ADHD support at third level: ‘It’s better to get help, even if you feel babied’

How can students with ADD or ADHD make the most of their college experience?

Diego Coyle: ‘I’d advise taking up a precision sport. I took up archery and it helped me to study better.  It’s a sport that requires a lot of attention and it has helped me focus without my meds.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Diego Coyle: ‘I’d advise taking up a precision sport. I took up archery and it helped me to study better. It’s a sport that requires a lot of attention and it has helped me focus without my meds.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

There are a number of supports available to students with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in colleges around the country. All are there to help you make the most of your college experience, both academically and socially.

Register yourself

Make sure that your first port of call is to register with the college’s disability or access office. “Some people can get very worried about disclosure, that it would go against them, but it doesn’t,” says Ann Heelan, executive director of Ahead, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability.

“All the colleges have very clear policies about equality and support. Students just need to go along and let them know that they have a condition.”

The office may already be aware, from your CAO form, that you will need assistance and the staff may contact you. If they do, make sure you answer the phone; they deal with a lot of students and may not be in a position to follow up with another call.

To receive support you’ll usually have to provide verification of your disability from a registered consultant or specialist.

What kind of supports can I get?

This can differ from college to college and depend on the severity of your condition. Some people may need to organise special exam conditions such as extra time, a smaller room or the use of educational technology.

Others may need to access specialist programmes such as those that help with study skills, assistive technology, maths and writing support centres.

In some colleges, such as DIT, TCD and DCU, students can avail of the Unilink programme. This is a private, practical therapy support service to help students organise themselves with completing assignments, buying groceries or just getting to lectures on time.

Settling in

“Orientations are really important,” says Heelan. “Some colleges may organise special orientations for students with ADD/ ADHD and most colleges provide introductions on everything from finding your way around, to academic referencing and note taking. “Make sure you avail of these.”

How to keep on top of course work

It is important that you get a clear timetable and know when and where your lectures are. Once your lectures start, know your assignment deadlines and link in with your lecturers or disability/access office for extra help or tutoring if you need it. Use a calendar or an app to flag key dates for assignments.

Living away from home

“Students will have to fend for themselves, shop, cook and not neglect themselves,” says Heelan.

“They will have to manage a budget and make sure they are getting proper food. It might be useful for parents to go through that with them, give them shopping lists and work out how much they need. There are apps out there that students can use to help them organise and plan, be it a budget or keeping track of course work.

Social life

Joining a club or society can be one of the best ways to make new friends. Join something that you’re interested in and you already have got a lot in common with other students. It’s just about taking that first step, signing up and then showing up.

 

Diego Coyle (23) is a final-year BSc student of psychology through science, at Maynooth University

My ADHD is quite severe. When I went to college it was like being set free, and that was the biggest problem I found. I didn’t have to be in class; I chose to be there, which made it difficult.

Then trying to concentrate in a hall with 200 people was hard. I’d be sitting in class with people around me talking or clicking pens; it’s really distracting.

The access office is brilliant and they helped me in every way they could. They gave me a recorder to tape the lectures – but don’t let these pile up, make your notes as you go.

They also gave me tutors for subjects I was finding difficult. In second and third year I didn’t use these, because I wanted to see if I could do it myself, but I wish I had availed of them.

I’m going to get tutoring again this year. It’s better to get help, even if you feel babied. At the end of the day, it’s the grade that matters.

When I first moved to college, I couldn’t cook or clean, I was so distracted.

I had to get used to being by myself, taking care of myself.

Now I make a big timetable of my daily chores. I put a sticky note on it every time I complete one of the tasks. It might sound old-fashioned, but I need something that is constantly in my face. I also make lists for whatever I need, especially when I’m food shopping.

Apps are useful (just Google “ADHD timetable”). I do use these, but even sometimes I miss my lecture because I snooze the alarm. My friends help me, though, and text me reminders a few minutes before class.

I’d advise taking up a precision sport. I took up archery and it helped me to study better.

It’s a sport that requires a lot of attention and it has helped me focus without my meds. I wasn’t very good when I started out, but now I take part in international competitions.

One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is, don’t be afraid. Just keep persevering; your grades will get better and it’ll pay off.

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