulties faced by neurodivergent students.

As someone with ADHD and clinical anxiety disorder, online classes have proven to be extremely burdensome. A chat with fellow neurodivergent students was enough to make me believe that this is not a superficial concern. While systemic difficulties have the greatest impact on students, a rather insignificant seeming but incredibly tough obstacle to overcome is dealing with our mental health while adjusting to online classes.

A young girl looking at a phone and a textbook while studying
Representational image. Image credit: Getty Images

The technical problems bring with themselves emotional and psychological hardships, which are neglected under the looming shadow of exams, and an uncertain future.

Students with learning disabilities, specifically the ones with ADHD and Autism spectrum Disorder, are often the hardest hit. People with ADHD usually operate well with external systems regulating their day. Very insignificant activities like walking to college, switching classrooms and face to face interaction help people with ADHD fruitfully spend their day. However, due to the pandemic, all of our external systems have fallen out of place, resulting in our entire day blending into one big sum of undifferentiated hours.

While online classes allow freedom and flexibility, this can often backfire on people with ADHD. This means the chances of procrastination become higher, and accountability becomes zero. Since classes require sitting at one place for hours and clicking from one link to another, it results in a lack of stimulation which is said to increase dissociation and absent-mindedness.

Teachers, even though have moved to an entirely different medium, continue the same ways of teaching. The classes are often one-sided and almost give the feel of an audiobook, which becomes monotonous and lengthy for an ADHD brain that otherwise prefers short sentences and categorization.

Another strong ADHD feature that overlaps with online classes is that of organization. ADHD brains have difficulty in organizing and scheduling their work. Teachers often send loads of readings, long paragraphs and expect them to be read and understood within a day. Once you couple that with assignments, it becomes even more difficult to keep up.

The ADHD brain gets easily overwhelmed as compared to “normal” brains. The constant anxiety that there might be a forgotten assignment to submit constantly pushes us away from approaching online classes in a positive manner.

Along with ADHD, anxiety and depression have also been some of the oft-spoken disorders that have been overlapping with online education.

“Please speak a little louder”

“Please turn your camera on”

These sentences are the worst nightmare for someone suffering from anxiety. While it is understandable why professors demand cameras be switched on, it cannot be seen without its own set of implications.

Students with anxiety have told me how they are never able to focus when their camera is on as they are constantly busy obsessing over their gestures and controlling certain ‘tics’. Most of the time they are too scared to ask questions and end up missing important concepts only to save themselves from embarrassment.

Image of a child using a tablet to study, while studying from a notebook
Representational image.

More importantly, a student’s ‘home life’ is very personal. It is important that a student feels their privacy is respected and is able to focus on learning without being bothered about their living condition. A lot of times, it is not possible for a student to arrange a separate room, sit for multiple hours, and keep track of everything every day. Some of them dedicate the majority of their time and energy into household chores and do not have the luxury that online classes expect. Other than that, internships and personal struggles drain so much of students’ energy that it hardly leaves space for school/college.

A quick search on any social media platform, will give enough feedback to show the ineffectiveness of online classes. In order for online classes to be successful in the long-run, it is important that teachers make them as inclusive as possible. While larger issues will still take a long time to be fully tackled, we can immediately act upon problems like these:

  • It would help greatly if teachers allowed flexibility and moved with the syllabus at a slower pace.
  • Teachers can also open communication by asking students to mail any grievances that hinder their learning experience via email.
  • Live classes can be recorded and posted on Google classroom for later access.
  • Before starting the class, a quick recap of the last class and detailed classification of day to day lesson can greatly help neurodivergent brains.
  • The teaching format should be made multilingual, discussion-oriented, and colloquial. Instead of reciting paragraphs from readings or using long sentences, it would be better if concepts are broken down into simpler forms.
  • It would also help, if turning cameras on could be left to the choice of students. If a student mentions their problem, it shouldn’t be minimized or taken lightly.

While highlighting students’ issues, it is important to mention that students aren’t the only ones struggling. A lot of teachers are adapting to the changing mode of teaching and students also need to co-operate in order to make online education successful.

Together, we need to build an environment that is compassionate and accommodating of the current socio-political realities as well as a form of support in these challenging times.

Featured image for representation only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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