Mariel: ADHD & Proud to be

Mariel Henkoff is a manager for Eye to Eye, a national mentoring program for students with ADHD or learning differencesShe provided Kaleidoscope Societey with an interview so we could get a peek into her ADHD life.

Mariel Henkoff
Mentoring Program Manager, Eye to Eye 
Brooklyn, New York
ADHD, Combined Subtype
Age of Diagnosis: 17

When were you diagnosed with ADHD and what was the experience like?

I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was a junior in high school; the experience was simultaneously very confusing and a huge relief. My academic journey had always been challenging. I had trouble listening in class, staying organized, and finishing tests in the allocated amount of time. I would spend hours outside of school trying to complete assignments and learn what I hadn’t absorbed in class; tasks that would take my friends 30 minutes would take me over an hour. Junior year in high school, the classes were harder, the assignments were longer, and the work quality expectations were higher. For the first time in my life, I was no longer able to keep up with my classes by putting in extra time outside of school.

People regularly saw the challenges I experienced and told me to stay organized, try harder, or focus. When I was diagnosed with ADHD, I finally had an answer that didn’t have to do with my work ethic or effort.

However, I found the diagnosis confusing because when I heard ADHD I pictured a hyperactive kid running around in circles. At 17, I did not think of myself as a hyperactive or a little kid, but I assumed that because I had ADHD I was actually similar to those little kids. I was prescribed ADHD medication and told to “see how that worked.” The medication and the diagnosis helped my self-esteem and my ability to do school, but I did not totally understand what it meant to have ADHD.

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Tell us about your work as the Mentoring Program Manager for Eye to Eye.

Eye to Eye is a mentoring movement for students with learning differences and ADHD. There are chapters on college campuses around the country, where college students with learning disabilities and ADHD, mentor similarly labeled middle school students. Eye to Eye uses art projects and the shared experiences between mentors and mentees to create community, develop self-advocacy skills, and promote social and emotional learning. Working for Eye to Eye is a blast because it is personal and rewarding.

I joined Eye to Eye as a mentor in college, and the experience completely changed my understanding of myself. The similarities I shared with the other mentors and mentees showed me what it really meant to have ADHD.

I have worked for Eye to Eye since I graduated from college. As the Mentoring Program Manager, I oversee all of the Eye to Eye mentoring programs. This includes supervising 3 National Program Coordinators who then support 50 mentoring chapters across the country, a summer camp, and a 5 day training conference for all of the Eye to Eye chapter leaders over the summer.

 

Mentors and mentees find community in their shared experiences and end up learning new things about themselves and each other. In a mentoring relationship authenticity is key; sharing obstacles, achievements, strategies and rough patches enables people to connect with each other. I believe in the power of mentoring, and I think that all parties involved in mentoring relationships benefit. I believe in the Eye to Eye mission, and I love introducing new volunteers to the Eye to Eye program and hearing about their journeys.

 

You have a big job managing 50 mentoring chapters across 20 states. What strategies do you use to stay organized and get it all done?

Organization and time management do not come naturally to me, so I use a variety of strategies that keep me organized and enable me to use my time effectively. The most challenging part about my strategies is actually using them; I have to be very disciplined and deliberate about using my strategies everyday.

One of the most helpful tools that I use is a weekly to-do list. I start every week by writing out all of the tasks, small and large, that I want to accomplish throughout the week. I assign the big or pressing tasks to different days and disperse the small tasks to the different days based on my availability. I start everyday by working on the big tasks outlined on my to-do list. Once I finish the big tasks, I move to the smaller tasks for those days. I constantly update the list with new tasks throughout the week, but I honor the big tasks and the days that I assigned them to.

Another strategy I use is called “quiet hours.” Almost everyone who works for Eye to Eye has ADHD and learning disabilities, so the Eye to Eye office can be an exciting and distracting place to work. I set aside 3 hours of time a day as quiet hours for my team. During this time nobody in the office talks to each other unless it is scheduled. This uninterrupted work time is when I tackle most of the big items on my to-do list for the day.

 

What tips or advice would you give to fellow female professionals with ADHD?

I would recommend that fellow female professionals with ADHD think about how they learn and work best and reflect on their strengths and challenges. In doing this, they can create accommodations that will enable them to be more successful in their work environments. I know that I get distracted easily, and that I work better in the mornings. I purposely wear noise cancelling headphones and face away from doors and windows when I am doing work. I also put my “quiet hours” earlier in the day.

Another suggestion I have is to openly communicate with colleagues about work styles. Find ways to work with colleagues that enable everyone to be successful. It takes me a little time to get into my work groove, so I ask my colleagues to email or gchat me requests or thoughts so I can respond to them in a way that does not disrupt my work flow.

As a young student, I constantly compared myself to my classmates. It takes me a longer than other people to organize my thoughts, so I regularly struggled to finish tests, especially essay tests. Most of the essay tests I handed in were missing conclusion paragraphs. I would spend the rest of the day feeling disappointed that my essay did not have the conclusion paragraph, instead of feeling proud of the other 5 well developed paragraphs I did submit.

I would encourage female professionals with ADHD to celebrate their accomplishments and try not to over-focus on challenges or mishaps.

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What are your superpowers or greatest strengths?

My brain works really fast, and I think about things differently from other people. Because of this, I am great at problem-solving. I can quickly come up with multiple ways around a problem that are different from suggestions or attempts made by others.

Another one of my strengths is my ability to connect with others. I have a lot of energy, and I love learning new things. Every time interaction I have with a new person, is an opportunity for me to learn something. I value what people say, and I make an effort to ask questions and listen the answers. I am weirdly good at remembering names and facts about people, so the second time I see someone I usually reference something we talked about during our first meeting.

My superpower is my hearing, and it stems from my surplus of attention. I can be engaged in one conversation, but also know what is happening in another conversation that is happening simultaneously. I used to find this unbelievably frustrating and distracting, because it was hard to be really focused on the conversation I was involved in. Now, I love it! I can read a room really well, I usually know what’s going on with my friends and colleagues without asking, and I think I would make a great spy!

 

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Eye to Eye is a national mentoring movement that pairs kids with LD and ADHD with similarly labeled college and high school students. Mentors and mentees work together on art projects that are designed to promote metacognition, self-advocacy skills, community and self-esteem. Learn more here.

Now it’s your turn! Share your story through the Kaleidoscope Society Project and join us in dispelling the stigma around ADHD.  Participate here.

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