As I glance across the cafeteria, my gaze transfixes on a bright-eyed teenage girl with a big smile plastered on her vibrant face. She walks over, with a spring in her step, and greets me with the warmest hug one can ever receive. We briefly catch up on the latest happenings in our lives which could have lasted ages until Nadya catches hold of herself midway through her sharing and says, “Wait, we’re supposed to do the interview today. I better not get carried away again!”
Always knowing she was different
Growing up, Nadya always sensed that she was different from most of her peers at school. She could never sit still for prolonged periods and would get scolded for moving about and not holding eye contact when someone was talking to her. During meals with others, she would often be told off for playing around with items on the table and could never keep her hands to herself. Her parents would be informed by her teachers of her extremely short attention span and people would get frustrated having to explain things over and over again to her. These things prompted her teacher to raise the possibility of getting her evaluated for any form of learning disability during the school’s Meet The Parents session.
On the right: A young Nadya posing for the camera while having recess with her primary school track & field teammate. (Credits: Nadya)
“It was in Primary 3 when everyone was passing their math exams and I was the only one who fail. So, my form teacher suggested to my parents to get me checked for ADHD.”
However, Nadya’s consistent failure in her spelling tests coupled with her need for longer-than-usual preparation time prompted her mother to also call for a test for Dyslexia. She would get her Bs, Cs, and Ds mixed up and her teachers found her handwriting to be “too messy and looked like dancing words”. When the test results came back, Nadya was confirmed to have ADHD & Dyslexia.
“At the end of the day, I knew that I was kinda special because I was just very slow. It was only until I finally grasped why I needed extra time in my exams. What stood out to me was that during exams, I was placed in a separate classroom. This classroom had all sorts of students with different needs. There was this guy whose exam paper was A3 size, double sheet and his fonts were all bolded. That was when I knew I had something special.”
The challenges she faces daily
Having two neurodiverse conditions has certainly posed a different set of obstacles that the 16-year-old has had to navigate through. As a Dyslexic, she still struggles to spell and read words that most people have no issues with no matter how hard she tries. Sometimes, she finds herself having to slow down when trying to pronounce words or when trying to form phrases and sentences in a proper sequence. Summarising a story and dealing with numbers can also be very challenging.
Nadya’s ADHD also means that she tends to get easily excited and often finds herself in situations where she would say or do things on impulse which are hard to control. It also takes a lot for her to calm down and she tends to get very distracted by the presence of people and the slightest of noises. Moreover, she describes her mind to be “all over the place” and tends to miss out on details and misplace her belongings. During the times when she is nearing a meltdown, she emotionally shuts down and often gets misunderstood by others because of her stoic & cold behaviour leading to unwanted arguments or tension.
Making the most out of what she has
Despite these challenges, she does not shy away from situations that pose a threat to her difficulties and always chooses to rise to the occasion. The former shot putter was told that her coordination desperately needed improvement and struggled with remembering technical details. Still, she persevered, training up to 6 times a week, and eventually became a two-time National Age Group Champion at two editions of the National School Games.
Left pic: Nadya posing for a shot before her competition. Right pic: Posing for a picture with Team Singapore Discus thrower, Jasmin Phua, who Nadya credits as one of her inspirations.
When asked about the relentless pursuit of her dream to become a criminal lawyer, she does not shy away from the very real challenges ahead of her. Her current experience as an intern at a law firm has also exposed her to the extremely high level of organisation and structure that lawyers must have amidst the fast-paced environment they must keep up with. Nonetheless, she shares that it is her intrinsic passion to help criminals by understanding why they do what they do that makes her want to give this dream a shot.
Charting a path that works for you
“Now I live my life by a diary. It tracks my spending…my schedule…I also have problems and solutions columns I refer to when I get overwhelmed.”
Having a tool to organise the important details of her life has given her structure and helped her stay on track with her commitments and goals. On days when she finds herself becoming overwhelmed and on the brink of a meltdown, Nadya would turn to her inner circle of family and friends for a listening ear, encouragement or advice, and just “a really nice hug”. Beneath the day-to-day coping strategies that she implements, the rosy-cheeked teenager stressed the important role that values & beliefs play in keeping her grounded in the face of trials and difficulties.
Big smiles as Nadya prepares to graduate from Secondary School (Credits: Nadya)
A devout Christian, Nadya expresses her belief that everyone is placed here for a reason with every situation presenting an opportunity for us to learn and grow, citing her favourite passage from the bible (Jeremiah 29:11) as a reminder to look beyond her present struggles and to take “one day at a time”. While confiding in others has helped, she is quick to highlight that one should not be overly reliant on it:
“Accept that finding people that truly understand you is rare. That’s why I journal because it allows me to express how I really feel.”
Though these methods have enabled her to manoeuvre life with greater clarity and comfort, she acknowledges that it may be different for everyone and that there is not a one size fits all solution for neurodiverse individuals given the diverse spectrums and conditions that exists. Therefore, one should be willing to experiment and see what works for them given their unique set of circumstances.
Seek to understand, not to try and figure the person out
Before concluding the interview, Nadya offered some tips on how we can create a more inclusive society with the first one being empathy with boundaries. She does not like when people have tried to “figure her out” through continuous probing into her personal life and being quick to formulate overall conclusions about her from it. Such an approach can come across as intrusive and hurtful as it seems as if the neurodiverse individual is being treated like a problem that needs to be solved.
She also points out that because every neurodiverse condition is different, it would be erroneous to think that they are the same based on similarities that they might share. She once had a teacher who would tell her that he “totally understands” what she was going through because he has a loved one who is on the Autism Spectrum and tried to advise her on what to do when she was feeling overwhelmed. Hence, she cited the need for greater awareness and education about Neurodiversity to avoid such situations from happening further.
Be kind and don’t be quick to judge
Her final words of advice in creating a more inclusive and accepting society:
“Don’t jump to conclusions about a person…Diverse individuals are wired differently and you don’t know what a person is really thinking and going through. Also, be open to explaining things more than once.”