For years, ADHD was thought to affect mainly elementary and high school-aged students. But increasingly, research has shown that ADHD continues to affect students into their college years and beyond.
In fact, a 2010 study published in Psychiatry Research tracked 110 boys with ADHD over a 10-year period and found that 78 percent of them continued to have full or partial ADHD symptoms as young adults. And the National Resource Center on ADHD estimates that 2 to 8 percent of college students suffer from ADHD.
Unlike high school, which is usually a highly structured environment, college tends to feature longer classes, big blocks of unstructured time, and lots of independence — all of which can be especially challenging for students with ADHD who struggle to sit still, plan ahead or make decisions in the moment.
However, that doesn’t mean college is impossible for students with ADHD. By taking some extra steps and getting outside support, students with ADHD can have a rewarding college experience. Here are 10 things that may help:
- Choose a College with Good Support Systems
When researching colleges to attend, look for ones that cater to students with learning disabilities. Search for schools that offer smaller class sizes, interactive learning, alternative majors and other resources. There are also some schools that have programs specifically geared toward students with learning disabilities.
- Tell Your Professors
Once you’re at school, make sure to take advantage of the help that’s offered to you. One of the most important steps is to alert your professors at the beginning of each semester to your disability so they can make accommodations for you, such as giving you more time on tests or letting you listen to audio versions of text books. You can also ask the disabilities office to help communicate with your professors about your needs.
- Sit at the Front… or the Back
Since students with ADHD have a harder time concentrating, some students find it helpful to sit at the front of the classroom to reduce distractions. Other students, however, like to sit in the back of the room so they can stand up to stretch or take a break if they need to.
- Avoid Large Lecture Classes
Sitting in a huge lecture hall and listening for an hour and a half might be especially challenging for a student with ADHD. Instead, when possible, try to take smaller classes that offer interactive learning experiences, such as group projects and discussions.
- Join a Study Group
Studying by yourself can be hard for students with ADHD, who may struggle with comprehending the material and want to give up. Studying with others can keep you motivated and when you don’t understand something, you can ask the other students in your group for help.
- Use a Calendar
Whether you use an old-school calendar or download a planning app for your phone, writing down all of your tasks for the day is key to staying focused. At the beginning of your day, try to plan out what needs to get done so you aren’t forced to have to make decisions on the fly that may overwhelm you.
- Take Classes That Interest You
The more interested you are in a subject, the more likely you’ll be able to pay attention and absorb the material, says Lucy Turek, Education and Career Specialist at Yellowbrick. “You’ll be a lot more successful in life if you do something you want to do than if you do something you think you’re supposed to do,” she says.
- Take Classes Where You’re Active
Not all classes in college require sitting in a classroom. Try classes such as dancing, geology, mountain climbing or other courses that get you outside and moving.
- Get Enough Sleep and Eat Right
If you’re not taking care of your body, you can’t function at your best. That’s why maintaining a regular sleep schedule and eating right are so important for thinking clearly. “Having that circadian rhythm, eating the appropriate amount and exercise is all important to maintaining good brain health,” says Dana Bender, an occupational therapist who is also director of Core Competence Services at Yellowbrick.
Bender also says maintaining good mental health is also key, so seek help if you are depressed, anxious or have other mental health issues.
- Stay Positive
Although having ADHD can make studying and succeeding in college challenging, try not to get discouraged by your disability. “Have a positive viewpoint about college that it’s where you’re able to blossom and become your own person,” says Elizabeth Wade, an occupational therapist and Life Skills Specialist at Yellowbrick. “Remind yourself of what your dreams are and don’t give up on them.”
At Yellowbrick, we provide support for college students with ADHD through our Core Competence and Psychiatric Home Health Services. College students who live within a few miles of our Evanston location can receive in-home visits from staff who can help with time management, educational and career counseling, planning, organizing and executive functioning. Click here for more information on our Core Competence and Psychiatric Home Health services.