How students cope with ADHD

Attention Defecet Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a real, but often misunderstood condition, affecting students of all ages, including those in university and college. Commonly thought of as a childhood disorder, many who see symptoms at a later stage in life don’t register a potential for diagnosis.

“Most people would say that you are born with it, because it’s a brain based disorder, with some immaturity in certain parts of the brain. Technically, and this is the part that’s crazy, there is no such thing as ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder],” said psychologist Kris Pryke. “It’s all called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, with what they call subtypes — people tend to remove the ‘H’ to differentiate between them — predominately inattentive subtypes, hyperactive subtypes and then a combination of both. So a lot of times, for people with the full hyperactive type, their parents will describe them as being really busy as a child — they learn to crawl and then learn to run.”

Thus, certain cases will often be diagnosed earlier in life, whereas others will see symptoms into early adulthood. Pryke continued, “People that don’t have the hyperactive symptoms, who are predominately inattentive, are the ones who tend to get diagnosed later. They may not notice it in school at first, because they’re not running around or causing problems, but will gradually start having more troubles in school finishing assignments and that sort of thing.”

Regardless of the subtype, Pryke emphasized the impact ADHD can have on an individual’s daily life — specifically school and studying. For university and college students specifically, coping with stress is vital for success yet can be made difficult with ADHD.

“With the disorder, they can sometimes be impulsive and unable to appreciate consequences well. So sometimes what happens is they underestimate how long it takes to do something so a project or studying can be left until the last minute,” said Pryke. “They then may have trouble controlling their emotions, so they kind of explode — or things can sneak up on them in a big rush of emotions. It isn’t always this way but they do kind of go together.”

For these reasons, proper diagnosis at the onset of symptoms is essential.
“If I was struggling with it and I needed help, I would want to have it properly diagnosed first and then move on from there,” said clinical social worker and therapist Lynne Steffy.

For students unsure of how to get an assessment, Steffy noted, “A good place to go is to a psychologist to do the full testing if you have that luxury. It can get expensive without insurance, but a lot of people who are in university, between 17 – 21, sometimes up until 23, are still under their parents’ coverage and may have insurance for that testing.”

Beyond diagnosis there are many resources to help strategize and manage the disorder into the future. Steffy mentioned the role of social work and counseling as a means of support. “If you went to a social worker who specialized in this, it would help strategize and come up with support around what you’re going through around it, and coming up with ways of coping well with it. You can strategize, you can go see a counselor, you can go read books on it — there are a lot of options. I have friends who take medication for it and they find it really helps them as well. It’s all subjective depending on the case.”

A new survey, conducted by Angus Reid, revealed that one third of Ontario students polled believe that ADHD is often used as an excuse, further propagating the stigma around the disorder.

According to Pryke, students fail to realize that what may seem socially stigmatizing is actually highly manageable.

“There are some parts of ADHD that work really well for people,” she said. “They like to be active and busy and involved in a whole bunch of different activities. So some people that have ADHD choose a job or a profession that can be really good for them, such as truck drivers, police officers or in the entertainment business — something where they have lots of changes of scenery and things that keep them interested.”

Pryke also noted that while students with ADHD can benefit from some of the standard study skills workshops, there isn’t a lot out there specifically aimed at them.

“Sometimes counselling centres at universities will have workshops on time management or study skills which would be applicable,” she said. “But as for specific support groups for students, I haven’t heard of one in this community. Although I think it would be a great idea.”

Steffy had a similar opinion, but presents the idea on a school level, rather than a neighbouring community.

“They may be great for universities to put into place, so students could support, share and teach each other their strategies for dealing with the disorder,” she said.

As for individuals using ADHD as an excuse, Pryke concluded, “I’ve seen it go both ways for sure, but most people I know that have ADHD don’t use it as an excuse. They’re really trying to cope as best as they can and be productive just like anybody else.”

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