My most important advice for surviving college with ADHD: Get learning disability accommodations!
by Rebeka Covell
The hardest thing for me in college (besides leaving my family) was getting my homework done on time. So now, I offer you my many failed and a few successful strategies to complete your homework before 3am.
Lesson One: If you only follow one piece of my advice please, please, please let it be this: get learning disability accommodations!! Take it from someone who decided they’d be fine without any help and then went running to the disability services office after she was already in danger of failing three classes. Don’t wait, get the accommodations, and if you feel like you’re doing fine without them you don’t have to use them.
Also, a tip if you’re worried you don’t have the proper paperwork to register for accommodations: if you just go and talk to the counselor, you can probably get temporary accommodations until the paperwork is finalized. Formal psychiatric testing doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. The school psychiatrist meets you for an hour, writes up a few papers and faxes it over to the disability office and (at least at my school) you don’t have to pay anything. At my school, temporary accommodations were time-and-a-half on tests and full accommodations could include things like special tutoring, time management counseling, and even note-takers in class.
Getting time-and-a-half on exams is great but it’s not the be-all end-all when you still have papers and homework that count for 60% of your final grade. One thing that really helped me get my homework done on time was having a time management tutor.
She sat with me and made color-coded charts with class time, homework time, fun time, and sleep time all laid out in 15-minute increments. After a few weeks I made the schedule on my own (she even taught me not to spend more than 20 minutes planning my week so I don’t obsess over every little detail.) The tutoring sessions were held in the academic resource building, which had a conference-room-style library with big tables and a bright sunny view. After a few weeks of scheduling, I would plan to go to the tutoring library to work on homework during the day. At set times the tutor would check in to make sure I was making progress with my work. This forced me to stay at the library, and get work done for the full scheduled time.
Lesson Two: I’ve come up with some interesting ways to keep my focus during class. I always have my gum close at hand. Also, my notebooks are full of doodles in the margins. I like to keep my hands moving even when I’m not writing notes. Often, I don’t even look up at the teacher once he or she starts lecturing. If I look up at the teacher I’m distracted by the weather or the kid two rows over who’s eating that bagel; which reminds me that I’m starving. I once had a psychology class held in a huge lecture hall in which I found it impossible to concentrate for the full 90 minutes. I started bringing my iPod and listening to it very quietly in one ear. I know it sounds weird, but listening to the music and the teacher simultaneously actually helped me focus more attention on the teacher. If I found myself spacing out the change in songs jolted me back to attention, instead of losing the rest of the class completely.
I guess the main thing with classwork and homework is experimenting with different techniques until you find what works best for you. The only important thing is that you get help; no matter how well you think you will do. Not to be a downer, but I know all too well how easy it is to ignore a problem until it’s too big to fix. Having someone to check in on you helps keep you on track. Even if it’s emailing your paper to your parents after you finish each page; they’ll notice if a 15 page paper is due in a week and you’ve only sent them the title.