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Navigating the Challenges of ADHD in University

People with ADHD often find that they struggle in academic settings; not because they’re not bright enough, but because the one-size-fits-all approach to education and learning techniques isn’t conducive with how their minds work. This can especially ring true at university.
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Navigating the Challenges of ADHD in University

27/01/2023
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People with ADHD often find that they struggle in academic settings; not because they’re not bright enough, but because the one-size-fits-all approach to education and learning techniques isn’t conducive with how their minds work. This can especially ring true at university.

Moving to university is a significant life change for everyone, and for people with ADHD, it can present a unique set of challenges. In fact, research has shown that students with ADHD are more likely to drop out of university due to overwhelming challenges that the new learning environment can present.

From leaving an existing social structure and joining a new one to learning a brand new schedule, remembering new academic materials, and figuring out how to live independently for the first time, university can be especially hard for people with ADHD.

That being said, many students with ADHD flourish at university once they know how to navigate some of the challenges that come with it. In this article, we’re going to speak more about ADHD at university and how you can overcome some of the obstacles you might face.

How Does ADHD Affect Academic Performance at University?

There are a number of ways in which ADHD can make studying difficult, with the primary way being the fact that people with ADHD often struggle with executive functioning challenges.

Executive functioning

Executive functioning skills are imperative for things like being able to effectively organise yourself, plan things, and manage your time. These are essential facets of being successful in a learning environment; particularly university where you’re in charge of the majority of your own schedule and you have a high level of self-autonomy. If you have ADHD, you might find it challenging to manage your time, organise your tasks, or prioritise your workload.

It’s not uncommon for students with ADHD to be late, miss deadlines, or forget about things. It’s not that they’re lazy or don’t want to, it’s because their executive functioning skills aren’t neurotypical and therefore they naturally struggle more with these aspects of life and learning.

Rejection sensitive dysphoria

Some students with ADHD may find that they have rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD). This is when criticism draws a strong emotional response, meaning people with ADHD who get feedback on their assignments may take it to heart and feel more put down by it, even if it’s constructive criticism. This can make it hard to take feedback on board. RSD can also affect social rejection.

Sensitivities and overstimulation

People with combined ADHD or hyperactivity ADHD may find it hard to concentrate in a university setting. Unlike at school, university lecture theatres can be large and full with hundreds of other students, many of whom might be eating, chattering, using laptops, or be on their phones. There are a lot of stimuli and distractions within university lecture halls and large seminar rooms, and this can make it hard for someone with ADHD to concentrate.

You might yourself trying as hard as you can to follow along with the lecture, the environment you’re in may not be conducive to how you learn best, meaning you struggle to keep up or might miss parts of the lecture because you’re distracted.

If you notice any of the above and think you might have ADHD, you can book an ADHD assessment for students here.

Key Challenges of Managing ADHD at University

There are many ways ADHD can affect your university experience and how it can cause issues for you socially, as well as academically. Some of the most common issues students with ADHD face when trying to manage their ADHD at university include:

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Waking up

There are days when we all struggle to get up and we snooze our alarms, but for people with ADHD, this can be a persistent issue. It could be that you stayed up too late and didn’t get enough sleep, or it might be that you got enough sleep but can’t seem to muster up the energy to get out of bed. You might have forgotten to set an alarm altogether. Whatever it might be, simply waking up and getting out of bed can be the biggest challenge for someone with adhd. This can result in you missing classes, missing social meetings, and feeling guilty because you don’t have any motivation.

Getting outside

If you manage to get up on time, you might find that getting out the door on time is your next biggest problem. When you only have yourself to rely on, it can be hard for you to get into new habits. For example, at home, your parents might’ve taken care of the laundry for you, so you always had clean clothes to go outside in. At university, you might find that you forget to do your laundry or feel overwhelmed by it so don’t do it, meaning you might not have clean clothes to go out in.

Time management

Whether you wake up late, can’t find any clothes, or simply get distracted midway through a task, time management can be a significant issue for people with ADHD. This can be tricky whilst at university because you might miss deadlines and lectures, or you might find that your peers take issue with your timekeeping skills when it comes to group work.

Overcoming the Challenges of ADHD at University: Tips and Strategies

ADHD can be overwhelming and challenging as a student, and it can seem very isolating if you’re struggling. However, there are a few different ways you can try and overcome some of the challenges that you might encounter. Some common treatments include:

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Medication

ADHD medication can be useful to help you to maintain focus if you’re struggling. There are a few different types of medication for ADHD, none of which cure the condition, but that can help you to maintain focus and be less impulsive.

Therapy and support

There are many different types of therapy that people with ADHD may find useful when trying to manage their condition. One of the main types of therapy is called psychoeducation and is primarily used to help children, teenagers, and adults with ADHD talk about their diagnosis and how it impacts their life.

In addition, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also help, especially when it comes to behavioural elements of ADHD. CBT can change the way you think or feel about something, helping you to identify negative thought patterns and see things in a different way.

Your university might have a student wellbeing or student therapy service that will be best placed to help you with this.

Time management and organisation tips

Time management and organisation can make up a large part of the challenges students with ADHD face. There are a few different things you can try to be more organised, however. They include:

  • Get your clothes ready the night before
  • Set multiple alarms that allow time for distractions
  • Remove all distractions for a set period of time so you can focus on the task at hand
  • Work on tasks in small bouts
  • Set up reminders on your phone for deadlines
  • Think about the consequences of being late/not doing something when deciding which tasks to prioritise

In terms of focus, there are also a few things you can look to do. These include:

  • Sit at the font of lectures to avoid getting distracted as easily
  • Record lectures in case you get distracted and forget to take notes
  • Buy a fidget toy so you can keep focused
  • Take regular breaks when working/studying
  • Remove all distractions where possible

You might find all of these tips useful or just a few of them, but it’s worth trying them to see if they help; particularly where timekeeping is concerned.

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Social support

University is a diverse place with people from all walks of life. There will be other students with ADHD that you can speak to and resonate with. Your university will have a student resources and support team who might be able to help you connect with people with ADHD, as well as point you in the direction of on-campus resources that are designed to help students with ADHD or any other type of condition or disability.

Another thing you can do is to join societies or groups that reflect your personal interests. It can be overwhelming to make friends at university, but there’s more than likely several people who share the same interests as you and who can help you find a sense of community, even when you’re away from home.

ADHD Student Help at The ADHD Centre

At The ADHD Centre, we have a team of specialists who are experts in helping university students with ADHD. They have years of experience in supporting people at university adjust and adapt to the struggles they may be facing. From supportive therapies to study and focus tips, we can help you if you’re moving to university or are at university and are struggling with your ADHD. To find out more, please get in touch with us by calling 0800 061 4276.

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