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Interventions for College Students With ADHD

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Edited by: Sarah “Sally” Creekmore, PA-C

Students with ADHD most often have a certain degree of disparity compared to their peers, both academically and socially. Such disparity undoubtedly becomes greater as the years go by, being more noticeable in those who do not receive any intervention to help them develop the skills expected for their age.

Academic and social impairment play an important role in college dropout rates so it is important to know what interventions are available to help ADHD students during this stage of their lives.

To begin with, it is important to clarify that university students with ADHD can access the same interventions or services that they had during high school. If you already know which of these interventions are effective, you can request them directly from your college or university Disability Resource Office (DRO) and start receiving support from the beginning.

Interventions for college students with ADHD 

1. Accommodations

Accommodations are the set of non-pharmacological services that are offered to a student who is disadvantaged as a result of a medical condition, in this case, ADHD. In college, some accommodations are:

  • Assisted reading
  • Recording classes (the university may provide the recorder)
  • Provide written instructions
  • Ensure a quiet setting to take exams
  • Provide 1.5 times the standard time to complete the exams
  • Extend the delivery dates of assignments
  • Adapt the academic load to meet individual student needs
  • Give priority when selecting the course schedule each semester

Although accommodations are the most common form of helping students with ADHD succeed in the learning process, they aren’t necessarily focused on developing or improving skills. Some authors suggest that there isn’t enough evidence supporting their use because of the limited impact on student’s lives, so they feel that the accommodations must be accompanied by other interventions such as those described below.

2. Homework, Organizations, and Planning Skills (HOPS)

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The HOPS intervention is a variant of the Challenging Horizons Program (designed for high school students). This intervention is clearly focused on the development of organizational, time management, and planning skills. HOPS is developed from a behavioral therapeutic approach in which the student, guided by a health professional, sets realistic goals around the development of skills. The process is closely monitored, and the students receive rewards or punishments as they reach the goals proposed at each stage.

This intervention is intended to be completed in 16 sessions, all within one semester. Initially, two weekly sessions of 25 minutes each are held. In the middle of the process, most students reach a level of independence to reduce the number of sessions to one weekly. HOPS is a very structured intervention that works on the development of skills in a linear way, addressing each of them in an individual session.

This intervention has been shown to positively impact the acquisition of skills in students with ADHD, significantly improving performance in the academic environment. Studies indicate that the gains obtained from this intervention remain even months after the last session.

3. Note-taking and Self-Management

At the university level, not all students with ADHD have developed note-taking and self-management skills, and the new demands for these skills often exceed the students’ organizational capacity. It must be remembered that, on average at post-secondary schools, for each hour of class there are three hours of recommended study to read/review the content and complete the assignments. In addition, it is necessary to carry out an intervention that allows these students to improve their note-taking and self-management skills.

Both interventions are performed with the help of professionals such as psychologists or counselors trained in the field. In the case of notetaking, keeping an organized notebook involves learning to synthesize and outline information, take quick notes on key issues, and write down questions that arise at the time. These skills will best help the student use this information in the time allotted to study.

On the other hand, self-management is an intervention in which the student is trained to develop skills to adequately prepare for each activity; bring the necessary supplies, attend on time, and identify how they prepare and feel when facing tests or assignments. This will be a starting point for the intervention, to help identify what needs to be strengthened. Both interventions have been shown to have long-lasting effects on a student’s academic performance.

Sequencing interventions for college students with ADHD

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According to the Life Course Model, the interventions and services aimed at helping these students are organized into four layers. First, there needs to be an intervention in the environment to provide stability for the student both in the classroom and at home. Secondly, there are the interventions carried out at the institutional level with the guidance of professionals in the area. The third layer is the pertinent pharmacological interventions in each case. Finally, there are the accommodations.

Post-secondary education is an important stage in the social life of people. Promoting integration into clubs or sports activities can impact the development of social skills, self-discipline, and a sense of commitment to be meaningfully engaged with others.

Receiving help in the learning process and integration into the school environment can play a positive role in developing each student’s maximum potential.

As always, we recommend seeking out professional help by licensed or certified clinicians specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. In the case of colleges or universities, a good starting point would be to contact your student services department and student counseling center.

Animo Sano Psychiatry is open for patients in North Carolina and Georgia. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, please contact us.

Animo Sano Psychiatry is open for patients in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and New York. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, please contact us.

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