The College Student with
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological condition that
affects learning and behavior and occurs in approximately three to ten
percent of the population. It begins in childhood, and although it was
initially thought to be outgrown in adolescence, we now know that this
is probably true for only about 40 to 60 percent of people with ADHD.
Symptoms of ADHD may not be as bothersome in adulthood, but they are
still present to some degree.
The American Psychiatric Association recognizes three types of ADHD:
ADHD Predominantly Hyperactive Impulsive Type, characterized by motor
and impulse control problems; ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Type,
problems in attention or arousal; and ADHD Combined Type, significant
problems in both areas.
Many of the characteristics of ADHD have an impact on academic
performance. Students with ADHD may have trouble with time
management; initiating, maintaining, or shifting focus; completing
assignments on time; organizing; and setting priorities.
Characteristics of ADHD may include disinhibition, impaired attention
and effort, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, mood swings, low
tolerance for frustration, and difficulty falling asleep at night. Some
people may daydream, have difficulty completing tasks or self
regulating behaviors, and others may be disorganized and
forgetful, and may find it difficult to concentrate on reading.
Other characteristics may include:
the College Campus
- Difficulty completing reading assignments
- Fidgetiness, squirminess, or constant restlessness;
or difficulty staying in his or her seat
- Exaggerated distractibility (lights, sounds or movements can be
- Difficulty waiting his or her turn—blurting out or interrupting
- Difficulty paying attention
- Difficulty completing tasks or projects after starting them
- Difficulty listening (or does not seem to be listening—even
though hearing is ok)
- Disorganization (is often losing things such as schoolwork or
- Impulsivity (acts before thinking, often leading to risk-taking
- Difficulty following directions
- Extreme untidiness or neatness
- Quiet or shy personality/behavior
- Depression-like tendencies
- Time management problems
- May easily become bored
- May be tardy to class
- Difficulty with working memory
Problems experienced by ADHD students are often compounded by college
living conditions, which may mean a drastic change in the student’s
access to familiar support systems, such as family. Life in a residence
hall can be full of distractions and provide very little privacy and/or
few quiet places.
Interacting with People with ADHD
Remember that people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are
not being inattentive on purpose. Be patient and try to keep their
attention by continually reengaging them and making the conversation as
personable as possible.
When conversing with a person with ADHD, select a quiet place without
People with ADHD may be impulsive and may act without much thought or
planning. This may manifest itself in frequent interruptions or in
changing the subject frequently and without warning. These actions are
not meant to be rude or impolite.
People with ADHD most often have difficulty with time management and
may frequently be late for appointments or meetings, or miss them
entirely. Although there are certain actions that the person with ADHD
can take to compensate or remedy this problem, they cannot eliminate it
completely. Therefore, it is important that instructors be patient and
build reminders into the scheduling of appointments, etc. (appointment
Disorganization may also be a serious problem. This is not a sign that
the person with ADHD does not respect others or the task at hand.
Attention Deficit Disorder IS NOT a
form of mental illness. College students with ADHD often have average
to above average intelligence . However, some individuals with ADHD may
have co-existing conditions such as learning disabilities, depression,
or other psychological disorders.
Suggestions for Helping Students with
ADHD Succeed in the Classroom
- Provide students with a detailed course syllabus. Make it
available before registration, if possible. Clearly spell out
expectations before the course begins (e.g., grading, material to be
covered, and due dates). Include reading assignments and due dates for
students using taped textbooks to ensure sufficient time to access
taped materials. (It can take up to four to six weeks to get a textbook
- Make notes available via web prior to class.
- Begin each lecture with an outline of material to be covered that
period. At the conclusion of the class, briefly summarize key points.
- Give assignments both orally and in writing.
- Present new and technical vocabulary on the board, overhead, or a
handout. Terms should be used in context to convey greater meaning.
- Allow tape recording of lectures to facilitate notetaking.
- Provide study questions for exams that demonstrate the format, as
well as the content, of the test. Explain what constitutes a good
answer and why.
- If necessary, allow students with ADHD to demonstrate mastery of
course material using alternative methods (e.g., extended time, oral
exams, or in a separate room free of distractions).
- Allow students to take a break during long lecture periods.
- Allow students with ADHD to break exams into shorter segments,
because maintaining attention is often difficult for them. For example,
let the student take a ten page exam at two separate times, five pages
at a time.