In the past it was assumed that by adulthood people outgrow symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD — sometimes referred to as “ADD”). Now we know that isn’t true. Many highly skilled, intelligent people succeed because they overcome difficulties related to attention span, impulsiveness, distractibility, and decision making. So, whether a person has been diagnosed with ADHD or they are just aware that they experience attention-related difficulties, this is extremely common and there is no logical basis for believing that someone who has these challenges to overcome will have less of an ability to excel, both personally and professionally.

Attention difficulties are so common, we prepared an extensive description of the way this impacts university students and other adults. We also have a number of coping strategies.

Self-Assessment Tests

You can take these online tests to help determine if you might have ADHD.

Test #1 Test #2

Coping with ADHD

The key to coping effectively with ADHD-related challenges lies in recognizing your symptoms and being willing to obtain the resources necessary to manage your life and work effectively. 

Social Issues

College students — and all adults — with attention-related difficulties can experience hurtful rejection by friends, classmates, co-workers, and family members who don’t understand them. People with attention-related difficulties tend to have trouble remembering details that other people tell them.

There also tends to be a problem reading social cues and engaging in the normal exchanges that occur in a typical conversation. The result is others often attach ugly labels to the person such as inconsiderate, self-indulgent, or arrogant.

For some people with attention-related difficulties, social interactions frequently involve intensely negative and destructive experiences.  For this reason, some people who have attention-related difficulties tend to be aloof and avoid social interactions.

Medication Issues

There is widespread agreement that there is a biological component to ADHD. This does not mean that medication is the only way to treat ADHD (we know that you can help yourself a lot by adopting new habits).

Even though medication isn’t the only form of treatment, it’s clear that, for some people with attention-related challenges, medication is a very helpful tool that assists people to gain control over their impulses and drives and thereby improve their performance. Ultimately, the decision is entirely up to the individual experiencing attention difficulties.

If you are taking medication for ADHD, it is vitally important to consult with your doctor before stopping any stimulant medication you may be using.

Alcohol and Drugs

College students dealing with attention-related difficulties often experience frustration and sadness, sometimes rising to the level of depression. These strong feelings can sometimes lead a person to use substances. This can be due to impulsiveness that is a symptom of ADHD, but it can also become a regular habit. This is called “self-medicating.” Taking medication for ADHD has been shown to reduce the risk of substance abuse by 85%.

Do you think you may be using alcohol or drugs to medicate your attention-related difficulties?  It doesn’t hurt to assess this. The staff at Student Counseling Services is here to explore this with you and then to assist you to change your habits into ones that will be much more effective in helping you to achieve your goals.

Getting Help

Obtaining a full understanding of your individual needs will help you to cope effectively with your challenges. If you are willing to assess your strengths and weaknesses you will be able to make an informed decision regarding whether to seek accommodations to assist you. 

Utilize Supportive Services

Services that students may find helpful are:

Priority Scheduling

Know when you perform best.  For some, it will be early morning, for others it will be a different time.  The key is to know your system and then work with an academic counselor to create a class schedule that meets your needs.

Reduced Course Load

One way to avoid becoming overwhelmed is to take a lighter course load.  For some students, the number of classes tends to overwhelm more than the number of hours (so, three 5-credit courses could be easier than five 3-credit classes).

Special Arrangements During Testing

Large exam halls can be very difficult for some students.   Smaller rooms tend to be quieter and have less potential to distract the test-taker.  

Single Room in Residence Hall

Potential benefits: fewer distractions,  more effective studying, and better sleep.

Note Takers, Editors, and Tutors

People with attention difficulties tend to have trouble taking notes.  A note-takercan enable the student to have organized notes to review for the exam. 

Tape recording a lecture can also benefit some students struggling with attention difficulties.

A benefit of recording a lecture is that the student then must him/herself listen to the class and take the notes.  This is more time-consuming, but it is a more active form of studying than receiving notes from a note-taker. 

Editors and tutors can help you with assignments and papers, and offer additional instruction.

Active Study Methods and Other Ideas for Studying

Don’t just read.  A more active form of studying would involve summarizing every paragraph in a sentence after you read the paragraph. 

Write your own test questions and answers on note cards (you can bring them with you and use them as you wait in line at the grocery store, sit at a coffee house, await the start of a meeting, etc.).

Break reading assignments into chunks rather than reading it all at once.

Allow yourself breaks for exercise.

Get a white noise machine or use a fan to drown out extraneous noise. 

Individual Therapy

Certain types of therapy can address surrounding issues of the ADD diagnoses. Some students experience high levels of frustration leading to anger and anxiety that can be addressed through therapy. Others want to work on impulsivity issues that lead to substance use, eating difficulty, or low self-esteem.

Academic and Career Counseling

It is common for students struggling with ADD to become bored or lose interest easily in their academic emphasis. By using the academic and career counseling centers, you can get help in designing a job search plan that fits well with your career interest. You can also obtain help writing a resume and practicing your interview skills.

Strategies and Structures

Some strategies that students with ADD find helpful include:

  • Learning to use electronic devices such as cell phones, timers, alarm clocks, computers, and other reminders. These devices can become critical tools for helping you learn to remind and redirect yourself throughout your day
  • Wearing earplugs or headphones
  • Using white-noise machines to block out auditory distraction so that you can focus better
  • Sit in the front of a classroom or close to the door where you can leave and take small breaks
  • Using a daily planer on a consistent basis
  • Using a large wall calendar to get a short and long-term visual picture of what you have to do
  • Understanding the importance of daily rituals and routines
  • Developing a schedule with regular sleep, eating, exercise, and study times
  • Planning for winding up, winding down, and transition times, including:
    • Taking time to fully wake up and do your morning routine
    • Taking time to settle down and be ready to fall asleep
    • Taking time to gather books and belongings and walk to class
  • Establishing regular study times and places
  • Planning long-term projects:
    • Dividing projects into smaller pieces
    • Estimating the time required for each piece of the project
    • Designating deadlines for each piece as well as for the entire project