"I'm getting so much better at uni Michele. I'm working WITH, my ADHD now instead of against it. Actually, sometimes I can even make my ADHD work FOR me!"
Words of wisdom spoken by Stuart, a student in my PhD study. In fact, Stuart was a key participant. He was extremely self-observant, constantly taking note of what study strategies helped and hindered him, and always sharing his insights so generously. This enabled me to learn more about ADHD alongside him, and to formulate very valuable interview questions for other participants in my study, as they, too, negotiated their journey through academia:
- Margo learned that she needed to attend every lecture, then go directly to the library to consolidate her copious notes.
- Trevor learned that it was impossible for him to concentrate in large lecture theatres, and deemed it a frustrating waste of time to be at lectures in the mornings when his medication was working at its peak, He chose, therefore, to visit the library during his lecture periods and make notes about the relevant materials from assigned texts. He would then listen to the recorded i-lecture at a later stage to consolidate his knowledge.
- Mary learned to study her anatomy by reciting it aloud and moving the corresponding parts of her body - clearly not in the library.
- Helen associated colours with each subject, and kept the same colours each year, in order to remain organised.
- Michael told me that colours had no significance for him, and chose a symbol to help him quickly identify each subject.
- Simon discovered that mindmaps (which were far too elaborate and complicated for me to understand) were his best tool. He was able to picture them in his head during exams and recall all of the information he had studied.
So how can you make your ADHD work FOR you at university?
The good news is that its much easier than it was at school. Why? Because there is much more flexibility. This means that there are more opportunities to modify the way you interact with the information on offer, and opportunites to be assessed in ways that make it easier to prove that you "know your stuff". Here are some examples:
- If, like Stuart, you learn better by reading than by listening, you have the option to do so.
- If you are a "morning person" or an "afternoon person", you can structure your timetable, to take advantage of your best time of day.
- If you find yourself in that magical "hyperfocus" zone, between lectures, you can take advantage of that by attending an alternative lecture instead of interrupting your flow.
- Lecturers normally publish notes on the student portal before lectures. This means you can prepare before the lecture - get your head around the material before it comes at you in the lecture.
- You can often request special considerations for assessments. For example, if handwriting is problematic, due to ADHD or a co-existing Learning Disorder, you can apply for permission to use a computer during assessments. Some students are also given permission to use voice-to-text software, such as Dragon, in assessments. Extra time is normally granted for students with ADHD.
But it's not all good news. As my PhD study participants discovered, (along with many of my clients), you have to be awfully organised to take advantage of all the flexibility university has to offer. While schools can be very rigid, they are also very structured. For example:
- Late assignments at school are reported to parents in "notes of concern", and frequent reminders keep students on track in the weeks and days preceeding due dates. Late assignments at university incur heavy penalties, and eventually zero marks.
- Timetables can only be modified if you remember to log onto your portal in a timely fashion. If you fail to get yourself organised early, you could be stuck with lectures in your least favourite time slot.
- And how do you identify your favourite time slot / processing style / organisational method etc, when you have had no opportunity to experiment?
- Recognise how ADHD affects YOU - which is not necessarily how it affects others.
- Examine your study and living habits and identify strategies that will work for YOU.
- Work with you to devise a system to get you organised.
- Provide accountability to KEEP you organised.
- Ultimately manage all of this without his or her input.
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