Are you easily distracted? Do you struggle with getting organized when you have a paper to write? Do you tend to forget appointments or frequently lose your keys or phone? Do you feel like your mind is a motor that is constantly revving?
Then it’s possible that you have ADD. The only way to know for certain is to be assessed by a mental health professional. This typically involves a few interviews, some psychological tests, as well as an interview with a parent or someone else who can describe your early school history.
Other conditions exist that produce some of the same symptoms of ADD. A few examples are anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and bipolar disorder. A formal evaluation is usually able to tease out ADD from these other disorders. And it’s possible for ADD to co-exist along with other mental health issues.
Many students do not discover that they have ADD until they encounter the lack of structure and increased demands of college. Prior to college such students are often able to do reasonably well in school through sheer intelligence and persistence. The good news is that most students with ADD are able to be successful in college by developing good coping strategies and work habits and accessing proper support. Many go on to earn graduate degrees or other professional degrees. You shouldn’t let ADD stop you from aspiring to do great things.
Edward Hallowell, M.D., a psychiatrist who himself has ADD, says that one of the keys to a successful life for those with ADD is to find a career path that one feels passionate about. The intrinsic interest provided by a passionate pursuit can help a person with ADD overcome their difficulty sustaining attention and motivation. In fact, Hallowell believes that many of the most creative people have ADD. Just google “famous people with ADD” and see what you come up with. You may be surprised.
While medication may not be for everyone, it is the most effective treatment for ADD. I have witnessed amazing results in students with ADD once they start taking prescribed medication. It’s as if a switch is turned on, and suddenly they are able to sit still in class, focus and sustain attention. One current challenge is the fact that the illicit use of Adderall has made it less available to those who really need it. Keep in mind that drugs like Adderall have a different effect on those who have ADD and those who simply use it to write a paper or cram before finals.
Lifestyle changes also can be very helpful for those who have ADD. Exercise, good nutrition, and getting enough sleep all help improve a person’s ability to focus — especially those with ADD. Some students with ADD find that they can sit down and hammer out a paper much more easily after a good workout. The opposite is also true. When a person with ADD isn’t getting enough sleep, gets little to no exercise, and eats a diet rich in carbohydrates and sugars instead of protein, their ability to focus will deteriorate even further.
The Counseling Center is a good place to start if you think you might have ADD. Another helpful resource on campus is the Accessible Education Center (AEC). If you have documented ADD, the AEC can help with adaptive technology and academic accommodations.
Don’t let feelings of discouragement stop you from seeking resources that can help you achieve your ambitions and enjoy your time in college.
Mark Evans, Ph.D.