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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Handbook

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain-based disorder that affects all aspects of one’s life. ADHD is characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity, which is more frequent and severe than what is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development. Those who exhibit extreme hyperactivity are commonly diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD-H). Those with primarily inattentive symptoms are diagnosed as ADHD-I. Individual with both clusters of symptoms are diagnosed with ADHD-C. Unless properly treated, ADHD could interfere with one’s academic achievement, self-esteem, and professional and personal relationships.

A good understanding of the condition is essential in coping with an ADHD diagnosis. Educate yourself by talking to health care professionals and to others who have ADHD, as well as by using other resources such as published books and pamphlets.

People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tend to be of average or above-average intelligence. The ADHD diagnosis includes individuals whose symptoms are primarily hyperactive (ADHD-H),  inattentive (ADHD-I), or both (ADHD-C).  About three to five percent of the general population has ADHD, while approximately one to three percent of college students are diagnosed with ADHD. The condition is diagnosed about three times more frequently in males than in females. 

Experts believe that there is a substantial genetic component to ADHD and that the condition is caused by a neurochemical disconnection between two parts of the frontal lobes inside the brain. This affects the central nervous system’s development and causes impairment in the ability to concentrate.

There are three main characteristics of ADHD:


  • Difficulty organizing tasks
  • Difficulty staying on task (quick loss of interest) and maintaining effort
  • Difficulty with transitions or prioritizing tasks, following instructions, and completing school work
  • Problems with misplacing things needed for tasks
  • Becomes easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Difficulty remembering daily activities


  • Experiences minor motor restlessness, such as fidgeting of hands
  • Difficulty remaining seated and talks excessively
  • Difficulty regulating restlessness to situational demands
  • Difficulty channeling physical restlessness in productive directions
  • Difficulty listening to others
  • Becomes easily distracted while reading


  • Speaks or acts without considering the consequence
  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Feelings of being out-of-control, which can result in obsessive compulsive behaviors
  • Has need for high stimulus activity

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, students with ADHD are eligible for legal recourse if they feel they have experienced classroom discrimination. These acts protect all students, regardless of their academic level.

Successful Transition Strategies

  • Carefully plan your first semester by choosing courses that maximize your strengths.
  • Use available academic support services such as peer tutors. Do not wait until you are failing to seek help.
  • Remember that the typical ADHD student requires three times as much study time as the average student.
  • As an ADHD student, plan on spending more than four years to successfully complete your bachelor's degree.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol can impair academic functioning in any student. However, studies have shown that alcohol negatively affects ADHD students at twice the rate of the average student.

Class Scheduling Strategies

  • Try to schedule classes at times when you feel you are most alert.
  • Do not take more than two quantitative classes in a day.
  • Do not take more than two back-to-back classes in a semester.
  • Avoid taking several classes with especially demanding reading or writing requirements during a single semester.
  • Do not take more than twelve hours per semester.
  • Be aware of drop/add dates. Consider dropping a class if a professor is not willing to accommodate you.
  • If possible, plan on taking especially difficult classes on a pass/fail basis

In-class Strategies

  • Do not sit by the window.
  • Tape record class lectures when possible or use your professor’s notes.
  • Participate in class discussions as much as possible to enhance your concentration.
  • Try to schedule the timing of medication doses to maximize your class performance.
  • When unsure of the meaning of exam questions, ask the professor. Inform the professor of this possibility prior to your exam.

Effective Study Strategies

  • Study in a distraction-free environment – you should not study in your room.
  • Study in one-hour blocks. Do not expect to be able to study for extended periods of time.
  • Study with others to reinforce your understanding of the material.
  • Know your learning style – auditory, visual, or kinesthetic – to maximize learning; take this information into consideration when working with a tutor.
  • When you study alone, dictate key points into a tape recorder to enhance learning.
  • If you are an auditory learner, read aloud to yourself while studying.
  • Always "over-learn" the material. Students with memory or attention problems need to practice or rehearse more than the average student.
  • Use active learning techniques, such as SQ3R, that allow you to do the following:
    • Skim a chapter to determine both content and important points.
    • Change chapter headings into questions.
    • Read the text to find answers to your questions.
    • Recite answers to yourself.
    • Review the major points. Read each heading and write down the main points you can recall.

Organization and Time Management Strategies

Managing time is a major problem for college ADHD students because of the considerable amount of unstructured time they have in college. The college ADHD student will need to devote more time to studying than the average college student.

  • Learn to use a daily planner.
    • Put all due dates and exams in the planner.
    • Break reading assignments into little bits and schedule times to do the reading.
    • Include all your social, work, and recreational activities in your planner.
    • Always have your planner with you.
  • Allocate 10-15 minutes in the morning, or before you go to bed at night, to plan your day.
  • Make a "To Do" list and keep it in your planner.
  • Make constructive use of your time between classes, e.g., catching up on assignments, doing assigned reading, etc.

Coping with Hyperactivity

  • Consider a job that enables you to move around more regularly. Avoid desk jobs that require long meetings.
  • If employed in a desk job, take frequent breaks – every 20-30 minutes or so.
  • Engage in some regular physical activity after you get off work.
  • If you have to attend a long meeting, bring something you can do inconspicuously with your hands during the meeting.
  • When being considered for a position that would not allow for much physical movement, consider your ability to successfully cope before accepting.

Coping with Distractions

  • Try to schedule work periods during which you will not be interrupted. Inform your supervisor and subordinates of the importance of this to your job performance.
  • Schedule intensive work in short, time-limited chunks.
  • If you are distracted by a rapid flow of ideas tangentially related to a current project or other projects, write the intruding thoughts down or record them on a voice recorder in a "brainstorming log."
  • When making meeting presentations, use an outline of what you must say and stick to it.
  • If you become distracted by your own ideas while listening to others speak at meetings, write down your ideas as you listen.
  • Keep your workspace orderly. Do not, however, use desk organization as a distraction from tasks that must be done.
  • If you become distracted by returning phone calls, opening mail etc., train yourself to avoid these diversions and keep on task.

Staying Organized

  • If you have a problem with staying organized and following-through, work with someone for whom these are strengths.
  • Jobs that involve many short-term projects are more compatible with adult ADHD than longer-term projects.
  • If your job involves receiving tasks from several different people, have your direct supervisor "filter" your work assignments before they get to you.

Managing Time on the Job

  • Pro-actively plan activities instead of reacting to events, impulses, or moods.
  • Prioritize activities on your "To Do" list.
  • Avoid over-scheduling your day.
  • Break large projects into small manageable parts. Set deadlines for each part.
  • Have your planner with you at all times. If unable to start a new task right away, put it on your "To Do" list.
  • Do not say "yes" when you mean "no." When asked to do something, do not respond impulsively; instead, learn to check on previous commitments before responding.
  • Learn to say "no" to last-minute impulses, unless they are genuine emergencies. ADHD adults are chronically late due to impulses to handle "brief" last-minute tasks on their way out the door.
  • Avoid getting caught in hallway conversations when on your way to important meetings.
  • Leave early for meetings and take some work with you, should there be any "down-time" during the meeting.
  • Phone calls may take more time than you expect, so learn to end calls a few minutes early. This leaves more time for planned tasks.


  • Record the audio for important meetings and seminars. Be sure to set track markers to help you locate important aspects of the session.
  • Take notes at meetings, even though you may also be recording them.
  • Take notes whenever you meet with your supervisor or a co-worker; never rely on memory alone.
  • To double-check accuracy, always send copies of your interpretation of agreements or commitments to the individuals involved.

Services for Students with Disabilities
310 Lavery Hall 0185
430 Old Turner Street
Phone: 540-231-0858
Fax: 540-231-0848
TTY: 540-231-0853

Tutorial Services

Student Success Center
220 Gilbert St, Suite 2100
Phone: 540-231-4133

Cook Counseling Center
220 Gilbert St, Suite 2400
Phone: 540-231-6557

Services Offered:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Referral to Student Health Services when needed
  • Study skills counseling

Newman Library
Special Services Lab
First Floor
Phone: 540-231-4270

  • Nadeau, K.G. (1994). Survival Guide for College Students With ADD or LD. New York: Magination Press
  • Quinn, P. (1994). ADD and the College Student. New York: Magination Press.
  • Robin, L & Schubiner, H. (1995). The Lifespan Approach to ADHD. Unpublished presentation, April 1995.

Resources for College ADHD Students

  • Hallowell, E. & Ratey, J. (1994). Driven Distraction. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Hallowell, E. & Ratey, J. (1994). Answers to Distraction. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Hartmann, T. (1995). ADD Success Stories. Underwood Books.
  • Kelly, K. & Ramundo, P. (1993). You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy? Cincinnati, Ohio: Tyrell & Jerem Press.
  • Weiss, L. (1992). Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company.
  • Weiss, L. (1994). Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults Workbook. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company.