Heading Back to School

Four key strategies for assembling the team you’ll need to succeed at school and at home.

Going Back to School as an Adult with ADHD
Going Back to School as an Adult with ADHD

School. The very word can strike fear in the heart of a woman with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD).

Whether you are a recent high school graduate or you’re going back after taking time out to work and start a family, heading to college or to any other adult-learning program is likely to churn up a lot of emotion. If you were diagnosed in adulthood, you may associate school with struggling or failing. And you probably worry about how you’ll juggle household obligations along with homework.

Making the decision to go back to school shows you have the determination you’ll need. With a little preparation, you’ll be sure to succeed.

Assignment #1: Assess your strengths and weaknesses.

Pinpointing how attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) affects the way you learn and manage your time will help you to complete coursework and assignments (and to hand them in). Think back on your last school experience. What types of work gave you trouble? Were lectures difficult to sit through? Essay tests? In which classes were you able to do your best? Enroll in a mix of courses that balance your workload and that draw on your strengths.

REAL-LIFE TIP: Find out what kinds of assignments each department-and each instructor-generally gives. If writing long essays is hard for you, limit the number of classes that will require lengthy reports. If lectures are a problem, don’t load up on them in a single semester. (And invest in a handheld tape recorder.)

Assignment #2: Look into accommodations.

No matter what creative strategies you develop to work around trouble spots, certain weaknesses that are rooted in ADHD symptoms can still present challenges. But at the post-secondary level, you shouldn’t have to worry about penmanship. Instead, you can take essay tests in your school’s computer lab.

If you have difficulties that can’t be surmounted by savvy scheduling and other self-taught strategies, I urge you to disclose your disorder to your school’s disabilities office and find out how to qualify for services. In addition to psychological testing that documents the attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) diagnosis, your school may request psychometric testing that addresses intellectual functioning, learning style, and academic strengths and weaknesses.

Accommodations for students with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) or learning disabilities may include extended time for tests, oral exams, a peer tutor, or a note-taker who accompanies you to classes. Experiment with the services offered to find what works.

REAL-LIFE TIP: Take advantage of the student orientation period to introduce yourself to instructors. Let them know what accommodations you’ve been granted and come up with a plan for putting them in place. For example, if you need a quiet testing environment, decide whether you’ll take exams in the professor’s office or an empty classroom.

Assignment #3: Assemble your support team.

This might include your physician, therapist, tutor, coach, or any other professionals you could turn to for help in setting long- and short-term goals, prioritizing, and addressing your needs.

Don’t overlook the valuable resource that will surround you-your classmates. Get to know a few who seem to have their acts together. Exchange phone numbers and e-mail addresses, so you’ll be able to clarify an assignment or borrow notes, if necessary. Join or form your own study groups.

Assignment #4: Get help from home.

As a mom, you may be used to doing it all. But that won’t be possible if you’re going back to school. Discuss your academic goals with family members and work out a game plan for sharing household chores and other tasks. Having a specific plan will ensure that your family’s needs are addressed when you’re at school or studying. (See Mom’s Action Plan.)

Assignment #5: Re-think your medication.

Going back to school will inevitably introduce some new patterns, such as staying up later to study. Work with your physician to create an optimal treatment plan, based on your needs and schedule. While you may have been successful in the past without medication, new demands can change the way you address the disorder.

Assignment #6: Gather the right tools.

Choose the planner you know works best for you and carry it with you at all times, even when you’re not heading to class. Buy a handheld recorder for taping lectures. Since you, not the school, own your books now, feel free to mark them up in any way that helps you focus on important information. If you’ve got a heavy reading load, see which books on your list are available in audio format and rent them.

REAL-LIFE TIP: If your school offers non-credit courses in time management and study skills, take them. While you may not want to display your SparkNotes version of a lengthy text at the seminar table, don’t hesitate to use these guides to supplement-and, occasionally, replace-reading full texts.

Implementing just a few coping strategies will go a long way toward academic success.