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Capital Area Psychological Services, P.A.


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 Interventions

      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.

2.  Class 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.
      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.
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.

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 be presented.

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 another.
      Tests:    Students 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.
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 individual student.

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 knows.

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.
Out-of-Classroom Interventions

      Understanding 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.

2.  Study 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.

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