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Special Education

Students With ADHD Must Better Prepare for College

By Nirvi Shah — September 07, 2012 2 min read
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In a small study of students with ADHD, a Kansas State University researcher found that students with ADHD aren’t adequately preparing for college.

For her study, researcher Kristy Morgan interviewed eight college freshmen at the end of their first semester of college. The four men and four women were all living on campus at a school at least an hour from home.

Students didn’t factor ADHD into their decision-making about college, but rather chose a college based on how the campus felt, the reputation of the school or that it was where they had always wanted to attend.

“Most of the students found college to be tougher than they had expected,” Morgan said in a statement. “Even with the availability of resources, they still felt overwhelmed with accessing these resources.”

She found that students who had ADHD management strategies in place, such as ways to keep a schedule or study for tests, had figured those out before college, but students who did not have strategies mapped out were overwhelmed once freshman year began.

While federal disability laws mean provide for students with disabilities to have education plans in K-12 that outline what accommodations they need in school, those plans evaporate once students leave high school. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that students with disabilities need more help transitioning from high school to work or college. Morgan said ADHD affects about 1 percent to 4 percent of college students, but that could grow.

“A big struggle for students was adjusting to increased freedom and increased responsibility,” Morgan said. “They anticipated loving the freedom of college and being away from their parents. But they also realized that college required responsibility and that responsibility was overwhelming to them.”

As a result, even from far away, students’ families became heavily involved in students’ college activities, serving as as alarm clocks, organizing their rooms, and continuing to manage medical care. Students often lacked basic knowledge of ADHD and how their medication worked. Yet they believed that medication was crucial to their success in college because they needed it to help focus during lectures and studying time. Students’ parents filled prescriptions and worked with doctors even while the student was at college. “The students really did not handle it independently,” she said. But students did realize that to be successful in college, they had to go from taking medication sporadically to taking it regularly.

She found that the women in the study were more likely to consistently take medication because it helped suppress their appetites and manage weight. Men were more likely to skip it to have a good time.

Morgan came up with recommendations for students with ADHD heading to college—and their families—based on her research:

• Families should talk with students about their diagnoses. Too often, families have not educated students with ADHD because they think it is a childhood condition they will outgrow.
• Universities should streamline processes and make it easier for students to access resources. Students with ADHD are unlikely to wait in long lines or fill out a lot of paperwork for resources.
• Academic advisers can help students structure their schedules the right way to help students with ADHD succeed, such as scheduling classes close together versus spreading them out over the course of the day. Advisers should also help students choose classes with engaging professors in rooms with few distractions, like windows or high-traffic hallways.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.