May 18th, 2012
07:05 AM ET

Student refuses to accept ADHD label

By Tamara Wilson, CNN

(CNN) This month Michelle Davis will proudly take the stage to accept her high school diploma. For her it was a journey that could have taken an entirely different turn.

When she was younger, Michelle Davis was diagnosed with a learning disability. She had trouble reading and writing. Gradually she started to fall behind other students, became disruptive and was later diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).

And according to the Journal of Psychiatric Research, teens with ADHD are more likely to drop out of high school or delay graduation.

With the help of her mother, Robyn Olivo, Michelle set out to beat the odds.

Raising three children, divorcee Robyn Olivo did all she knew how to do at the time to help Michelle with her disability. She bought “Hooked on Phonics” – educational software designed to help children read. Olivo would sit with her daughter and have her repeat words and practice vowels. Her mother signed Michelle up for cheerleading to help her spell and sound out words. Later she would pay for tutors.

“As we continued working, the more she read, the better she spelled. But it took her a long time to say the words. So she didn't like reading out loud to try to pronounce the words,” says Olivo.  She would always say, "I can't do it," and I said, "You can do it."

Olivo says she also signed Michelle up for various community projects to help her with her leadership skills. She believed it helped build her confidence.

“Once a child is labeled, they feel that they can't keep up with the other kids,” says Olivo. “I told Michelle she was leader, but I knew her self-esteem was crushed at times because of her schoolwork. So, I kept her busy in leadership and teambuilding programs outside of school.”

Once Michelle got older she understood she had to do a little more than the other students.

“Yes, things did come a little harder to me but I would go over it again and again, it would become easier so the next day in class I understood,” says Michelle. “I worked hard to try to help myself and didn’t feel as if I needed my mother’s helped anymore.”

But Michelle did need the help as she continued to struggle in high school. Finances at home were becoming scarce and her mother couldn’t afford the tutors and other resources any longer. This is when Olivo turned to the schools and held the teachers accountable for her child’s education.

Olivo said “I couldn’t understand why a teacher would have a child in his or her class and not have a relationship with that student. So, I met with all of Michelle’s teachers to see how we can turn this around.”

Olivo visited the school quite frequently to make sure the teachers were working with Michelle like they said they would.

Michelle continued to accept the help and notice her grades turned for the better. The high school student admits her grades partly improved because she enjoyed her classes more. “I guess it does make a difference when teachers truly care about you,” admits the senior.

This year Michelle attended Disney’s Dreamers Academy in Orlando,Florida. Disney partners with radio host, actor and author Steve Harvey each year to motivate and empower high school students to have the confidence to follow their career dreams. Michelle was one of 100 students chosen out of 4000 who applied to participate in the weekend event.

Michelle says, “What really stuck with me from Disney’s Dreamers Academy was perseverance. After hearing stories from various professionals, I realize it’s so easy to give up. But to become successful you have to persevere to really go after your dreams.”

Michelle is headed off to college, but realizes she may still have to work harder than the majority of her classmates. But for her that’s all right. She’s up for the challenge.

“I always say never let a test score or anything like that stop you from trying. One test is not going to determine your life or achievements ahead of you,” Michelle says. “I plan to keep on going and staying strong. Many people have struggles – mine just so happens to deal with reading and writing.”

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Joan

    Stong, Smart, Bold and Beautiful! Keep up the great work Michelle! May blessing continue to be poured into you.

    May 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  2. GetSmart

    You people have really low standards. What Robyn did should be what is expected of every parent; if you don't pay attention to your child's education and help them when they need it, you are a failure of a parent.

    May 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  3. dud

    Excellent! Robin says "NO!" to Better Parenting Through Chemistry!

    What an awesome mother.

    May 21, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  4. guest

    Awesome parenting skills! There are so many parents out there that should follow her example!

    May 21, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  5. elizabeth

    Congratulations, Michelle Davis, on your graduation, and the best of luck to you as you go off to college. You will do well if you just continue to work as you have in high school. Congratulations, too, to you, Robyn, for successfully raising a daughter with a strong work ethic and appreciation for learning. It's not every parent who will work with and for her child in the way that you have. You are an exceptional mom!

    May 21, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  6. Thomas

    I was in high school back in the 60s. I never did graduate due to there lack of understanding re; learning disabilities. Personally, I like the term ADHD better than just plain STUPID, which they called me. Today I hold four undergraduate degrees and two master’s degrees. Today I am an ESL teacher. Follow your dreams!

    May 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Lovely415

      I think the point here is no labels for children. While you may prefer the term, it does stunt childrens expectations of themselves. they can say i failed because I am ,.,,, and theat is not fair to think anything other than we are all different and some things come easier to some more thatn others. I am glad for your success!

      May 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
      • msp

        Too many parents seek labels for their children so that, "Now that we have a name, we know what we are dealing with." Schools follow parents lead. If the parents want a label, the school is going to help you get a label.

        We all learn differently and everyone struggles. Some a bit more than the others. You just don't know how the others struggle because you don't see behind closed doors. Learning comes easy only to the very few. The majority of us in the middle of the Bell Curve have to work hard for it. You just don't know how many hours the kid with the 4.0 GPA has put in his entire life and think that he is "smart". So, don't let your struggles get you down. Own it and master it.

        May 21, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  7. Diana

    Follow your yellow brick road.

    May 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  8. Big Dadi

    We have to remember a child's education is made up of 3 parts. The child, the instructor and the parent. All 3 have to be in sync in order to function smoothly and efficiently. So kudos to mom for figuring that out and I applaud her, her daughter and the teachers.

    May 20, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  9. christiem8

    SHE can DO IT! The schools need to pay attention and stop LABELING KIDS and REQUIRING MEDICINE instead of teaching according to how they are designed to learn.

    Our son had Cerebral Palsy and brain damage due to a stroke at birth. He was labeled from day one. We pulled him out of school when he came home telling us the teachers said it didn't matter, he would pass anyway.
    He was being bullied by both teachers AND students.
    He home schooled until he was 19, and worked HARD.... EVERY DAY he was up before we were, and he studied every single day into the evening. Once he realized he could learn, he was diligent to do what it took.
    He graduated from High School believing he wouldn't be able to go to college. We sent him anyway. It was just the community college. By the 2nd semester he had a scholarship. He went on to a major university and is now a Certified School Teacher... working in the special education department, wanting to be a difference.

    May 20, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  10. Jonquil

    Good Mom! The challenge might be exhausting but your daughter's worth it - you won't regret going the extra mile. Well done.

    May 20, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  11. MrJay11

    wait... " Her mother signed Michelle up for cheerleading to help her spell and sound out words. " huh?

    btw...college, ... will freaking eat ... your... lunch

    May 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • elizabeth

      My, aren't you positive?! Yes, cheering can help, since words are blocked out in rhythms – a strategy that can work for some poor readers. It also helps build self-esteem and leadership skills. College will NOT be a challenge for this young woman if she continues as she has been doing. Colleges have academic skills centers to help students with learning issues, and students who make an effort to know their instructors and study their material through out the terms tend to do very well. I say this with the voice of experience as both a student and as a college professor and dean.

      May 21, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • dad kins

      Cheering..like singing can use both sides of the brain. Therefore, it helps those learners who are more dominant on one side of the brain vs. the other. Furthermore, you have no idea how this very determined young lady will do in college.
      Tearing others down does not make you a bigger or better person. It only shows your own faults and lack of manners.

      May 21, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  12. Brenda

    Good Job! I too have a daughter who was diagnosed with ADHD and a divorcee. She also has low self esteem and depression. As a mother too, I gave her the tutoring, mentoring, counseling, & therapy. I placed her in Special Ed. classes where she could get help, speech therapy, counseling and extra time on tests. She did not want the label of having a dis-ability. She did succeed with the help. When she was 17 years old , her unemployed Nigerian father took me to court for custody and child support. The Judge allowed her to make the decision to go and live with her father and his wife and 5 step kids. He received joint custody and no Child support. Since that decision the father have refused me visitation and contact. He changed her cell phone so that I could not communicate. All of her support was dis-continued with the transition because the father felt that she did not need any help at all. Yes, she struggled too. She will be 19 years old this July and I am not sure if he threatens her if she does make contact with me. However, she did complete High school and the 1st year of college. From outside observers ,she has failed to maintain her basic grooming. I thought I was doing the right thing by getting her help.

    May 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • MrJay11

      hold on. YOU lost custody after doing all that............. you being the MOTHER and I assume a citizen since the loser Nigerian wasn't booted from the country, and you... YOU lost custody to an unemployed immigrant............

      seriously.. .. save the bul ls. hit

      May 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Andrea

      Well, I will be in prayer for your daughter but you don't have to accept nothing that this world has said...Jesus already died on the cross for every disease and disorder. Family members of my husband tried to say he had ADHD, but the power of prayer and standing against it we declare and decree my husband does not have ADHD in JESUS name. Once someone is filled with God's holy spirit they are changed and I was a misfit and some family members tried to say things about me being slow or retarded but I WORK FOR THE STATE OF GEORGIA AND one of my cousin's wife (who still talks about me-gossipy) who said things about me I was the hook up on how she is working for the state of Georgia as well. A lot of times people can outkast people who have a calling on their lives to do the work of God and think their smarter or better. BUT GOD...I was able to pay off a car, I was able to marry someone who loved me when everyone said I was going to be a hoe like my mom but my mom is saved and filled with God's holy spirit. People put unique people in a box and give up on them...but God doesn't give up your daughter neither did He give up on any of us...GEt a closer relationship with God and pray in your spare time....Get in the right bible based teaching church that believes in the holy spirit and the spirit performing miracles.

      May 19, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Andrea

      Well, I will be in prayer for your daughter but you don't have to accept nothing that this world has said...Jesus already died on the cross for every disease and disorder. Family members of my husband tried to say he had ADHD, but the power of prayer and standing against it we declare and decree my husband does not have ADHD in JESUS name. Once someone is filled with God's holy spirit they are changed and I was a misfit and some family members tried to say things about me being slow or retarded but I WORK FOR THE STATE OF GEORGIA AND one of my cousin's wife (who still talks about me-gossipy) who said things about me I was the hook up on how she is working for the state of Georgia as well. A lot of times people can outkast people who have a calling on their lives to do the work of God and think their smarter or better. BUT GOD...I was able to pay off a car, I was able to marry someone who loved me when everyone said I was going to be a hoe like my mom but my mom is saved and filled with God's holy spirit. People put unique people in a box and give up on them...but God doesn't give up your daughter neither did He give up on any of us...GEt a closer relationship with God and pray in your spare time....Get in the right bible based teaching church that believes in the holy spirit and the spirit performing miracles.

      May 19, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  13. ashboley

    Keep pushing!!! You can do it!!! I've been dealing with Adhd ALL my life and it's hard but ya' just gotta keep pushing!!! and by the way I am doing a science project on adhd!!! wish me luck!!! :)>

    May 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  14. Patty

    Awesome job! The motto here is determination and persistence! I have ADHD, I have my Master's degree and I know others with PhDs. I have taught many college students to never give up simply because you have an learning disability. Because you have a learning disability doesn't mean you give up on yourself or your children because you have an LD you just have to try harder. Michelle, you will attend college and the world is yours...Mom kudos to you because you have taught your children that there is nothing they cannot accomplish!

    May 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  15. Margie

    Robyn, I wish I could have the patients you have shown and given to Michelle. I to have a teenage son that has been labled with ADHD and he does struggle alot in most of his classes. He loves to draw and he draws so nice I cant believe the talent he has. But I know that he has very low self esteem and was alway placed into Special Ed classes. It breaks my heart when he tells me that he doesnt like the school or the teachers or that one of his teacher ignores him when he raises his hand to answer a class questions. Those kind of things bother me as a mother I can only imagine the pain my son goes through day in and day out in the school. I wish I could him him graduate on time....... Michelle, great job !!! I know that it was tough to try to fit in but reguardless of the labels we get, we are still humans and need to be treated as so....thank you

    May 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  16. Tara

    Great job Michelle! But even better job Robyn Olivo!!!

    May 18, 2012 at 9:43 am |