When people think of students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), they might think of a boy bouncing off a wall, unable to focus on his homework. But ADHD is much more complicated, say people planning ADHD Awareness Month, coming in October with free webinars and info sessions. For students, ADHD can bring particular challenges, whether sitting through a lecture or juggling homework. We spoke with Michele Novotni, chair of the ADHD Awareness Month Coalition, to discuss some of the misconceptions about ADHD.
What are some of the myths about ADHD?
We still have issues with people not thinking it’s a legitimate disorder. We have a fairly large group of people who think it’s not real. I think one of the problems is that most people can have ADHD-like symptoms some of the time. Somebody might forget their lunch, or somebody might be late for a meeting. Those things in the general world happen occasionally. For people with ADHD, making it through a lecture and really hearing what the person’s saying on a regular basis is nearly impossible. … My son has ADHD, and just watching him even get out of the door … Most of us, we do that automatically. For the clients we work with, they’re exhausted by the time they do that part. Nothing is really automatic for them.
What do people say to you, thinking ADHD is a myth?
“It’s normal behavior.” “Everybody does it.” “ADHD’s just an excuse.” Those are the common things that we hear. … There’s two forms of [ADHD]. One would be the hyperactive, impulsive kind, and most people can recognize that, the kids that are jumping around, the adults that are moving around constantly. They’re just a whirlwind of action. The ones that get missed a lot would be the inattentive. This is particularly true of women and girls. Most of them may have the inattentive kind of ADHD. [Skeptics] think if you’re not hyperactive, you can’t have ADHD. A typical boy jumping around is everybody’s image, but adults can have ADHD, and most of the adults haven’t been diagnosed yet.
How do these myths impact the students that do struggle with it?
It gets to be a challenge for them. Sometimes they’re reluctant to self identify. If you have a student who has ADHD, they’re eligible for accommodations. It may take them up to three times longer to do an assignment or a test. They can get note takers, sometimes books on tape, so there’s a number of accommodations that they could have to help them to stay organized and stay on track. A lot of them don’t want to disclose [that they have ADHD]. I think the myths actually stop people from talking to their doctor and getting diagnosed. … I think they impede people from living the lives they could live if their ADHD were better managed.
What signs should students look for?
The best thing they could do would to take the adult screener on our website (adhdawarenessmonth.org). The World Health Organization has a screener for ADHD. They can take the screener as a starting point. It doesn’t take the place of a proper diagnosis, but it’s a starting point. In the colleges, they could talk to a counselor or talk to the doctor.
What can colleges and universities do to help?
They could be making the getting the accommodations easier. Some of the schools require an expensive battery of tests. Overall, a number of the colleges do a pretty good job of letting the students sign up early for preferential classes, special tutoring and help with organization. It’s important for the kids to pick a good college match for them. If they look at disability services, some have two or three people and all kinds of services, and some have one part-time person a few hours a few days a week. … If they’re struggling with assignments, they could look into getting a coach. ADHD coaching is very helpful for a number of the students, because [before college] many of them have their parents helping to provide that structure for them. An ADHD coach can work with them. When I coached, I would get copies of their syllabus, we’d be talking about breaking things down. It’s just somebody else to help keep you on track.