young man with backpack looking at the sky

10 Must-Know Considerations to Assist Learners with ADHD 

Table of Contents

Students with ADHD are more than 2x as likely to drop out of school. In fact, only 16% of college students with ADHD request and gain access to the psychosocial support and accommodations they need. However, people with ADHD are also 300x more likely to start a business. These numbers reveal a disparity.

Many people with ADHD achieve great success in life even though they struggled in school. In fact, from Thomas Edison to Sir Richard Branson, famously brilliant people with ADHD have a centuries-old history of poor performance in traditional educational settings.  

With so many tools at their disposal today, educators can work to their students’ strengths and better accommodate varying learning styles. Here are five tips to help students with ADHD achieve academic success, as well as five pointers for university leaders to support these learners.   

1) Create an academic path where the student can thrive 

While ADHD can make it difficult for students to focus, the condition also causes hyperfocus. In fact, studies indicate that the same cerebral mechanism responsible for making students distractable also causes hyperfocus.  

If a student who has ADHD finds a subject that they’re passionate about, they may focus far more on their studies than their peers. Many students with ADHD excel academically if they’re interested in the subject. 

Tips for students 

Tips for educators  

Think carefully about your course choices and major. Find something you’re passionate to increase your chances of success.  

Counsel students to take courses that appeal to their interests and strengths. 

Take advantage of the add/drop period. If possible, enroll in extra courses with the intention of selecting the ones that are a good fit. Once you get a feel for the professor and read the syllabus, you can make an informed decision. 

Allow flexibility, including a chance to drop or add a course without penalties for a certain period. 

2) Build schedules with the right kind of structure 

Student schedules need to address more than just coursework. It’s important to include things like time to study and exercise while also ensuring adequate sleep.   

Tips for students 

Tips for Educators

Be realistic about scheduling courses. Don’t take early morning classes if you know you’ll struggle to attend.  

Ensure that schedules don’t force students to take classes all in the early morning or late afternoon. Remember that some students learn better at different times. Build in flexibility.  

Make time for exercise. Many students with ADHD focus better if they’re getting enough physical activity. If keeping a disciplined workout routine on your own is a challenge, consider playing a sport, joining a running club or finding another activity where the structure is built-in.  

Offer enough organized athletic activities. Not every student will be able to play official college sports. Having recreational leagues that promote healthy habits and socialization can support students.  

Get enough sleep. The urge to socialize late in the evening or pull an all-nighter to study can be strong. However, ADHD is an executive functioning disorder and lack of sleep also impacts executive functioning. 

3) Ask for accommodations (and use them) 

Universities have the ability to help their students excel, but not all students will know how to self-advocate or ask for what they need. Universities can do more to remove that burden from their students by being proactive with accommodations.   

Tips for students

Tips for educators 

Prepare by compiling documents. Any paperwork that indicates that you have ADHD will help in making the case for the appropriate accommodations.

Proactively offer accommodations that help many students. For instance, providing universal captioning is one way to help all students, even those who don’t know it would benefit them. 

Reach out to the designated office that handles accessibility and accommodations at your institution. Contact them and ask what steps you need to take to get accommodations. 

Make sure professors understand the university’s expectations when it comes to accommodations. Create a process that makes it clear and easy for professors.

Learn how to coordinate with your professors. The process might vary between universities. The office might reach out, or you might need to inform each professor.  

Connect with incoming students and provide them with details about which office and contact to go to for help.

Provide anonymous forums where students can make requests. 

4) Identify specific accommodations that work 

While there are common accommodations known to support students with ADHD, identify the right support for each individual through communication. 

Tips for students 

Tips for educators

Ask for note taking services via another student who takes notes, a professional service or a transcription solution. You may need notes to refer back to. Also, ADHD can make it difficult to organize information. Professional note taking can greatly help. 

Create forums for open and regular communication with your students. They might have had accommodations that worked for them in the past. Find out what they were. 

ADHD tends to make time management challenging. You may have a difficult time focusing in a room with other test takers. Consider arranging more time for tests and assignments or a private test-taking area.  

Be flexible about adding or altering accommodations.  

Use transcripts of lectures for studying, as you can search them easily to refocus on key elements.  

Make it blatantly clear to faculty that accommodations are not “special treatment.”  

Captions help everyone focus and retain information. Many people with ADHD find that using captions helps them because they offer two types of input (hearing and reading) or “multiple modalities.” 

Check in with students and see how their accommodations are working for them.  

5) Lean into the positive side of the ADHD brain 

The ADA categorizes ADHD as a learning disability, and it’s important for students to present it this way for the purpose of receiving accommodations. However, in the right circumstances, ADHD offers advantages. For universities, embracing diversity, including neurodiversity, offers benefits 

Tips for students

Tips for educators

Play to your strengths. Find subjects where your out-of-the-box thinking is an asset.

Look to the corporate world, where companies are finding that thinking differently is an asset. Educators are behind when it comes to tapping into the unique talents of neurodiverse individuals. It’s time to start paying attention.

Consider academic and career paths that lend themselves to creative people who are able to think fast, respond in a crisis, willing to take risks and innovative about solving problems. Here are some fields where people with ADHD often thrive:

Emergency responder

Entrepreneur

Computer programmer

Anything in the arts

Teacher

Don’t let a diagnosis lead to low expectations of student performance. Many students with ADHD and other forms of neurodiversity are highly intelligent, but studies show that the diagnosis often causes their teachers to lower their expectations. The attitude of educators in these cases can cause severe damage to students. Instead, expect great things from your students, and help them get there.

Rather than trying to make students with ADHD adapt to fit existing educational structures, universities should lean into these traits to help students with ADHD thrive. Educators need to find the right ways to elevate students and play to their strengths. However, it’s also vital that students with ADHD learn to self-advocate, know how to reach out for the support they need and understand how their strengths can help them succeed. 

AST’s solutions are helping institutions support learners with ADHD and all students worldwide. Our captioning, transcription, audio description and translation can help educators use multiple modalities in their instruction. With AST’s efficient accessibility tools, faculty can more easily offer accommodations and improve access across their campuses. Plus, it’s important to note that accommodations should be considered and made throughout every aspect of the institution, not just inside the classroom walls.