Transitioning into college life does not come without struggles. However, mental illness can make this transition even more difficult than it needs to be. Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may run into some unique challenges.
ADHD is a mental disorder that causes inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Though the research was done inconclusively, it was found that approximately 25% of students who receive some type of disability services at school also have ADHD, and the number of people getting diagnosed with ADHD is growing.
Learning how to adjust to college life is difficult enough — some struggles college students often grapple with include being away from home for the first time and having to find a balance between work, school and social activities. Thankfully, for most students, perseverance, time management and organizational skills can help. Unfortunately, this particular skill set is one that people with ADHD struggle with the most.
According to Sarah D. Wright, an ADHD coach, “Poor executive function (organizational problems, impulsivity, and time management issues) are actually the hallmarks of ADHD. Students with ADHD can’t depend on these skills because these are exactly the skills they are weakest in.”
Therapist and clinical scientist Keath Low writes, “Poor executive function can result in several academic problems for students including disorganization; difficulty prioritizing; problems starting and completing work and remembering assignments; difficulty memorizing facts, writing essays or reports, and working complex math problems; trouble completing long-term projects, being on time, preparing and planning for the future, and even regulating and managing emotions.”
This is quite the list of complications that students with ADHD might face in college. In fact, research has shown that college students with ADHD may very likely be less academically successful than their classmates who don’t have ADHD and are also more likely to experience more psychological and emotional difficulties. On the bright side, there are many ways that one could learn to manage the difficulties that come with their ADHD.
The first great tip that comes from Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) is to start using a planner or an online calendar, as well as setting reminders to help stay on track for upcoming assignments. Having ADHD can make it difficult to stay on top of all the looming deadlines and events that need to be attended to.
ADHD also makes it difficult for students to focus when it comes time to study. A great tip for this is to “plan backward.” Before diving into a blind date with your flashcards, you should sit down to “figure out the steps you’ll need to take to finish long-term assignments” and decide on the steps and the amount of time it will take to fully prepare for whatever assignment, project or exam that is coming up. Another studying tip is to make sure you align your studying time with when your medication is most effective.
One big thing that students with ADHD have a problem with when it comes to studying is staying focused on one thing for an extended period of time. A great tip for this is to divide your study time into separated chunks. Try breaking up your studying into 30-minute sessions, with breaks in between. If you try to force a great deal of information into your brain without ever taking a break, you will not be able to get through it. Something that can help during these study sessions is using colored pens and markers to highlight important information, doodling while taking notes, voice-recording the notes, using mnemonics to help learn facts or even trying to read standing up. These are just a few of the many ways to help kick the feeling of boredom out of the study room.
In his article, Keath Low recommends listening to your gut when it comes to procrastinating. Though his advice is very peculiar, he says that if you “feel the urge to procrastinate, go with the feeling.” He then goes on to explain that when you have ADHD, you may actually be the most motivated to finish something right before it is due because that particular thing becomes the biggest priority, which increases “the urgency and consequences if you don’t do it NOW.” These circumstances make the activity finally “doable” and he suggests working this to your advantage.
The CHADD website also suggests that a good routine can help college students with ADHD to better adapt to their new surroundings. This new routine should definitely include a regular sleeping and waking schedule. When your sleep schedule is fixed, your body and mind have a better chance of feeling at peace, which could greatly help. Another thing to always remember is to only use your ADHD medications properly, as prescribed by your doctor. It’s important to take the time to create a good routine from the very start of your journey because it will help you in the long run as you start making short- and long-term plans. If you reach a great place with your physical health, you may feel less overwhelmed by the new experience that is college.
It is also a good idea to reach out for help when you need it. Seeking out help from your college’s campus counselor or medical professional is a good first step to having some type of professional support. In fact, according to Keath Low, “There is growing evidence, both research and anecdotal, that ADHD coaching can be a vital strategy in helping students learn to plan, prioritize, and persist.” If you have the opportunity to get in touch with an ADHD coach, it would be a fantastic way to get help for yourself.
Though the internet is full of great tips for managing ADHD during college, one of the most important things to remember is to never give up. Create a plan that suits you and your interests, and stick to it. Never be ashamed of your ADHD, but rather learn to accept it and manage it. Giving up is easy, and may even seem like a good option, but always remember that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to — even if you have to work a little harder than your classmates.