​Working with Students with ADHD

According the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), "ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder defined by impairing levels of inattention, disorganization, and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity." ADHD characteristics include inattention and/or impulsivity or hyperactivity that appears in early childhood, is relatively chronic in nature, and is not due to other physical, mental or emotional causes.

There are three basic types, which may have different implications in the classroom:

  1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominately Inattentive Type—symptoms may include:
    • often fails to give close attention to details of makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities
    • often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks
    • often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
    • often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork or duties in the workplace (not due to failure to understand instructions)
    • often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
    • often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as homework)
    • often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (assignments, syllabi, etc.)
    • is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
    • is often forgetful in daily activities
  2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominately Hyperactive-Impulsive Type—symptoms may include:
    • Hyperactivity
    • often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat
    • often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected
    • often has difficult engaging in leisure activities appropriately
    • is often "on the go" or acts as if "driven by a motor"
    • often talks excessively
    • Impulsivity
      • often blurts out answers before questions have been completed
      • often has difficulty awaiting turn
      • often interrupts or intrudes on others
  3. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Combined Type—includes individuals who show significant problems with inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It is common for students with ADHD to also have a co-existing mood, behavioral, neurological and/or personality disorder.

Common Myths regarding ADHD

  • Myth: ADHD is not a real disorder.
  • Myth: ADHD is a disorder of childhood.
  • Myth: ADHD is overdiagnosed.
  • Myth: People with ADHD just need to try harder.
  • Myth: People with ADHD are all hyper, jumpy, or can't sit still.
  • Myth: ADHD medications solve all problems.

Source: Cyndi Jordan, Ed.D., University of Tennessee, Memphis, 1997

Suggested Modifications and Accommodations

  1. Students with ADHD generally perform better if given a syllabus with clear explanations of tasks and specific due-dates.
  2. As the semester progresses, keep reminding students of impending deadlines: "Remember, the problem sets are due on Friday."
  3. Whenever possible, start each lecture with a summary of material to be covered, or provide a written outline. If you use broad margins and triple-space, students will be able to take notes directly onto the outline: an aid to organization. At the conclusion of each lecture, review major points.
  4. Students with ADHD may tend to "drift" mentally during class, especially during long lectures. They are better able to stay tuned-in when the class material is stimulating and the format varied (for example, lecture alternating with presentations and class discussion). If the class goes on for several hours, be sure to permit several breaks.
  5. Students with ADHD are often distractible, so you should invite them to sit near the front of the class, away from possible sources of distraction (for example, doors, windows, and noisy heaters).
  6. Avoid making assignments orally, since ADHD students may miss them. Always write assignments on the white board, or (even better) pass them out in written form.
  7. Provide test-sites that have reduced distractions; and when students are taking tests with extended test-time, do not ask them to move from one test-site to another.
  8. For large projects or long papers, help the student break down the task into its component parts. Set deadlines for each part; for example, there might be deadlines for the proposal of an essay topic, for a research plan, for the completion of research, for per-writing to find the essay's thesis, for a writing-plan or outline, for a first-draft, and for a final edited manuscript.
  9. Allow use of a note taker (peer or assistive technology) based on their inability to concentrate on listening and simultaneously taking notes.
  10. Provide prompt, explicit feedback, both written and oral.