Published on ADDitudeMag.com

Adjusting to College as a Young Adult With ADHD

College requires self-advocacy, time management, and good memory skills -- all of which are challenges for me, thanks to ADHD. Can I learn to cope with my symptoms and get my act together before my grades start to suffer?

by Henry Greene


It’s Tuesday morning, my first day of the semester, and I’ve already managed to fall 24 hours behind schedule. On Monday, which was technically the first day of classes, downed trees, courtesy of hurricane Irene, kept me stranded in my living room while my would-be classmates jotted down the semester’s first assignments. (I commute to Temple University from Philadelphia’s suburbs. We got slammed, as did much of Philly, but my school’s campus, where most students live, was miraculously unscathed.)

The students who made it on Monday grumbled about it, I’m sure. But they’re lucky: I’d kill to know what my assignments are.

I find out at 11 a.m. in Survey of American Literature I. Well, more like 11:05 a.m., thanks to my perpetual tardiness, courtesy of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). No matter. My teacher didn’t forget about me. On the only empty desk in the room, where I slide in hoping to go unnoticed, a pop quiz is waiting:

Compare and contrast the Pima people’s creation myth with the Iroquois tribe’s creation myth. Finish by 11:10 a.m.

Now I know what my assignment was!

Welcome to college.

This is where I should have pleaded my case. As if having ADD/ADHD isn't challenging enough in college, how’s a Category 3 hurricane holding me hostage in my house for an excuse for an extension or extra time on the quiz? Alas, in lecture halls that regularly top 100 students, only the boldest self-advocates get free passes on homework and quizzes. My ADD/ADHD self, always feeling like any setback I encounter is my own fault, is not the boldest self-advocate. (Yes, Henry, just like lost term papers and missed deadlines, the hurricane, too, is your fault!)

I scribble something hopelessly off base on my quiz and hand it in. But the worst of the brutal adjustment back to college life is nowhere near finished.

I wake up at 6 a.m. on Wednesday -- a miraculous feat for an ADHDer -- and head in to Temple. I’m sure to make it on time to the first day of my new tutoring job! I tell myself. At 8:30 a.m., after downing my third Starbucks, I remember a minor detail: I’m more than on time -- I’m early. A week early. The tutoring center opens during the second week of classes. I try unsuccessfully to finish my sleep cycle on a library couch. 

Come Thursday, I’m ready to start anew. Time to get something right! I tell myself. I spend all morning diligently reading an assignment for my class Race on Stage.

Actually, I spend all morning waiting in line to buy the book containing the Race on Stageassignment, realizing I don’t have $90 to fork over for the paperback book, running to the library to try to get said book for free, finding only the wrong edition of said book, and finally scoping out the reading on an Internet database and taking careful notes. And for what? Finding out, come class, that -- and I kid you not -- I’ve once again followed the schedule of the wrong week! I fail another pop quiz.

This isn’t how I’d hoped my first week would go.

As you might have read in my previous post, I can’t afford to be my typical time-management train wreck. I’m writing for Temple’s PR department and tutoring students at the writing center while juggling two columns and hoisting a full load of coursework.

I need structure, but I can’t seem to find it.

I have a dream only an ADHDer could have: I want to wake up each morning knowing exactly what needs to get done. I want to get it done. And I want to know, with absolute certainty, that I’m not forgetting a thing. Especially anything important, like that six-page paper due next class.

Dream on, Henry. The truth is, I’m back to my old ways: wandering from class to class, wondering when I’m going to get smacked from behind with another grade-making or grade-deflating surprise.

I don’t like getting smacked. I need to learn the art of self-defense -- against myself and my ADD/ADHD.

I am drafting a survival plan. It is in its nascent stages. By my next post, I’ll have put it into practice and I’ll be ready to share the results.

Let operation College Survival commence.


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