Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder
Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological disorder of brain functions, the core symptoms of which are difficulty paying attention, excessive activity and difficulty with impulse control. The deficit in powers of attention may also manifest without hyperactivity. The condition is then called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The symptoms vary by individual. Despite having ADHD, students may still excel in their studies.
Attention deficit symptoms appear as problems with paying attention or with concentrating on a task, and making ‘careless’ mistakes as a result. As the student may not be able to focus on one thing for very long, he or she may try to do many things at the same time or jump from one task to another. S/he often doesn’t hear or notice things. Hyperactivity and impulsivity may be expressed also as sudden reactions, acting before thinking, difficulty with waiting for his or her turn, responding before a question is entirely given, or leaving assignments unfinished.
The inability to maintain attention for longer periods affects the student’s studying. This is reflected in problems listening, following directions, and beginning or following through with assignments. Studying is also affected by the difficulties with concentrating and sustaining one’s focus on a subject in the face of other stimuli. Noise, commotion and movements distract the student from the task at hand.
Independent study poses special challenges for the student in everyday life. One hurdle may be in drawing up a study plan and adhering to it in practice. Estimating the time needed for assignments may also be difficult. Becoming engrossed in some interesting activity while other things get left on the backburner may also disrupt the students daily life. Time management and limiting the amount of time spent on certain activities may also be hard.
Obstacles may arise for the student when reading, writing, or understanding and analysing a text. Difficulties may also appear with mathematics, verbal expression, attention to detail or getting a general grasp of a subject as a whole.
It is important to recall, however, that ADHD is also associated with certain strengths. Such students may be very creative, innovative and rise to new challenges enthusiastically.
Tips for student guidance
- Patience and openness are helpful in discussion andwritten communication.
- Supporting and helping the student to create new study routines may ease the student’s task of organising his/her activities.
- Support the student also with planning his/her use of time in ways such as the following:
- Help the student to set clear goals for himself/herself. Breaking up an assignment into smaller steps is helpful for goal setting.
- When breaking down a subject of learning into smaller parts, make sure they are realistically small enough to be studied one at a single sitting.
- Setting aside enough time for studying gives the student the chance to prepare for the examination in time.
- Guide the student in how to make use of the academic timetable, calendars, notepads, and time-management functions on a mobile phone to help with reminders and planning.
- Guide and support the students in regularly making up and monitoring their study plans. Follow-up and intervention in time in problems involving course completion and goal-setting are important.
- Guide and encourage the student to develop his/her study skills.
- Give immediate feedback that is supportive and respectful; encourage and motivate.
Course study routines on the right track?
- Offer the student clear and detailed information on the structure of a course, key dates, examination requirements and practical arrangements.
- Ask the student what kind of learning material and working methods support his/her learning. For example, group work and discussion may make the task of processing and learning the material easier.
- Underline clearly what is essential about the subject of the teaching. Best practices for doing so include:
- Direct the student’s attention to the first topic that is going to be discussed.
- Go over the main points of beginning of the material at the beginning of the presentation.
- Plan breaks in your presentations to reflect the overall structure of the learning material.
- Use diverse learning material and illustrative examples, such as pictures, videos and sounds in addition to text.
- Provide an outline of the lecture and written material beforehand so that students may familiarise themselves with the subject as a whole.
Learning in lectures
- The ADHD student may be easily distracted by various stimuli – even normal ones – in the surroundings. Concentration can be aided by:
- Having a quiet place to sit
- Having supplies for reducing the number of unwanted stimuli. These may include, depending on the situation: earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, a hood, sunglasses, etc.
- Taking short breaks (e.g. taking a break at the midpoint of the lecture) and the chance to stretch, etc., in order to stay alert
- Making use of digital aides to support studying, making audio and/or visual recordings for studies – for example, the student may benefit from using his/her computer and a word-processing program.
- Consider using media and materials that engages a variety of the senses in all your teaching and communications with the students. Present material both verbally and in writing, and/or by showing and doing, when needed. Speak calmly and clearly on one matter at a time.
- If the student constantly interrupts you with questions, ask him/her to write down the questions that arise and come back to them with you later. Aim to clarify and elaborate details in a constructive manner. If the student gets stuck on some problem, help him/her to move on to the next problem or task.
Best practices for examinations and evaluations
- Announce clearly and well ahead of time the materials that will be on the examination.
- Make sure that the student has a peaceful study environment that will support his or her concentration. The student should use earplugs or muting headphones and the chance to work in a separate space, if needed.
- Learning may be demonstrated in alternative ways also, e.g. a written examination may be replaced by a verbal one or by written work done at home.
- Grant the student extra time if needed and if e.g. the time for the exam is very limited. According to Aalto policy, the student has the right to up to one (1) hour of extra time for an examination, depending on its length.
- The student may benefit from study tools during the examination, such as a computer with a word-processing program.
- For assessing command of content, provide the student with a form of assessment in which spelling mistakes do not lower the grade.
For more information, see:
The ADHD union (in Finnish): https://adhd-liitto.fi/adhd-tietoa/aikuiset/
Consideration for ADHD student learning in higher education (guide in Finnish) http://www.esok.fi/esok-hanke/julkaisut/oppaat/asperger
Salakari, A. (2018). ADHD-aikuisen selviytymisopas 2.0: Tutkittua tietoa ja käytännön vinkkejä. Tammi.
Individual study arrangements
In Finnish higher education, 4.4% of students have been diagnosed as having dyslexia (Finnish Student Health Service 2016). Reading is slow for people with dyslexia due to difficulties in perceiving and mentally processing the sounds of words and text.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder may present in students as a difficulty concentrating, making mistakes of ‘carelessness’ , or encountering hurdles to independent study.
Of mental disorders, particularly depression is common with young adults. With mental disorders, it is important to listen to one’s own feelings and remember to reserve sufficient time for recovering from the strain of studies.
Anxiety means a state where a person is feeling restless and worried. Short-term anxiety and performance anxiety are very common and natural phenomena. Anxiety disorders refer to situations where feelings of anxiety are long-term and disproportionate to the situation.