ADHD and Adult Students

ADHD can affect students of any age including those in college or university, as well as adult students returning to complete their high school diploma.

Post-secondary students with undiagnosed ADHD may soon realize that while they were able to cope in elementary or high school, this next level of education can be overwhelming:

  • The additional strain on their attention may make it impossible to succeed.
  • These students and their professors often wrongly conclude that they are not capable of learning the material or successfully completing the program.
  • These students may then drop out or change to another program where they will continue to struggle due to their undiagnosed ADHD.

For adults with ADHD returning to school to complete their high school diploma, the challenges faced when they were adolescents (e.g., difficulty with memory, paying attention, study habits, organization, time management) may still need to be addressed for them to succeed.


Learn more:

Recognizing Potential Symptoms of ADHD in Adult Students

If you’re a student with ADHD, the following symptoms can seriously impact all aspects of your life, especially when it comes to learning:

  • Easily distracted when studying-mind wanders, and misses chunks of conversations
  • Can’t keep track while reading-skips around or goes right to the end
  • Master of procrastination–assignments/studying always put off to the last possible moment
  • Difficulty planning/prioritizing class projects, easily overwhelmed by tasks
  • Forgetful–often late for appointments or handing in assignments
  • Finds it hard waiting to take a turn–in class, during group work, talking with a friend
  • In constant motion–fidgeting, finger drumming, leg shaking
  • Impulsive–says whatever comes to mind without weighing the consequences
  • Frequent mood changes, quick temper
  • Trouble keeping friends and/or maintaining relationships

Tips for Adult Students with ADHD

Although stigma with regard to ADHD still exists among students, this should not be a barrier to academic and future career success. If you are worried you or someone you know might have symptoms of ADHD, it is important to get a thorough medical assessment. This way, if required, a variety of appropriate treatment options, strategies, and accommodations can be discussed and implemented. Remember, only a certified medical doctor can confirm a diagnosis.

To achieve success at this level, students with ADHD must possess an understanding of their condition and how it uniquely affects them. This can be achieved by:

  • Obtaining a thorough assessment outlining their strengths and weaknesses:
    • — For students with ADHD, in order to request services from the disabilities office, it is important to document their needs and how their individual weaknesses affect their functioning in the learning environment.
    • — An ADHD assessment for college/university accommodations usually includes an assessment of:
      • intellectual functioning
      • learning style
      • academic strengths and weaknesses
    • — Even if students with ADHD decide against disclosing their disability and requesting formal support services, an evaluation is still useful in determining the path to take in order to achieve success at the post-secondary level.
  • Reviewing strategies that worked well (and those that didn’t) during previous schooling:
    • — This may be helpful for both recent high school graduates as well as adults returning to school.

Some of the most effective ways for students with ADHD to address the issues they face include:

  • Seeking accommodations, such as:
    • — note-takers
    • — extended time for tests
    • — the use of the writing centre
  • Developing supportive strategies, including:
    • — practicing good self-care
    • — getting enough rest and exercise
    • — learning ways to reduce stress
  • Establishing supportive relationships (e.g., working with a coach or a peer study group)
  • Following a treatment plan deemed appropriate by their physician
  • Learning to set appropriate goals and priorities

There are many resources available to help students learn to manage their ADHD and go on to succeed at school. For few places to start, check here