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My learning styles as a software developer with ADHD

Dorcas Adjeley Laryea
Self taught full stack developer, currently working as a junior developer, open to learning new things and exploring opportunities
・3 min read

A photo of my study time with my DELL laptop, my notebooks for taking notes and my phone

I graduated the university with a degree in Civil Engineering, barely surviving that four year journey. I knew there was something wrong with me, but seeking help seemed like a weakness until I kept getting into trouble, skipping classes because i had absolutely no interest whatsoever or I just could never find the motivation to learn and do my assignments.

After graduating, I worked as a Civil Engineer in a fast paced environment which was all fun until my country went on full lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19. I found myself stuck at home, bored and very depressed. And that was when i decided to scratch the itch to learn programming as a hobby.

My learning pattern

I learnt a lot about myself when i started learning programming on my own. I understood myself better and realised that I wasn't slow or lazy like I thought I was in school. That, coupled with speaking to my therapist at the time, helped bring much clarity to my situation: I had ADHD. It finally made sense. It had gone unnoticed for a long time because I was already being treated for another mental health issue.

My diagnosis brought me so much clarity and positively affected how I approached my studies, and currently, how I approach my job.

1. I learn better when I make notes.
No matter how seemingly trivial a lesson is, I have to write it down for it to make sense to me. It is not enough for me to just listen or watch. I would forget everything the moment I finished, unless I make notes. My notes are essentially my way of walking myself through whatever I have learnt and this serves as a sure way for me to remember everything I learn.

I still apply this approach to my current job. Every task I am assigned to, I write down the task, elaborate on what the task description is and finally write down the step-by-step solution to the given task, before going ahead to write my codes. My notes basically help me walk myself through my thought process and make me more efficient.

2. Having a routine and (trying to, lol) stick to it.
This is a difficult thing to do for someone living with ADHD. As productive and efficient as routines are, they seem quite impossible to follow. I forgive myself when my day goes wasted when I don't have a routine because my excuse is that I didn't plan my day anyway. Having a routine and breaking it makes me feel terrible and so in order to avoid that, I do everything possible to stick to it. I set reminders on my phone, my watch and on sticky notes and I sometimes set reminders to remind me of these reminders.

Currently, one routine I am proudly sticking to, is pushing a commit to my Github every day. So far, I am 33 days in and I am eager to see how far I can go on this streak.

3. I listen to myself speak.
Whenever I learn something new, or I'm faced with a task and I need to understand my solution better, I like to listen to myself while I reason with myself. I do this by recording myself as I speak out loud, whatever steps I'm taking to reach the solution, or when I'm learning, I like to record myself as I revise my notes off the top of my head.

I then go back to the recording, listen to it and correct any mistakes, make notes of what solutions work and also appreciate my understanding of what I am working on.

Conclusion

This blog post has taken me a week to write because initially, the words were all jammed up in my head and I couldn't make any progress until I followed all the steps I just spoke about. These are not the only things I do that work for me, but they are the major ones and I hope they work for someone else too.

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Discussion (51)

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romeoks profile image
Romeo

I don't know if I have ADHD, but I'm surely struggling to remember things.
I'm 43 years old and I started less then a year ago to learn the Frontend path and sometimes I completely forget classes that I took, even though I understood completely at the time and even managed to complete the exercises attached to the course (I'm learning on Teamtreehouse).
It took me a lot of months to realize that I'm learning in a wrong way.
So, after many years of not writing anything on paper, I started to take notes and write for myself in order to understand better.

I really enjoy what I'm learning and for the first time since I started, JavaScript is not something completely abstract and started to grow on me. A lot!

Thursday I'll have an exam for an internship program and I'm literally shitting my pants because sometimes I don't remember things like splice, or pop, or methods that I didn't use a lot in order to stick in my head.

I read your article and I realized that I'm not alone as far as remembering things, or making them stick into our heads.

Keep it up and write more for us, because it's heartwarming what you wrote.

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

This is so heartwarming. So proud of you. Stick to a learning pattern that works for you and certainly make notes as you go along. You are going to ace your exams. With regards to whether you may have ADHD or not, I'd suggest a lot of reading around ADHD signs and see how much you relate to them, note them down and if possible, talk to a therapist about it. There are several ADHD materials that help with managing the condition and so even without a therapist, you can use these remedies to help manage it better (that's if you have it). The only downside to not seeing a therapist is that you cant receive medications for it as you'd need a prescription to get them.

i wish you the very best, and lemme know how the interview goes. I'm rooting for you <3

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Alexis Hope

I wouldn't be too hard on yourself if you're not remembering things like splice or pop. I've been using Javascript for years (maybe 8) and I still have to look up shift/unshift functions on occasion. Unless you're using them on a daily basis you're likely to forget. Being able to recall that that functionality exists when you need it and recover the understanding from documentation is more important. Very generally speaking.

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Anita Graham

I was diagnosed with ADHD sometime after my 60th birthday.

Your mention of making notes is a winner. For many years I've had work journals for making notes on whatever I am doing, write plans for the day, or just note what is happening during a meeting. (People sometimes ask for me for the meeting minutes, and I have to explain that I'm not the secretary, but otoh I can tell them what I thought happened at a meeting).

Taking notes is good for so many things. Guidance, prioritising, memory amongst them.

Talking (to yourself, or someone else) is really helpful for getting over those moments when you are stuck in a problem. Even writing out a problem as a github issue, or a stackoverflow request for help can solve the problem - and you don't even have to save or send what you've written. (Done that many times).

thanks for such a useful article

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

I'm so glad you found my article one worth sharing. I am always so elated when i meet people who got their diagnosis later/outside the normal known age group for diagnosing ADHD, because i had to struggle through getting a diagnosis, being told adults "cannot" get ADHD which is a lie.

I can see you also use some of the methods that work for me. I'm so pleased to know I am never alone in this. I appreciate your comment so much. I hope to keep writing more (hopefully something else doesn't steal my interest or cause me to give up on writing) <3

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imrj profile image
imrj

why at 60? just curious, because ADHD is life long, how did you cope before?

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Anita Graham

I coped "well enough" I guess. I was fortunate that I was studying when computer science was introduced at my Uni, so I became a programmer.

I think that I would have done a lot better though, if I could finish projects, handle people better, and just be more normal. And I was diagnosed because I do have mental health issues (depression) and was having three different conversations with my psych at the same time.
Overall I would say that being intelligent brought enough positives to outweigh the negatives.

Thread Thread
mintii profile image
Brittney Braxton

Your experience fits a larger narrative of women diagnosis with ADHD where our gendered socialization outweighed the problematic behaviors we may have experienced. It was and still is a diagnosis skewed to boys and their raucous behavior.

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Victor Adeleke Afolayan

Hey Dorcas! Thank you for this well-written post.
Being someone with an engineering background as well, I think I can relate a little to the challenge with finding interest in classes and abstract(boring) concepts.
In addition to this, I think you have just reiterated a few lessons to me:

  1. It is never too late to start learning something new
  2. Challenges are an everyday side to us(whether or not science has a name for them), but what really matters is being able to navigate through and thrive. Thank you once again for sharing.
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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Grateful for the lessons learnt. Thank you so much <3

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shayneoneill • Edited

One of the things that always makes me grin is that in the workplace I've had a reputation of being a stickler for procedure and being organized wereas outside the workplace friends see me as a force of chaos. The thing is, being organized is my only defence against unravelling and it works. The brain-squirrels need to be harshly disciplined, or hey'll just make a mess.

My advice is to learn the various Software design lifecycles and focus on those project management type skills. Jira can be an amazing asset for the ADHD squirreled mind for keeping track of what your supposed to be doing.Learn how many tickets you can work at a time to balance the need for novelty and escaping boredom and the need to minimize distraction. Learn the Pomodoro Method (15 minute timers), although if your on a good hyperfocus on something your supposed to be doing, turn that 15m clock off, and ask your workmates to leave you alone till you've finished your tasks. For non Jira-able things, use a todo list to organize your day.

Basically we suck at organizing ourselves, but we have the technology to let our computers organize us for us.

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you so much for sharing this. I am definitely going to give these a try and see how they work for me. Most times, i am more hyperfocused so i tend to be all in or all out. I am either not finding the ability to start any work, or once i start, I go hours without stopping. I need to find the balance and so I will give these methods a try.

Thank you so much for sharing

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Archie Smyth

Disclaimer: this response may not contain programming.

Wow. I love how you delivered this. You bring me colour, when all I see is gray. Thank you very much for this post. I am proud and grateful to read your post and its discussion. I am definitely not a qualified expert in mental health, but I notice that it is not black or white, surely anyone and everyone can suffer in all sorts of levels. I am indebted to you, all i can reciprocate is a love heart. Let there be love in this discussion.

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Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you so so much. Your comment is refreshing and heartwarming. Bless your heart <3

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ahmmedrejowan profile image
K M Rejowan Ahmmed

Hi, hope you are having a good day. I have ADHD too and I can relate to your situations. I use to take notes as a regular habit now. I've a whiteboard beside my desk to write down my current goals to make it remember and keep focus all the time. I keep 3/4 types of sticky notes, small note pads to write down my objectives.

Like you I'm a self tought programmer(still learning a lot). I'm not lazy but it's hard to keep focus on the same thing for a long time. I keep 2/3 rubics cube on my desk, I play them after about half/an hour of works and then get back to work again. It's very hard to follow a routine, but I try to keep my focus under control.

It's good to see a lot of you start thinking about the mental health and support each other. Wish you all the best guys. ❀️

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you so much for this. I have lotssss of sticky notes and notepads as well. You are definitely not lazy. For all you've shared, i can definitely tell that you are doing your best and I am proud of you.

I wish you the very best as well <3

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ahmmedrejowan profile image
K M Rejowan Ahmmed

Thank you so much. Best wishes for you too. 😊

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adron profile image
Adron Hall

Hello fellow ADHD programmer! Solid post, thanks for writing it, always interested in what others do when they've got the ADHD super power. ✊🏻

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

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Brad Dunn

I appreciated hearing about your strategies and seeing how they overlapped with mine. I too have ADHD and sometimes I feel like a superhero, and other times I feel like a passive observer as I watch an entire week go by without any meaningful progress, despite my best efforts.

I too have to take notes to retain things, whether they be meetings etc. I find a good backlinking, second-brain setup to be awesome. Currently I use Roam, although I'm actively looking for an alternative. It can't require too much customization otherwise... I'll spend all day customizing it instead of using it as my stream-of-conscious anchor for discussions, meetings and tasks.

Again, thank you for being vulnerable and able to talk about this. I appreciate it, and I hope your developer journey continues to be fruitful!

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you so much. Deeply appreciate. Glad to know we share similar strategies as we manoeuvre ADHD in our everyday lives. I appreciate your comment and I also wish you the very best <3

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Dan Arroyo

Thank you for this. I relate to your feelings of "something wrong with me" and "I am lazy" until I realized it is not my direct fault. One thing I also do is listen to rhythmic type ADHD focus music... I found a lot in YouTube. It used to be DubStep until I found them. People would think I was crazy listening to dubstep while reading and coding, but it really helps.

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you for sharing your music with me. I am so open to recommendations that help to make living with ADHD easier. I am going to listen to them and hopefully like them and find them helpful too.

Thank you so much

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alex_alex_0417642415a7f05 profile image
Alex Alex

Alright, I'd written a big list and it was gone after login. So, here we go again. For all you ADHD-ers out there, here is my list of tips that I use personally. It may not work for you but at least you'll have an example of what is working for other and figure out rest for yourself:

  • Don't be hard on yourself.
  • Figure out that works for you. Don't follow gurus or advices like mine. If you hate pomodoro's but your favourite blogger swears by it, ditch that guy advice and follow your own path. You'll have to be bold with that.
  • Use lists like this. Live by lists.
  • Use notebook system like Joplin or similar
  • No porn. No M. No O. Read yourbrainonporn.com. This thing mess with dopamine and ADHD is all about dopamine. Gotta know oneself.
  • Exercise. Exercise hard. No more rest days. Your rest day is a light day. Other days are hard days. Lift heavy. Run fast. Do both types of training - conditioning and strength.
  • Run everyday.
  • Stretch everyday
  • Use watch to track time you spend doing something
  • I don't use Pomodoro cause I don't like restrictions on a way I work
  • Work with therapy. All the mental issues can impede your progress
  • Use SRS system like Anki. Or better, use Supermemo. I personally like Supermemo more because of Incremental Reading and tree like knowledge structure. It suits my learning style better.
  • Use todo-lists with repetition functionality and with unlimited sub-tasks (like OmniFocus)
  • Break down tasks to most simple tasks you can and finish big tasks by crossing off your small tasks.
  • Install break reminder apps
  • Use laptop to change location and work where it is better for you. Buying laptop helped me with that.

Here is my short-list (yeah, I can came up with a bunch more :) ) of tips that work for ME. Important note - you have to figure out what works for you. Everybody is different. Can't stress that enough.

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threeal profile image
Alfi Maulana

Nice article. I like your routine to commit everyday, i also start to doing that since this pandemic begin.

But i just saw your GitHub profile and haven't found any green square streak you mentioned in this post. I believe you must be committed on a private repository. If that's the case, you may turn on the option to show private contributions in your profile as in the setting page (github.com/settings/profile).

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Yes yes most of my commits are to a private repo. Thank you for teaching me this. I really appreciate this

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codinghusi profile image
Gerrit Weiermann

Oh wow, thank you for that insight!
Points 1 and 2 describe myself very well (but rarely doing sticky notes).

Now I'm curios whether I've got ADHD, too πŸ˜…

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shayneoneill profile image
shayneoneill • Edited

Don't self diagnose, ask a doctor for a referal if your concerned. There are things that have similar symptoms to ADHD but point to other causes. Its good to know what it is (especially as the treatments can be quite different). There are also comorbitities (Autism spectrum is not uncommon. OCD disorders less common but it happens too, although if you have OCD you'd know it [and no, I'm not talking about obsessive personality, OCD is a force of nature, the real disorder is extremely dehabilitating untreated])

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

These are just but a few that could or could not be signs of ADHD. You can always talk to a therapist :)

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dabigin profile image
Brandon Dalton • Edited

For almost 6 years now, I have tried many times and failed trying to learn web development. Like you, I have ADHD. I also suffer from Bipolar Disorder, and just a couple years ago found out that I'm Autistic. I find myself watch motivational videos and try to get myself to start another video, but I find myself just turning off the videos and going back to my daily routine, wishing I had done more. I applaud you in your efforts and would like to thank you for writing your story. Know that you aren't alone in the struggle. Thanks for having the courage of sharing your story with others.

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Nikiya Simpson

Wonderful post! I really like your third post and I think I will try that as well.

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you. Glad to hear. Do give it a try and i hope it helps. <3

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Bernardo Medeiros

I also have ADHD and I realise that your method is more in-depth than mine.
I shall improve.

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Steve Fan

As a university student with ADHD, all I gotta say you just needed motivation -- and usually you will get exceptional result since we got a double edged sword -- hyperfocus.

Without this blessing (and a curse) we aren't able to achieve anything, because we will become very lax, lazy and procrastinate, and that's not the normal kind of procrastination, it's a force of nature: that if you ain't interested in something, you will never get it done, you don't even want to take a look of it in your eye, just like you simply don't want a very badly structured or boring course. This is one of my excuse of being academically underperforming

Fortunately, it is easy for us to get interested in something, but you can only select a few at a time. We are hyperactive, but it doesn't mean we have enough energy to achieve every interesting thing too.

Again, as a (probably adult) ADHD patient, all you needed are motivations, a curiosity, an intuition of interest to do something. Then when hyperfocus kicks in, we are able to get things done -- usually really incredibly.

Otherwise, don't expect us to produce any positive outcome, not even a little. This is what makes our life tough though, because although we are outstanding in some cases, but your general productivity is directly associated with your personal interest for something who suffers from ADHD.

Thus, this makes us a very unreliable workforce. We are more like catalyst -- normally we don't react, but we speed things up FAST when the prerequisites are met.

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Hamidou TESSILIMI

Great article πŸ˜‰

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Siva Aravind Velladurai

Thanks a lot for that insight. This has come timely to my notice!

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Favour Afolayan

You are doing well, Dorcas. Amazing writing

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Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you Favour :)

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Carter

Thank you for this. Also found out I had ADHD when I started learning how to program this year. Already did a 5 year Computer Engineering degree and managed a 82.5%, although I knew something was up for many reasons. One of them being my 'laziness' and I was always doing every single thing last minute no matter how much I tried.
Nearly broke down in tears and I finally had to find out why I always had to push myself to just maintain basic levels of productivity, especially now when I needed my brain the most. It was then I went to see the therapist. Had a couple of sessions. Therapy is going great. I find lifting weights helps my ability to focus(dopamine).

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Samuel FAURE

Love to see more ADHD folks on dev.to

I wrote this article that might interest some about the topic

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imrj profile image
imrj

ADD (not same as ADHD) people can still be highly functional and very creative, ever more so than "normal" people......ADD is more common for adults, as many of us are past the "hyper" early teenage years.
But, the bottom line is, we age and there is cognitive decline, period.....dont let the media, or motivational speeches or doctors and meds fool you into thinking that aging cant affect you, it will, it can be slowed down, but is just a fact.....you wont be able to cope with as much as someone 20 or 30 years younger......so adjust your workload as you age (and your expectations).

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Jose Cueto

Courageous. Thanks for sharing. Some of the items here resonates to myself.

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naalaryea profile image
Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you too.

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dcmwong

Thank you for writing this. I don't have ADHD myself but I have a colleague that does and understanding their process more is helpful and most times not surfaced. Please write more.

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Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Glad to hear. I definitely will. Thank you

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Sotenna Max

Exact same challenges I'm having...I forget almost immediately

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Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Try these methods and see if they work for you.

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Rob OLeary

Keep going! ⭐

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Ross Ragsdale • Edited

Really glad we talked about this and happy you found the strength to write about it! Things can only get better from here :D

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Dorcas Adjeley Laryea Author

Thank you so much, You've been super helpful.