Miss Great Lakes advocates for women and girls with learning disabilities

Amanda dances onstage

Amanda Fischer, Miss Great Lakes 2019, is passionate about empowering girls with disabilities through special education outreach and beyond. She is currently a senior majoring in Communication Studies at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.  She is not ashamed of her ADHD diagnosis and wants others to feel the same. Check out her story!

Name: Amanda Fischer
Age: 22
City: Notre Dame, Indiana
Age of ADHD Diagnosis: 16 years-old
ADHD Subtype: Combined Type

Did you ever suspect that you had ADHD? What motivated you to seek a diagnosis?

Growing up I didn’t have a clue that I had a learning disability. I remember in sixth grade my principal called me down to her office and wanted to talk to me about my grades. I wasn’t even a bad student. I was an A-B student at the time, which is normal, but I had to work extremely hard to get those grades. But due to my performance and the high standards at my school, she called me down to her office and told me that I should quit dance because I was not  trying hard enough.

It was a red flag because dance was the one thing that was giving me a creative outlet. Dance was the self-esteem booster in my life.

Oftentimes people with ADHD, we hear “you just need to try harder.” And my principal told me I just needed to try harder when I was trying extremely hard just to keep up with my peers.  I was really isolated and misunderstood by her and most of my other teachers. I went to a private Catholic school, so, o, the one that I went to didn’t have special education services in place, unfortunately.  This put me at a disadvantage in the long run. Once I was diagnosed as a junior in high school, though, I was so relieved and it explained so much as to why I had been struggling so much all along. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Amanda smiles and poses in front of a wall painted with a mural of a large flower. She wears white pants, a white off the shoulder blouse and a stylish sun hat.

How would you explain what it feels like to have an ADHD brain?

It’s like a fish out of water experience. There’s this quote by Albert Einstein and it’s “everyone’s a genius, but if you judge a fish on ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.”

I think that sums up our experience pretty well because living life with ADHD, it makes the most mundane things in life super difficult because executive functioning does not come naturally to us and that makes life really difficult. But it’s also super empowering once you are aware that executive functioning doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s empowering because you’re like, “Okay, I can do something about this.” And in the Kaleidoscope Society, we offer that community for women to come together and build each other up, which the world needs more of. Amen, sister.

What strategies do you turn to to manage your ADHD?

My number one key to success is just taking it one thing at a time. I wear a lot of different hats: being a straight A student in college (now that I get accommodations!), a dancer and choreographer for the Notre Dame Dance Company, Miss Great Lakes, a Sorin Fellow at the University of Notre Dame in the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, and working part time for a tech startup in South Bend. I wear a lot of different hats. I really could not do it without all of the support I have in my life. I’m also a very religious person. My Catholic faith is my source of strength, and my family and friends are what matters most to me. I’m really blessed to have so much support.

Amanda body surfing at a football game. She is wearing a jean skirt, a blue Notre Dame tank top and is laughing. A large stadium filled with football fans is behind her.

What is one of your superpowers?

Passion. I’m invigorated by a variety of things that I’m super passionate about, whether it be dance or advocating for people with learning disabilities. The fire that I have in my heart for empowering women with ADHD is definitely a superpower that I have. My advocacy skills are innate in me, and I feel that I’m obligated to pass along the torch to other people, which is what I try to do as Miss Great Lakes and just as Amanda in general when I’m not wearing my crown and sash.

Amanda's headshot smiling and holding the Miss Great Lakes crown in her right hand.
Meagan Gilbert Photography

I was crowned Miss Great Lakes in September of last year.   Miss Great Lakes is a local preliminary competition to Miss America. What is remarkable about the Miss America organization is that it provides young women like myself with a voice and a microphone for change. Empowering women with ADHD is very near and dear to my heart because it’s such an overlooked issue and stems from societal sexism that exists in our country.  One of the things that I’ve done as Miss Great Lakes is special education outreach. I go out into schools and talk with girls, teach them self-advocacy skills and give them perspective. I encourage them to make their disability their super power, whether their disability is ADHD, dyslexia, or really anything. There are a whole plethora of learning disabilities.

Amanda with a group of eight middle school girls in a classroom. Amanda wears her Miss Great Lakes sash. The girls hold up colored paper with their superpowers written on them.

What advice would you give to your younger self just recently diagnosed?

Start educating and researching yourself as much as you can about your condition.  The more you learn about your brain, the better off you’re going to be, and the better off you’ll be able to understand yourself and how differently you learn aside from neurotypical people. I think it’s important to embrace what makes our brains different, Having ADHD makes life exciting! It makes life a kaleidoscope. It can be chaotic at times, but it’s really beautiful at the same time. It’s beautiful chaos.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Say hello and connect with Amanda on Linkedin.

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