By Robert Tudisco, Edge Foundation Executive Director
I wish I knew back in college what I know now about living with ADHD. I had to learn ways to cope the hard way because I wasn’t diagnosed until many years after I completed school. Since my diagnosis I’ve developed many skills that have made a huge difference in my life. Here are four survival skills I’ve discovered that any college student with ADHD can use to make college more productive and stress free.
Many of my prelaw classes had heavy reading requirements that pushed my ADHD brain to its limit. I tried everything I could think of to stay focused, but my mind always wandered and I struggled with comprehension and staying on task.
Then in senior year, a friend of mine who worked in an accounting firm mentioned that her firm routinely handed out foam earplugs for reading tax code. The text was very boring and she said that it helped her stay focused. I immediately went to the store and bought some.
When I inserted the earplugs into my ears, it was like shutting off the world so I could actually climb into what I was reading. The effect was amazing. Those small inexpensive foam earplugs got me through the rest of college, law school and the bar exam.
After law school, an office setting presented a new challenge: I couldn’t just shut it off. Phones were ringing, people asked questions and my earplugs were of little use. I experimented with sound machines and music to filter out distractions. After much trial and error, I determined that classical and guitar music struck the balance that I was looking for.
The important thing to note is that I didn’t give up. I thought about my focus challenge. I tried – failed – and tried again. My thought process and commitment made all the difference.
Another useful tool I use that also helps with procrastination is outlining. If, like me, you’ve tried and given up on lists because they are long and intimidating, give outlining a try. Outlines help me understand how each task is connected and provides me with a map for getting there. I outline everything that I do, from articles to case briefs to scheduling my day.
- An outline provides the structure my ADHD craves for whatever project or time frame that I need to plan.
- An outline provides a hierarchy of concepts and shows how they are related to each other.
- An outline breaks down projects to smaller subprojects and thereby makes them less intimidating. Often the hardest part of task is getting started. Breaking the project into the smallest components makes this much easier.
After my diagnosis with ADHD, I went back and looked at my school transcripts and tried to correlate the times that I got the best grades with what was going on outside of school. I quickly saw a pattern. During the times when my grades were highest in college and law school, I was running to relieve my stress.
After this realization I embraced running and made it a part of my life. I regularly run 4 to 5 days per week for approximately an hour. My running helps me organize my thoughts and plan out how I am going to approach situations.
In recent years, research has shown that exercise can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, depression and other disorders. Integrate exercise into your daily life. If you keep at it, you’ll find it centers you, reduces your stress and brings you the clarity you need to move forward.
One of the most important things that I have discovered in my journey to work with my ADHD is I need help to establish the structure, support and accountability that my ADHD mind so desperately needs. That’s why I have worked with many different ADHD coaches since my diagnosis.
ADHD coaches offer an objective perspective on the challenges of ADHD. They help us recognize and develop our talents, and learn where and why we struggle. Each of my coaches has made a huge difference in how I approach obstacles while building my confidence about the specific talents that I have.
College is a key time to learn skills to work with your ADHD because it is much less structured than high school – especially for those students living away from home for the first time. You may not have even realized all of the daily support your parents were providing until you are in over your head freshman year. Even students who are extremely intelligent are at high risk because college requires new levels of self imposed structure and accountability.
An ADHD coach who specializes in the needs of high school and college students can provide the structure, support and accountability you need, not just to survive in college, but to reach your full potential throughout your life.
YOU CAN OVERCOME THE OBSTACLES OF ADHD
As someone with ADHD who has struggled all of his life with the challenges it has provided, I am living proof that there are ways to successfully address these obstacles. The key is to understand yourself, be willing to try new things, reflect about how you respond to situations and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Keep that perspective and you will learn to gravitate toward your strengths and to avoid your weaknesses. And always remember you are not alone. There are a lot of us out there just like you. Good luck!