From page to paint brush! Local artist talks about living with ADHD and working with Read Donegal for their upcoming festival of reading.

Aoife Gallagher is no stranger to having a busy, creative mind. Having grown up in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, she relocated to London five years ago and now works in Sen Talk CIC, which helps to provide better outcomes for young people with Autism Spectrum Conditions and ADHD. She also likes to apply her skills as an artist to work with young people, believing that art and storytelling can be deeply therapeutic. 

This is something she has a personal connection with: having been diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood, she used art as her way to support and express herself. “Art has always been my safe place”, Aoife said, “I always felt as if I didn’t fit into the world, however art was a way to express myself and my emotions without using words – words [as a form of expression] can be difficult with attention deficit conditions – everything gets so overwhelming. Art, however, never failed me. It never hurt me and never had expectations of me. I always felt that drawing or painting has been therapeutic and calming, as well as a way for me to process difficult emotions or situations.”

Therefore, it has been a pleasure for Read DL, a project that focuses on reading and words, to team up with an artist who has in the past struggled with using words to express herself. This year she will be apart of Read DL’s annual reading festival, celebrating the book Check Mates by Stewart Foster. This book also focuses on a main character, Felix, who has ADHD, as he teams up with his Grandfather to learn chess; Aoife’s art workshop will honour that by teaching young people to create a unique image inspired by the book. “I was so excited when I heard about the theme of this year’s book,” Aoife said, “it’s wonderful that the book is raising more awareness of ADHD, something that is long overdue as there is still so much stigma attached.” 

In the book, Felix always gets into trouble at school. This is something that Aoife can empathise with: “School was always a challenge for me growing up. When I was younger I would get sent out of class for laughing or talking when I wasn’t supposed to… I hated getting in trouble, so I tried so hard to fit in and be ‘good’. The rest of my school years I kept my head down, mastered the art of ‘masking’, which is very common in ADHD/ADD females, and the only thing that helped me to concentrate was to doodle in my notes. I guess that’s how I improved my drawing technique!”

Aoife at Love Fest London

Aoife has continued to develop her art, long after her school days finished. She now has her work published in children’s books, and has showcased her art in national and international exhibitions. “Working with Aoife, particularly this year for Read DL 2022, is so exciting.” Karen Quinn, a Read DL committee member said. “She is a perfect example of how, when words and creativity combine, personal barriers can be broken down.” This is something that Aoife agrees with, offering some words of wisdom to young people with ADHD: “don’t let your diagnosis define you, help the world to see how amazing your brain is… you are capable of so much! You are not a ‘naughty kid’ and you can do anything and be anything. So don’t worry if you can’t fit in, you were made to stand out!”

Aoife’s Workshop, along with a special collaborative discussion with her, The ADHD Learning Curve at LyIT, and ADHD Ireland will be made available online during Read DL’s online reading festival. It will be running this year from 29th-31st of March, and will be available on www.readdonegal.com.  

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