College Issues for Students with ADHD
By Kennika Freeman
Whether you are a recent high school graduate or an adult returning to college, the path from enrollment to graduation can often be daunting. This path may be especially challenging for those with ADHD. However, with appropriate foresight and planning, it can be managed successfully.
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; ADHD used to be known as attention deficit disorder, or ADD. In 1994, it was renamed ADHD. The term ADD is sometimes still used, though, to describe a type of ADHD that doesn't involve hyperactivity.
ADHD is a medical condition that affects how well someone can sit still, focus, and pay attention. People with ADHD have differences in the parts of their brains that control attention and activity. This means that they may have trouble focusing on certain tasks and subjects, or they may seem "wired," act impulsively, and get into trouble.
Although ADHD begins in childhood, sometimes it's not diagnosed until a person is a teen and occasionally not even until someone reaches adulthood. Because ADHD is a broad category covering different things; attention, activity, and impulsivity - it can show up in different ways in different people. Some of the signs of ADHD are when someone:
talks excessively and has trouble engaging in activities quietly;
fidgets with hands or feet or squirms about when seated;
has problems paying close attention to details or makes careless mistakes;
blurts out answers before questions have been completed; or
loses or forgets things such as homework.
Of course, it's normal for everyone to zone out in a boring class, jump into a conversation, or leave their homework on the kitchen table once in a while. But people with ADHD have so much trouble staying focused and controlling their behavior that it affects their emotions and how well they do in school or other areas of their lives. In fact, ADHD is often viewed as a learning disorder because it can interfere so much with a person's ability to study and learn.
Sometimes the symptoms of ADHD become less severe as a person grows older. For example, experts believe that the hyperactivity part of the disorder can diminish with age, although the problems with organization and attention often remain. Although some people may "grow out of" their symptoms, more than half of all kids who have ADHD will continue to show signs of the condition as young adults.
Doctors and researchers still aren't exactly sure why some people have ADHD. Research shows that ADHD is probably genetic and that it may be inherited in some cases. Scientists are also exploring other things that may be associated with ADHD: For example, ADHD may be more prevalent in kids who are born prematurely. It is also more common in guys than it is in girls. Here are some steps that can help when transitioning to college with ADHD:
Time management is crucial in making a successful transition to college. This is an area that presents a big change for most students. College students have more discretionary time, more independence, and more distractions than high school students do. Colleges expect more out-of-class studying and homework than high schools do. These changes may blindside a student who does not carefully plan and implement time management techniques. Researchers usually recommend that students with ADHD not register for more than 12 credit hours the first term or semester of college, and that they be careful about when they schedule their classes - taking into consideration such things as breaks and intensity. It is essential that students maintain a calendar of all events - assignments, appointments, social events. They also should plan two hours of study time per credit hour, and consider it a serious commitment.
However, before students can effectively utilize these time management techniques, they must have some Interventions in place. They have to select a college that has the services and support that they need, and have a complete treatment plan in place, including medication and counseling or coaching. It is critical that students with ADHD submit documentation of their diagnosis with the appropriate office at the college or university.
Whether students optimally utilize time management and interventions or not, having a Positive attitude is critical to success. It is important that individuals remember that ADHD is not a character disorder; it is a neurological disorder. They should advocate for themselves appropriately, remembering to use AD/HD as a reason, not an excuse. They should participate in extracurricular activities they enjoy and listen to or read success stories of other students with ADHD.
Supports do so much to enhance the experience of students in college and to ensure their success. It is important to seek out accommodating and understanding instructors and to develop a relationship with a supportive counselor, coach, or therapist. Parents can provide supplemental support, usually, perhaps, through long-distance phone calls. It is of utmost importance that students be affirmed for their successes and encouraged to try new study strategies when others are not working. Students need to seek support from people who truly understand and empathize with disabilities that interfere with executive functioning.
By addressing many of the negative aspects of ADHD early on, a college student has a better chance to develop a plan of action with coping strategies that provide a greater opportunity for success. Students who have greater access to learning services and academic support to help manage ADHD issues tend to experience lower levels of stress and frustration. Working with an ADHD coach can play an integral role in helping to foster both academic and social success for students with ADHD.
When students are aware of and involved in addressing ADHD issues, they are better able to deal with both the academic and social pressures of college. College is a time of extraordinary growth and an opportunity for increased self-awareness and positive feedback. It can also be a time of pressure, poor decision-making, and hopelessness. If the student with ADHD is well prepared, receives support and encouragement, and continually makes choices in his or her best interest, there is a greater chance for a most positive outcome. All students deserve that chance.