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New scholarship attracts ADHD students

By Jonah Brunet

Ryerson journalism student Joshua Priemski’s struggle with Attention Deficit Hyper-active Disorder (ADHD) cost him a high school diploma, but a unique new scholarship seeks to ensure students like him are not robbed of their chance to earn a degree.

“After what would have been my fifth year of high school I just gave up and said ‘I’m not doing this anymore,'” said Priemski.

Priemski is one of many Canadian students who qualify for the Shire Canada ADHD scholarship program, which offers $1,500 towards tuition and one year of ADHD coaching to five adult students in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, with a minimum of one recipient in each province.

“What we’re looking for is some recognition and understanding about their ADHD, some interest in using whatever assistance and resource they can to access their strengths,” said Heidi Bernhardt, a member of the jury deciding who receives the scholarship.

Bernhardt served as executive director for the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance before founding the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada, but most of her experience with ADHD comes from having three sons and a husband who suffer from it.

“Seeing three men grow up and go through their post-secondary education, you get to know the pitfalls,” said Bernhardt.

Priemski applied to Ryerson as a mature student at 23. This meant he did not need a high school diploma if he met the grade requirements and submitted an essay on why he was applying in this way.

After raising his English mark above the minimum requirement of 80 per cent at an adult learning centre, Priemski was able to apply. But after he was accepted to Ryerson, he was plagued by more of the same issues.

“This is probably my busiest week of the year, and I’m not prepared,” he said.

Priemski said that, since his biggest challenges include managing deadlines in his program, the coaching aspect of the scholarship was particularly important. “Support is what you need most,” he said.

Though ADHD is typically thought of as being an issue of focus, Priemski said time management is one of the most difficult things for him.

“I frequently miss appointments. Take today, for example,” he said.

Priemski asked that his interview be pushed back an hour, and still arrived 20 minutes late.

The scholarship, offered by biopharmaceutical company Shire Canada, is the first of its kind in the country. While other scholarships offer money to students with ADHD, Shire’s is alone in providing ADHD coaching. In the coming years, they hope to grow the fund to a national scholarship.

Shire stresses that, though ADHD is the most common mental health disorder in children, it does not always disappear over time and continues to affects many adults.

Priemski was only diagnosed with ADHD at 17.

“Very often, students with ADHD are left out of a lot of different funding and scholarship programs,” said Bernhardt.

Ryerson offers a few scholarships that are targeted towards students with disabilities.

The Harriet Stairs award is a $924 scholarship offered to students registered with the Access Centre who have a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.00 or higher and demonstrate financial need.

Some awards are more specific.

The Sheri Cohen Social Justice Award for People with Disabilities targets students in the school of social work.

Priemski said he set up one meeting with Ryerson’s Access Centre earlier in the year, but it ended up being just another missed appointment.

The Access Centre helps students with learning disabilities succeed by helping them apply for scholarships, providing counseling and support, and offering privileges such as extra time on exams for those who need it. In 2011, 13 per cent of the centre’s students were there because of ADHD.

For Priemski, support comes from his girlfriend. He credited her as someone who helps him through difficult times, saying she motivated him to apply to Ryerson and not give up on post-secondary education.

The $1,500 included in the scholarship would also be helpful to Priemski, who is over $10,000 in debt after one semester at Ryerson.

He said his student debt is particularly upsetting given the risk of not completing his degree – a fear that is always in the back of his mind.

The scholarship recipients are chosen based on a personal essay on the impact of ADHD in their lives.

Applications are due March 27, and the recipients will be announced June 17. Priemski plans to apply.

To apply, go to

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