Taking a gap year as a neurodivergent student with CanGap Ambassador Claire

Claire - 00:02

Hey guys, what's up! Welcome back to another video. My name is Claire and today I'm going to be talking about my experience taking a gap year as a student who is neurodivergent.

So to be a bit more specific, I've got ADHD, nonverbal learning disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Today I'm going to be talking about my experience taking a gap year with these diagnoses and how I manage that, what my concerns were and my advice to you if you are also living as a neurodivergent person and considering taking a gap year or currently on one.

Let's jump into it with the first section, which is my concerns about taking a gap year knowing I had these diagnoses.

Claire - 00:50

So there were a number of concerns that I had at first, especially relating to my ADHD.

When taking a gap year, a big component of my gap year was actually moving away from home and living in a different country and this was a really big leap for me and I'm sure it would be a big leap for everyone, but especially knowing that I have ADHD, which is basically a disorder that affects a lot of your executive functions. It was a concern to me that I was going to have a particularly difficult time adjusting as well as kind of managing myself without a parental figure around, that was a big concern of mine.

Claire - 01:31

Another part of ADHD that I was really concerned about with my gap year was procrastination. Not all of them, but many people with my type of ADHD. You use that last minute procrastination to motivate them and not having the structure of school around was definitely a component but I had to think of like, well, if I don't have this deadline and I don't have that motivation to like reach that deadline, then how am I gonna get it done?

So that was definitely another concern for me with my diagnosis and just knowing how I work, because I do find myself very motivated by that last second push and then a bit unmotivated at other times. So it was just trying to find ways during my gap year that worked with that.

Claire - 02:19

The next part of taking a gap year with ADHD, that was concerning to me was my ability to regulate my negative self talk. So I identified pretty early on that I have a very negative association with my ADHD and what I found is that this is really linked to expectations.

All my gap year, I was quite worried. I felt like if I didn't manage my ADHD well, that would mean that I wouldn't have a successful gap year, and so I think it's just for that specific component going into it with a set of realistic expectations and goals that you want to kind of hit or work towards hitting when it comes to your neurodivergent.

For me, let's say I know I was going away and I was going to be living in another country and that also meant I needed to organize myself a lot better and so my goal was to focus on keeping the common areas of the house that I was living in clean and free of all my stuff.

I know that this seems like a pretty simple goal, but it's something that I struggled with as a symptom of my ADHD was organization and so I wanted to focus on this very little task. Not fixing all of my ADHD, but just finding ways to make it a bit more functional in terms of living with other people because that was where my greatest concern was and so by focusing on this, I avoided disappointment.

Claire - 03:54

But there is a lot of guilt with not getting enough done on your gap year because in a lot of people who have unstructured gap years, there is a lot of time in the day.

When you have all this time, you have all these things lingering on top of you that you could be doing and so there's a guilt associated with not doing things during those times or not doing things that lead towards other things during those times. I think it's good to have that time to rest. So the big thing with that one was just focusing on one small goal that you can achieve that you can feel proud of once you achieve it and you can continue to work on even past your gap year.

Claire - 04:39

Part of that I was concerned about all my gap year was how my nonverbal learning disorder would affect the year. So having a learning disability is something that I'm very aware of. In school it definitely affected me more. I got accommodations in school for tests and exams, I also had a lot of support.

So it was concerning for me, going from an environment where I had a lot of support to one where it was mostly all self directed. I did find a lot of comfort in knowing that I had CanGap beside me to help me out throughout my year, but it was also like you know, you're growing up, you’re not going to have these guidance figures around you as much every single day where you can just go to them and ask for help.

For me it was a bit concerning, not having this structure of school around me where I already knew I can access this in order for me to succeed. It was very self directed and it became a bit of a concern for me.

Claire - 05:40

The next issue with nonverbal learning disorder, I also was concerned about was my ability to function in a job. Now I knew that getting a job was definitely a key part of my gap year and so one of the concerns was, well, how am I going to talk to my employer about this? How am I going to be candid about my ability to learn or my difficulties with learning while also being eligible for these roles. Basically I was just kind of worried about my ability to advocate and so because of that I focused a lot on advocating for myself. My goal related to this one was, well, how am I going to make it clear to employers while also making sure my eligibility and my candidacy for the role wasn't discriminated against.

Claire - 06:36

This is what actually happened on my gap year, I was disorganized, spoiler alert. The ADHD does not go away when you move to a different place, but I was aware of my disorganization more than I have ever been before. I was aware of it because I was concerned, but also because I was focusing on it.

Like I mentioned before, it was one of my goals to kind of keep the common areas of the house clean, and so I felt that I focused on that more. I also found my ability to advocate for myself with the people I was living with in this house was really good.

I felt I was able to have a healthy conversation about the ways that ADHD affected me, the ways that they could kindly support me when it came to, you know, if I have left something in the common area being like, “hey Claire, think you forgot to do that”, without being a nagging like parental figure.

Claire - 07:32

The next thing is I ended up gaining so much confidence in myself like unimaginable confidence to realize that I can actually function away from home perfectly fine and I am happy with that. I did mention before it was a concern that I wouldn't be able to or I would have a really difficult time functioning in a different environment away from home in another country without my mom and I was fine. I guess you raised me well mum, but I felt fine. I felt confident in myself. I really stepped out of my shell when it came to my maturity and my ability to kind of self regulate. I felt great and I still feel great and it actually has made me really excited to be moving into my own apartment for university.

Claire - 08:34

To say that I nonverbal learning disorder actually affected my gap year was pretty positive. I realized that I kind of have come to accept that hey, I don't learn the best in lectures and I don't learn the best just by watching a slideshow and then going off and doing something or writing an exam. You know that's not the way that my head works.

By realizing this and then finding experiences in my gap year that were more experiential, hands-on, and kind of fit my learning style, it made it a very empowering experience for myself and it also made me more confident in going into university because I realized that university is just a stepping stone, it's not the be all and end all and I'm aware already that my head doesn't work the same way everyone else does, and that means that although I have a more difficult time functioning in this one environment, you know, listening to lectures and all that I'm gonna have a go at it.

I'm gonna go in with a lot of perseverance, I'm going to go in with lots of confidence in knowing this and calmness in knowing this and then I'm gonna go do it, you know.

If I don't like it, I'm going to go find another experience that suits my head better and everything will be OK.

Claire - 09:51

Finally, here's my suggestions for taking a gap year if you are a neurodivergent student.

My first suggestion and this one is so important, connect with other people who have your diagnosis, who have a similar experience to you, whether this be through mentorship or just finding your peers who also struggle with these things and talking with them. Hearing other people's experiences can kind of give you an idea about how you can apply them to yourself, knowing things that work and things that don't work and things that you might struggle with allows you to be so much more self aware when you discuss these things with other people, if you're comfortable, and so that would be my first point of advice is to go seek mentors with similar diagnosis and talk with them about what your plans are, what you're worried about and what you think you'll struggle with the most and then talk about your plan of action. Because if they've gone through it before, chances are they've got lots of great suggestions that may help you.

The next thing is to talk with your professional. So if you have a psychiatrist or psychologist or a therapist then I would highly recommend discussing this with them, if you feel comfortable. This is a huge step in your life and I'm sure that they have a lot of really useful advice for you to be moving out from home and you know going on these different adventures, or at least you know kind of teaching and coping mechanisms that you can take along with you throughout your gap years. If you have a professional chat with them about it, that's always a useful thing.

A suggestion that I have is to recognize and be self aware of your symptoms. Now this is something that I definitely worked on before rather than just kind of acknowledging everything “As wow, I'm really frustrated, this is frustration.” Realizing the root cause of the problem and then trying to address the root cause of it.

So if it was, you know I've left something on the ground. Well, I know that's my ADHD.

I know I consciously wouldn't do that. Oh, I've left something on the ground. That's my ADHD, right? I'll fix that, I'll pick it up and go about my day. If it's something like recognizing the root cause of the cause of your symptoms, where they might show up most in your gap year and just kind of being aware of that.

Claire - 12:08

Finally, last but not least, take breaks and be gentle with yourself. A gap year is a self development year for you, nobody else but you, so you are able to take this time.

If you need a break, if things have been really stressful, it's OK to take a gap year just for that reason.

Claire - 12:27

I wish you the best of luck! If you are a neurodivergent student in taking your gap year.

If you want to connect with me and discuss your plans and discuss what your worries are, then I am always available down in Gapper Connect. You can sign up using the link below, there's a great group of gaffers there, lots of neurodivergent learners as well taking gap years.

I hope this video was helpful for you. I know it was a bit long but I had a lot to say when it came to taking a gap year as a neurodivergent person, yeah so anyways guys, I'll see you later.

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