Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention

Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention Department

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological disability that is diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, and medical doctors. Although the cause is not definitively understood, research in recent years has mounted to indicate that ADHD symptoms are the result of malfunctions in brain chemistry processes and may involve a genetic predisposition to the disorder. Characteristics of the disorder are inappropriate degrees of:

  • Inattention,
  • Impulsiveness, and
  • Hyperactivity

To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must have appeared in childhood, be chronic in nature, and not be attributable to other physical, mental, or emotional causes. Like other students with non-visible disabilities, students with ADHD may have long histories of being misunderstood.

Sometimes young adults have struggled for years and have been labeled as lazy, stupid, spacy, or just difficult. They may have tried to control their symptoms in a variety of unproductive ways or may have denied problems and refused help to avoid embarrassment and stigma.

For some young adults, ADHD may be undiagnosed until it begins to cause serious problems in post-secondary education or employment. Once treatment is initiated, students are sometimes able to make sudden and dramatic gains in their performance. In other cases, however, years of problems have contributed to low self-esteem, social difficulties, and academic struggles. It is common for ADHD to coexist with other learning, psychological, or neurobiological disabilities that further compound a student’s academic challenges.

New college students with ADHD may be anxious about the increased expectations in post-secondary education. Sometimes this is expressed in the form of frustration or blame. Because students with ADHD may have difficulty with change, complex procedures, and rules, they might appear to be unwilling or uncooperative. Few people truly understand the great difficulty that even many motivated adults with ADHD have performing according to conventional measures.

To succeed in college, students with ADHD may need some combination of developmental skill building, organizational and study skills development, medication, therapy, and coaching.

Classroom Strategies

  • Have the student choose seating that optimizes attention and concentration. This will often (but not always) be in front.
  • Make eye contact to ensure maximum attention prior to calling on the student.
  • Establish positive rapport. Patient and encouraging interaction with instructors might have been infrequent, and it could be a powerful incentive to a student more accustomed to discouragement and frustration.
  • Make instructions understandable by being clear and explicit. Structure and organization are especially useful. If necessary, repeat or suggest that students write information down, or offer to do so if the student wishes your assistance.
  • Recognize that a student who seems bored or distracted may not be acting willfully disrespectful.


Problem Practices

After class, the chemistry instructor pulled aside student he'd seen tape recording the lecture and explained that he wouldn't allow taping. It made him uncomfortable to have a record of his whole lecture. He also believed it unfair to other students, though in truth the instructor thought that anyone not taking notes was unlikely to pass his course. When he told the student that he wouldn't be able to tape, the student stammered that he had ADHD, was registered with DSPS, and needed to tape the lecture. Although the teacher was sympathetic to disabled students (in fact his daughter had diabetes, so he knew about health problems), he really questioned this whole ADHD business. After all, who knew if it was a real condition? Besides, other students had volunteers to take notes; that should be adequate. The student would just have to try to find a note-taker.

The instructor presumes to know about disability while actually being misinformed. He is apparently unaware of the Senate policy and other legal obligations to permit taping. Finally, he equates taping and note-taker service as equivalent accommodations without consulting the student or the disability experts to determine what is actually appropriate.


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Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention Building:

Last Updated: 6/14/17