ESOK-hanke 2006-2011


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and higher education

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological brain activity impairment that is characterized by attention deficit, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Attention deficit can entail problems with understanding, retention, and reading and writing.

Every student's situation is unique. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder does not include just problems, but strengths as well. An ADHD student can be very creative, innovative and energetic, and not afraid to tackle new challenges.

Individual needs and strengths as well as how the lessons are planned determine how much support an ADHD student needs. Some of them complete their studies independently, with no help. A discussion between the teacher and the student is a good way to figure out effective teaching and studying practices.

Attention deficit can manifest itself as

  • careless mistakes
  • difficulties in concentrating
  • difficulty in listening to or following instructions
  • difficulty in starting assignments and finishing them.

Hyperactivity and impulsiveness can manifest as

  • instant reactions, acting before having time to think
  • difficulty in waiting for one's turn
  • answering questions before the speaker is even able to finish them
  • interruptions.

Challenges in independent studying:

  • Creating your own study schedule and following it.
  • Understanding how much time assignments require to complete them.
  • Finishing assignments that require concentration and perseverance.
  • Getting immersed in interesting assignments and pushing other things aside.

Interaction and counseling

Take multisensory communication methods into account in all your communication and teaching. Demonstrate your point in writing, read it out loud, and show or do as well.

  • Offer clear and precise information about the course structure, key dates, exam requirements and practicalities.
  • Go through the study-related instructions and practices with the student.
  • Don't take it personally if the student makes an offensive remark by accident - clarify and explain your point in a constructive manner.
  • If the student keeps interrupting you constantly with their questions, ask them to write down the things that come to mind and go back to these matters later.
  • If the student gets stuck, help them to move on from one assignment or task to the next one.
  • Give instant feedback that is supporting and positive. Encourage and motivate the student to keep working.
  • Guide and support the student periodically with creating their study schedule and following it.
  • Guide the student to utilize their study schedule, calendar, notebook and the time/diary features of their mobile phone to help them remember and plan things.
  • Guide and encourage the student to develop their studying skills.

Classes and lectures

Discuss and agree with the students on things that have an effect on concentration, for example how to move around without disturbing others and that the cellphones will be switched off in the class. An ADHD student gets easily distracted by the usual environmental stimuli alone, so it helps them to concentrate better if these stimuli are minimized and the student has a distraction-free seat.

There are many ways you can help students to learn and pay attention:

  • Deliver the lecture structure and written materials to students beforehand.
  • Direct the student's attention to the topic you are about to discuss.
  • Speak in a clear and calm manner, and keep to a single topic at a time.
  • Talk through the key points of your presentation at the beginning. Have breaks if your presentation is long.
  • Allow the students to move slightly if that helps them to concentrate better.
  • Allow the students to use assistive technology and make audio or visual records for studying purposes.
  • Demonstrate your point and use various learning materials, for example texts, images, video and audio.
  • Cut large assignments into smaller sub-assignments to be completed in order.

Ask the student what kind of study materials and methods help them to learn better. Group work and discussion are examples of methods that can help comprehension and learning.

Exam practices and grading

  • Inform students well beforehand about the materials they are required to study for the exams.
  • Let the students know as soon as possible what options they have to demonstrate they have learned the required things, for example an oral presentation or exam or a learning assignment.
  • Tell the students clearly what the key points of the lectures and study modules are, so that they can concentrate on the essentials.

With exams, note:

  • Inform students clearly about the exam instructions and the time they have at their disposal. If needed, give them extra time.
  • The students should have the opportunity to use assistive technology, such as a computer with a text editor.
  • A calm environment, earplugs if needed.
  • Give the students the option to have short breaks so they can move a bit, as this helps them to stay alert.
  • Content-based exams should have the option for grading that doesn't reduce points for spelling mistakes.

Many practices that promote accessibility help all the students - take a look at other guides on

More information:

ADHD-liitto ry - ADHD-association in Finland

Seminars in English

Seminar On Human Rights and Persons with Disabilities in Higher Education

2 December 2009 at 11.00 - 16.3, PharmaCity, Lecture Hall 1, Itäinen Pitkäkatu 4, Turku

The seminar programme >>

Accessibility is for everyone

The third national accessibility seminar organized by ESOK project will be held in Helsinki on 6.-7. May 2009. The number of participants at the moment 112.

Accessibility is for everyone > >