Supporting Students With ADHD



The information on this page is for University and College staff/academics looking for information about supporting students with ADHD. This guidance has mainly been written by students from Plymouth University with additions and amendments from members of the Cambridge University ADHD Support Group and input from students with ADHD across the UK.

Accessed originally from Plymouth University (on 19/07/16) and elaborated on by the CUADHD Support Group. Published July 2016 after University of Cambridge Disability Resource Centre consultation.

1) If we have a question we want to ask in a lecture, it is very difficult to concentrate on what is being said. The question dominates our thoughts. Some lecturers allow students to text questions to them during the lecture and respond periodically. Others use Twitter. This is a brilliant solution – texting the questions gets it out of our heads and we know we will get a response.

2) Sometimes we just can’t attend lectures, not because we don’t want to but because of the effects of the ADHD.  If our mood is very down, or maybe very up, we simply can’t attend. Please make it easy for us to access the lecture notes when we miss lectures. Videoing the lecture or creating a podcast would be even better.

3) Please make comprehensive lecture notes which will fill in the information we’ve missed- e.g. a step by step breakdown of your argument in the lecture, rather than just putting the material you’re using to support your point. Otherwise, if we miss the lecture and then download the notes, then the notes are no help anyway. They need to be a viable alternative to attending the lecture, because attending the lecture isn’t an option sometimes!

4) If we have our mobile phones out, we may be using them to take notes. Please bear this in mind before telling us to put them away, especially as we might not have a better note-taking option.

5) The hyperactivity part of ADHD often translates into feelings of internal restlessness for adults. Most of us who do have the hyperactivity part have grown out of climbing trees or charging around the playground! Sometimes these feelings become unmanageable and we need to move around.

6) Fiddling with things, doodling, clicking pen tops, shaking legs – these are all part of ADHD and help us maintain concentration. We all have different ways of concentrating, and sometimes it can appear that we aren’t listening because we’re fidgeting or looking elsewhere. We aren’t being rude, it’s just a different way of listening. Sometimes keeping your body mildly active helps to keep your brain on track, and sometimes it’s unconscious. Please don’t tell us off about it / embarrass us, we can’t help it.

7) It takes a huge effort for us to be structured and organised. Last minute cancellations and swapping rooms can cause the structure we have created to collapse and set us right back with our studying. Please only do this if absolutely necessary and recognise the difficulties it causes. Having said that, we do understand – we’re usually the ones having to do it.

8) Reading is a problem for most of us because it demands so much effort to focus. We may have problems with breaking down a reading list into its essential and nonessential components. The actual process of working out which reading to do, and in which order, can be completely overwhelming. We also can’t distinguish between ‘priority’ and ‘not a priority’, and struggle with something called ‘time-blindness’ because to us time is either ‘now’ or ‘not now’. Therefore, working out what to read and when is almost impossible! Guided reading lists and essential reading/tasks would help us with this – with prioritised reading marked as such.

9) When it isn’t possible to read everything on the reading lists in full detail, you have to help us work out what is essential, what is useful and what is non-important! Please tell us which specific sections we need to read, with page numbers. Other students can distinguish between what they need to read, what they should read if they have time, and what they don’t need to read. This process is overwhelming/impossible for students with ADHD! It is very common to get distracted and hyper-focus on an irrelevant area – this means we run out of time to read the important/relevant material and this has a knock-on effect on all the other tasks we need to complete for the week.

10) Unlike some of the other developmental disorders and mental health disorders, ADHD isn’t just confined to certain areas of our lives. In fact one of the criteria for diagnosis is that the effects are across multiple settings. It can take a monumental effort to stop our lives descending into chaos, and sometimes we can’t sustain that effort.

11) Most people with a diagnosis of ADHD take medication as this is the cheapest/most widely provided form of treatment on the NHS, and this can be very effective. Sometimes it lasts for four hours, sometimes eight, and sometimes we can forget to take it. There might be certain times of the day when we are not medicated, such as early in the mornings. If we tell you that we tend to focus best at a certain time of day, please try and keep meetings etc. within those hours, so we can concentrate on what you’re saying!

12) We have a tendency to forget things. Please make instructions clear, and also make it clear that they are important. The best way to make instructions clear is to provide them in a written format, broken down into small steps and numbered in the order that they should be completed.

13) As structure is so hard for us, help in structuring our work would be invaluable. A framework to guide our written assignments and clear criteria would be very much appreciated. Also useful and in this category – planning essays together/in supervision skeleton essays to help us learn the structures we need to copy to do well.

14) Examples of work at different grades are very useful, e.g. a 1st class essay,  a 2:1 essay. It would be helpful to be able to look at an example piece of work together with a supervisor and have the marking explained. This helps us to understand what we are expected to be doing when we are told to write an essay – in understanding what is expected of us, we can then understand better how to deliver it. Students with ADHD are very willing to work hard, they just struggle with figuring out what they are actually supposed to be doing. Without clearly defined structures and expectations we can find it impossible to even start. Having examples, models, and a lot of feedback, helps us to narrow down the potential variations and deliver.

15) It is a strength of ADHD that we can see myriad answers/approaches to complex problems, but that infinite variety of choice is hard to navigate when ADHD also limits our decision making abilities. Please give us a lot of guidance so that we know what we are supposed to be doing, and how to do it well.

16) We miss information; we forget information; we misinterpret information. We know everyone does at times but we habitually do it. We also have big problems with time management. It would be very helpful if you would schedule some time in for us to meet you individually and regularly. Additionally, if we could meet to plan what we’re going to focus on and when for the upcoming year/term/month/week/day, this will always be hugely helpful.

17) We are very impulsive and often don’t stop to think before we speak or act. We also get easily bored and frustrated. If we offend, it is not usually intentional. Afterwards we can feel appalled by what we have said or done. Please be slow to take offence and quick to forget.

For more information about supporting students with ADHD, how ADHD may impact on students, and how to be mindful of ADHD in relation to specific subjects, please see University of Worcester’s Strategies for Creating Inclusive Programmes of Study (SCIPS) ADHD


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What is ADHD?

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Living with ADHD



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Review date: 04/05/2017

Next review date: 05/05/2018


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