02:40 - Source: CNN
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.”