‘Reach for the stars’: UACCB alumni doesn’t let ADHD diagnosis hold him back

Above image: Tim Johnson received his bachelor of science in education with an emphasis in human resources/workforce development from the University of Arkansas. / Article by Andrea Bruner

College was never part of Tim Johnson’s plan.

Growing up, Johnson spent many nights at the kitchen table with his mother, struggling to complete his homework. School was not fun, and to top it off, in fifth grade Johnson was diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

“Back then (27 years ago) it wasn’t regulated and there weren’t many people diagnosed with it,” he said. “When I got out of high school, I never had any drive – going to college was not something I could ever do.”

So, when he graduated from Bucklin R-2 High School in northcentral Missouri in 2000, he entered the working world, taking jobs in insurance and bricklaying before finding his childhood dream job, managing a hunting lodge and serving as a professional hunting guide. Johnson led whitetail and turkey hunting enthusiasts on hunts in Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.

“ADHD never held me back,” Johnson said. “I looked at it as my superpower; it allows me to be a better employee because of it. I’m able to focus on work that was interesting to me.”

He guided hunts for about five years, and then Johnson said he came to Arkansas to go hunting with a friend and met his future wife, Tamara Rhew Johnson, through a mutual friend.

That was in 2013 and 10 months later, he moved to Arkansas to be near her.

He continued to guide hunts but since being a hunting guide is only seasonal work, he began working part-time as a substitute teacher at Midland.

Tamara could see her husband enjoyed reaching the students and helping them, and she encouraged him to think about higher education.

“We were on Christmas break in north Missouri when I had a conversation with my wife, and she said, ‘Why don’t you start college?’”

He said he’d consider it if she would check into the cost.

“Two hours later I was enrolled.”

Johnson was able to get some scholarships and signed up for a full course load at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB).

“I enrolled reluctantly in college classes with the expectation that it was going to be very bad,” he admitted.

So, in that mindset, he signed up for classes such as psychology, world civilization II and cultural anthropology, knowing he would need time to adjust to studying and doing homework after 15 years of being out of school.

But he said he knew he was up for the challenge.

“My first semester, the first month was very, very tough. I was trying to get into a routine, trying to figure out how to do this, and I was not on any of my ADHD medicine,” he said, explaining he didn’t have insurance to help pay for it.

He said it would take him an average of eight hours to complete an assignment, “whereas when I got my medication, I could manage all of my homework in two to four hours.”

“Most people don’t realize that ADHD people have a tendency to absorb everything they see, do, and hear around them. The problem is getting the information out of their brain onto paper.” The medication, Johnson said, keeps distractions from occurring.
But he said he embraced the change in his routine and was eager to learn.

Tim Johnson 2.jpegBecause he’d maintained a 4.0 in his degree plan, Johnson received the Outstanding Bachelor of Science Student Award in Workforce Development. / Images via UACCB

“I enjoyed what I was reading, whether it was business classes or spending extra time in the Student Success Center to do algebra.”

Johnson credits John Dempsey in the Student Success Center, English instructor Dr. Ted Allder and UACCB Chancellor Deborah Frazier for their encouragement.

“She (Frazier) has been one of my biggest fans; she’s someone who means a lot. She championed for me. Sometimes people do the smallest things that mean the biggest to you. Sometimes it’s just a kind word or encouragement – a kindness can change the world,” Johnson said.

By the end of his first semester, the student who’d once done well to get a C average in high school now boasted two As, a B and a C that missed being a B by half a point.

“At that point, I realized, ‘Hey I can do this,’” Johnson said.

For the rest of his college career, Johnson said he received only one other B and one other C — the rest were As.

Johnson didn’t let being a full-time college student deter him from working with kids. In fact, struggling as a kid probably made him a better teacher. He understood what students were going through and they found they could count on him to be honest and forthright with them.

By now, he was a full-time employee at Midland High School and helping coach Midland baseball.

“I was also taking courses at Williams Baptist College. I didn’t sleep a whole lot,” he said with a laugh.

The secret, he said, was time management.

“You have to learn how to prioritize. As nice as it sounds that I was doing all these things, at the same time, it took a lot of sacrifice and I was not getting to spend a lot of time with my family.”

In fact, he said he missed his own graduation at UACCB because he was coaching baseball.

Eventually, he knew he had to let something go, so he stepped back from coaching.

Still, he said he never had a moment where he wanted to give in and give up.

“I had all these kids watching me, and I was a role model. I had to set a good example,” he said.

In May 2017, he received his associate of arts with a business focus.

“In the beginning, I was just going to get my associate’s degree and halfway through I decided to get my bachelor’s because I was having success.”

The following fall, he enrolled at the University of Arkansas. Fortunately, he said, the majority of his classes were online. He graduated last May with a bachelor of science in education with an emphasis in human resources/workforce development.

Because he’d maintained a 4.0 in his degree plan, he received the Outstanding Bachelor of Science Student Award in Workforce Development.

It was humbling but still a point of pride for him, “because I still remember all the struggles growing up so it was really surreal that I could be that successful at college.”

Johnson said his mother was unable to attend his graduation.

“She had been in the hospital, and I had been taking care of her, but she got to watch it online,” he said.

“She knew how much I struggled and how much I didn’t want to go (to college) so she never really pushed that; she never expected me to go to college,” he added, joking that “she might have had a mild heart attack” when years later he told her he was enrolling.

“I was born with two amazing parents,” he said. “They gave us the space to become who we wanted to become.”

Today, Johnson is employed at an accounting software company called Zenwork in Fayetteville as a human resources information system (HRIS) development implementation and support specialist.

He has two stepchildren and one grandchild. Johnson said he hopes his story reminds them that “they can reach for the stars and be who they need to be and go where they want to go in life — that if they work hard, they can make it happen.”

He hopes that others would not see ADHD as a disability, but instead see a person who brings a uniqueness to the environment they find themselves in and who has the ability to have a large impact no matter where they go.

“Don’t count them out. They can do things far beyond their own understanding.”

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