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Becoming a Successful Student with ADHD

According to the American Association of Psychiatry, "an estimated 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD (Danielson, 2018; Simon, et al., 2009). ADHD is often first identified in school-aged children when it leads to disruption in the classroom or problems with schoolwork." 

One might think ADHD individuals are defined by what the name of the disorder suggests - a deficit of attention. However, this is not the case. Often, ADHD individuals have an excess of attention, but are unable to harness that focus on one task at a time. Instead, they struggle to meet deadlines, especially when they're presented with multiple at a time. 

How does this translate to being a student? In my experience, I suffered with the inability to complete tasks until the deadline was looming above my head. I'd often stay up incredibly late trying to finish assignments, wondering where all the hours in my day had gone. I'd often become bored with homework, and turn to books or TV to "take a break," which turned into a multiple-hour distraction. As an individual who has experienced all these symptomatic events and more, I understand that completing schoolwork with ADHD can feel like a chore. Over time, I developed study strategies and coping mechanisms that helped pave the road to my success. 

1. Treating studying like a game

ADHD individuals are often searching for sources of dopamine - anything that isn't deemed 'interesting' to them will be quickly ignored. When it comes to studying, this can be very difficult. I recommend making flashcards, and having another person quiz you on information. You can even reward yourself with treats or breaks when you get enough categories correct! Using virtual flashcard websites like Quizlet can be helpful as well.

2. Use timers

Scheduling breaks that are timed will help you to treat 'focusing time' as something small and manageable. Break up your study time into 15, 20, or 30 minute intervals, with scheduled rest in between. This will increase the amount of work you can get done in surprisingly little time. 

3. Take notes and write things down

I found that with my symptoms, I was a very visual learner. I needed to see things written down or in front of my eyes - when teachers lectured without visuals, I quickly lost focus and wasn't sure what they were talking about. Taking notes, or even writing down passages from textbooks verbatim on pieces of paper helps to memorize the material properly, and forces you to interact with it in a way you previously had not. This can translate to tip #1 - writing out flashcards can be a key tool in memorization. Using pen and paper over virtual notepads was incredibly helpful to me in this regard. 

4. Use a planner

My planner was and always has been my best friend. Encouraging yourself or your student to buy a planner is paramount to their success- scheduling and writing lists for what tasks need to be done on certain days ensures that deadlines are always clearly written out in front of your eyes, making it difficult to forget them. It also helps to visualize the week ahead, making tasks that once seemed big appear much smaller.

5. Trying listening to music

Getting in the zone can be a big part of studying with ADHD symptoms. Trying listening to music or even a familiar favorite podcast with noise-cancelling headphones. This eliminates outside distractions and increases your potential of finishing what you need to do.

6. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

ADHD can be debilitating. Don't be afraid to ask for help or extensions when necessary. It's not always easy, but you'll get everything done!

I hope this guide was helpful. I look forward to helping students realize their full potential, whether they have ADHD or not!

Aranya T
Experienced English/Writing/Reading Tutor
Boston University
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