Area Psychological Services, P.A.
FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
James L. Hilke, Ph.D.
College students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
face a set of difficulties somewhat different from the high school
student with ADHD. In addition, college students are,
almost by definition, considered to be more mature and expected to
shoulder the load independently for their own learning and
success. While this is certainly a lofty goal, experience shows us
that many college students, especially those with ADHD, need
interventions that are beyond what is given to the average student if
they are to be successful. Listed below are various types of
interventions that have been used successfully with college students.
Classroom Understanding: It is vital for the ADHD student to
understand what is said in the classroom, and he can take certain steps
on his own to facilitate this.
1. Sitting relatively close
to the professor in the first or second row allows minimal distractions
about what is going on in the rest of the room. It also allows the
student to hear more easily what is said.
Note Taking: Individuals with ADHD frequently have difficulty
writing and listening at the same time. The implication of this is
that they can either listen to the professor's lecture or they can take
notes about what he is saying. They cannot do both. The
result is that they often do neither very well, and they may finish a
class having knowledge of part of the lecture, scattered notes about a
second part, and no knowledge of a third part.
participation. Asking questions, responding to questions, and, in
general, taking an active part in the classroom process, facilitates
understanding of the information being presented probably more than any
other single factor.
1. Having the learning center
provide a note taker is perhaps the most effective
intervention. The student is then free to take minimal notes that
are meant only to remind him of certain ideas or to help keep his mind
focused. A note taker is provided, of course, for only those
lectures which the student himself attends.
with ADHD often have difficulty expressing what they know. Their
knowledge is often greater than what they are able to communicate to
others. Furthermore, their speed of processing is often quite slow
so they may believe that they do not have enough time.
2. A student in the class may
take notes on NCR (no carbon required) paper. A carbon copy of
these notes is given to the ADHD student for study at the end of
class. This provides the ADHD student with a better set of notes
and, again, leaves him free to focus on the content of the lecture.
3. At times what may be most
appropriate is for the professor to simply provide a copy of his own
notes for the student to study. While this may seem best,
professor's notes for specific lectures often do not follow the content
as it was actually presented, only as the professor intended for it to
4. Tape recording a lecture
allows for playback at the student's convenience as well as more
accurate note taking on his own. Repetition of information can be
an especially forceful tool in learning, and having a recorded tape
provides for this opportunity.
5. Use of a laptop
computer allows the student to take his own notes. Since ADHD
students often have difficulties with the writing process itself, this
recommendation removes that difficulty although it does not address the
problem of both copying one set of ideas while trying to listen to
1. Allowing extended time for
a test is a simple way to neutralize the speed problem. This
allowance may only be for tests, but it might also be for longer-term
tasks such as projects and papers, dependent upon specific needs of the
2. Distractibility may be
such a difficulty for certain students that testing in a separate room
by himself must be arranged.
3. Some students are unable
to convey what they know on paper, and oral testing may be necessary
for the professor to get an understanding of what the student actually
4. If the test is formalized
to the point of having bubble sheets, etc., having the student be
allowed to write in the test booklet and not have to transfer answers
to a separate sheet can be helpful.
5. Use of a laptop for essay
tests is extremely important for some students.
6. For students with word
finding difficulties, tests that include fill-in-the-blank or similar
type questions can be very frustrating. Having a word bank
available so the student does not have to search his entire word
knowledge can be helpful.
Information: Since many students with ADHD are more
susceptible to distractions than the average college student, they must
take steps to insure that they learn the necessary information.
1. Study area: Students
need to assure that they study in the most productive environment for
themselves. This may be in their room, but often dorms are not
castles of silence and a more effective place may be the library or
some other more isolated spot on campus. Study can be in silence
or not. Sometimes soft music helps to screen out extraneous sounds
that can be distracting.
time: Relatively short time frames for study are generally more
effective than longer ones. Four 45-minute intensive study times
are probably better than one 3-hour time frame.
3. Extra help: This
usually takes the form of tutoring, and for some students it is
mandatory. Without someone explaining the material a second or
third time, they simply do not understand it. As a general rule,
the more multisensory is the explanation, the more effective it will
be. Thus, visual representations or concrete real-world examples
can be more effective than abstract explanations.
4. Repetition: Going
over material several times is helpful. This can be done with a
tutor, but it is most often done in informal study groups where
students can have a chance to explain the information themselves to one
another rather than simply listening to it being explained to them.