Going beyond the label
The terms Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be misleading as they suggest a shortfall or a deficiency in attendance, whereas in reality “it is not that ADDers do not attend - they just attend to everything!” (Derrington, C., 2017).
There is also a tendency to associate ADD/ADHD with becoming easily distracted. Again it can be useful to flip this notion and recognise that if your brain ‘attends to everything’, this results in having to work much harder to avoid distraction. This ‘distraction’ can take the form of external stimuli, where environmental factors compete for attention, or the individual’s own thought processes, which can be hard to screen out.
Practical Strategies for Supporting Students with ADD/ADHD
It's not always possible to alter environmental factors so being aware of, or attempting to reduce potential triggers that may compete for a student’s attention may be useful (e.g. light background noise).
For some students physical movement or ‘fiddling’ can aid processing, rather than undermining focus or concentration.
Task (rather than time) management
A desire to ‘attend to everything’ can result in difficulties in making decisions because several possible answers, solutions or ways forward can always be justified. It's useful to help the student to focus on tangible, short-term steps rather than long-term plans. This may be particularly useful in postgraduate study where working processes and procedures can be drawn out, and goals can be implicit rather than explicit.
Agreeing on a concrete starting point with clearly identified mini-milestones can help with prioritisation and aid progress.
Frequent reminders about timescales can help students to match tasks to the time available.
Organisational props, such as visual reminders, prioritised lists and Gantt style charts can help students to break down processes and take control of the steps involved.
Managing information overload
If you emphasise context or reminders relating to the wider point of reference during lectures it can be really useful. This provides students with a framework to link and thread together different pieces of information.
Dividing lectures into discernible ‘chunks’ can allow the student to compartmentalise and organise the information they are processing.
You could emphasise critical pieces of information , so these do not get lost or overlooked.
Assignment development and feedback
When researching and planning for assignments, students with ADD/ADHD can have a tendency to not alter their focus until they are satisfied that they cannot improve or have found every last possible piece of the jigsaw. This can lead to generating too much content which is then hard to structure and sequence. Strict parameters for research or reading can be helpful to address this.
Clear and precise feedback through the use of colour coded formulas for paragraph building (e.g. PEA - Point, Evidence, Analysis) can really help with assignments as this can provide the student with a memorable visual aid to make sure there is greater control over the process of organising and sequencing their ideas and developing their academic writing style.
With thanks to the University of Worcester and Dr Chris Derrington at University College Northampton.