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Student Case Studies: ADHD/ADD

Look at these scenarios illustrating how a student’s needs can be impacted by their university experience.

David

David is a mature student who has just completed his first year of a two year top up degree programme in Business Studies.

Read David’s case study

David entered university via a non-traditional entry route, having studied part time for BTECs in his 30s whilst working full time and then studying a one-year foundation degree to qualify him for access on to a full-time degree programme. During his BTECs and his foundation degree, David gained excellent grades and had started his degree programme full of confidence. David had an excellent support structure around him both at home and at college and though he had struggled with some aspects of academic life, such as organisation, he put this down to being a returning learning with the additional challenges that this can bring.

David’s experience in the first year of his degree has not been as good, and despite now being a full time student so in theory having more time to study, he has for the first time struggled with organising his work and getting assignments in on time, and his grades have also dropped substantially. When asked about his difficulties during his second term, David explained that he was suffering from procrastination, and was unable to sit down and focus on his reading and research tasks, instead getting distracted into a myriad of other tasks and thoughts. When thinking about why this was, David explained that in his work life and in his previous studies he had a large degree of scaffolding in terms of family and tutor support with lots of encouragement and help with completing tasks on time. And the nature of the courses he had completed were broken down into clear activities and topics which further lent themselves to this was of working. On his degree on the other hand, David was expected to undertake independent study with far more freedom in terms of direction, time-management and study focus. David’s description of this was that though he likes some freedom in his studies he felt he now had too much and he felt lost as a result. This had also highlighted to him that his time management and attention issues that he had had throughout his life but had been previously masked to some degree, were actually quite a concern for him in this academic environment.

Having spoken to a member of the Disability team about his challenges and been referred for a diagnostic assessment, it was suggested that David had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which had largely been hidden to this point by a combination of David’s hard work, underlying ability, choice of subjects and study route and his strong family and tutor support to date. It was only when David entered a course of study with a large degree of latitude and focus on independent study, with some of his support network stripped away, that David’s attentional issues became a problem for him.

Pause for thought

  • What, if anything, might tutors have done to support David differently during his first year at the University? 
  • What changes to your teaching could you introduce to support David in playing a full part in your course?  

Reflecting on David’s situation, consider: 

  • What emotional impact or stress is David experiencing? 
  • Whether David’s tutors and lecturers might have been able to identify his difficulties and provided appropriate support sooner. And if so what?
  • What Universal approaches might support David (and the wider student cohort) with regard to the impact of his ADD?
  • How might tutors and lecturers access support and guidance to enhance their own practice with regard to ADHD.
  • Where David might be signposted in order to access additional support and guidance on an ongoing basis, as they feel it is needed. 
  • How might tutors balance the need for encouraging independent study with ensuring appropriate support is put in place for David?

Hazel

Hazel is studying Physical Education at university.

Read Hazel’s case study

Hazel started off her university life studying PE with high hopes. Though never particularly excelling in one particular sport, Hazel has spent her life trying out and participating in various sports and wants more than anything to pass on her joy for sport and activity to others.  

Hazel started off ok and her attendance was relatively good in her first few weeks of university, though often with the help and reminders of her peers. However, as the social side of university life begin in earnest, Hazel’s daily routine became more and more erratic and attendance and academic work began to be impacted. She describes her experience to a flat-mate as “getting up at 6.30am every morning and still being late for my 9.30 lecture”.

In addition, Hazel’s mood and motivation are affected as due to self-distrust based on past events, she begins to worry about her interactions with others and her ability to build friendships and be accepted. Hazel tries to be restrained in social situations in case she says something wrong or is misunderstood but this leads to dissatisfaction as this is not her natural personality. And when she does open up more, she feels she tends to dominate and sometimes upsets her peers. Hazel increasingly avoids situations where she feels her negative behaviours might cause her issues.

With regard to her academic work, Hazel starts off making work plans and begins her work early yet she still finds herself working right up to and sometimes beyond deadlines. In fact, she realises that she isn’t really effective unless there is this time pressure. However, she isn’t sure that she is producing work of sufficient quality as she tends to focus on easier tasks and those which interest her the most. Hazel particularly struggles with elements of her course that don’t make sense to her or as she describes it: “where I can’t see the point”. She is very effective in the practical elements of her course, when she has remembered to prepare fully, but has been picked up on her critical thinking and referencing in her first few essays and it is clear that she has some difficulties with effectively reviewing and proof-reading her written work.  

Hazel manages to scrape through her first year, having had to retake her exams and several practical assessments. However, she is suffering from low mood and confidence and has issues with money, diet and sleep, all of which are further impacting on her wellbeing. Her personal tutor contacts Hazel during the summer and suggests that they meet to discuss how Hazel can be better supported during her second year of study.

Pause for thought

  • What, if anything, might tutors have done to support Hazel differently during her first year at university? 
  • What are the key areas that Hazel’s personal tutor might wish to discuss with them when they meet?
  • What changes to your teaching could you introduce to support Hazel in playing a full part in your course?  

Reflecting on Hazel’s situation, consider: 

  • What emotional impact or stress is Hazel experiencing? 
  • Whether Hazel’s tutors and lecturers might have been able to identify her difficulties and provided appropriate support sooner. And if so what?
  • What Universal approaches might support Hazel (and the wider student cohort) with regard to the impact of her ADD?
  • How might tutors and lecturers access support and guidance to enhance their own practice with regard to ADHD?
  • Where Hazel might be signposted in order to access additional support and guidance on an ongoing basis, as she feel it is needed.
  • How might tutors balance the need for encouraging independent study with ensuring appropriate support is put in place for Hazel?

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