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Summary: Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD/ADD)

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What do we mean by ADD/ADHD

Inattention and impulsivity are the main characteristics of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with hyperactivity an additional characteristic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The characteristics are not seen to the same degree in all people diagnosed with ADHD and healthcare professionals recognise that there are 3 main combinations of characteristics:

  • Some people have predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type (ADHD).
  • Some have predominantly inattentive type (ADD)
  • And some have a combined type (this makes up the majority of ADHD cases).

For the purposes of this summary we will refer to the banket term of ADHD for all three types of profile.

Unlike dyspraxia and dyslexia, which often co-exist with ADHD and have some common impacts on students, some aspects of ADHD can respond to medication.

Students with ADHD are likely to have impaired working memory and processing speed and issues with executive functioning.  


Common issues with ADD/ADHD may include the following:

  • Inattention – disrupted by their own thoughts or daydreaming, moving quickly onto new topics of conversation and producing work that is of variable quality.
  • Impulsiveness, including finishing people’s sentences and/or interrupting.
  • Intrusive thoughts and ideas reducing focus and concentration.
  • Hyper focus on certain tasks or activities in short bursts
  • Short-term memory – poor note-taking ability, inability to learn from mistakes or draw on previous experience and difficulty in following instructions.
  • Slow handwriting and typing skills
  • Mood swings – ranging from restlessness and fidgety behaviour to procrastinating (affecting coursework and revision for examinations).
  • Difficulty maintaining focus and discipline. Poor organisation and time management. Risk-taking.
  • Interpersonal relationships and emotional functioning – students may appear sociable but friendships can be superficial.
  • Issues associated with medication – this can affect sleep patterns.
  • Low mood and depression as a result of “things going wrong.”

Points for Reflection

  • What, if anything, might tutors do to support students with ADHD/ADD when they first arrive at University?
  • How might you create the environment within which students with ADHD/ADD feel comfortable disclosing the anxieties and difficulties they face?
  • What changes to your teaching could you introduce to support students with ADHD/ADD in playing a full part in your course?
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