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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training

Attention deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered a neurological disorder. Research indicates that ADHD is likely to be caused by biological factors that influence chemical messages (neurotransmitters) in certain parts of the brain. Slight imbalances in the neurotransmitters affect the parts of the brain which control reflective thought and the inhibition of ill-considered behaviour.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ADHD is classified as having three major subtypes: predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined inattentive/hyperactive-impulsive. Many people still use the term ‘ADD’ — attention deficit disorder — to describe the predominantly inattentive ADHD subtype.

Impact of ADHD

People with  ADHD can be creative problem solvers, good public speakers, energetic and enthusiastic, have good conceptual skills and intuition, and also have difficulty paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviours and maintaining focus on tasks. They may also:

  • be creative and resourceful
  • be flexible and take initiative
  • be a visual learner
  • experience unpredictable mood swings
  • make careless mistakes due to inattention
  • appear not to listen to instructions or directions
  • experience difficulties prioritising tasks and activities
  • be easily distracted whilst on task
  • fidget and appear restless
  • talk excessively and often quickly
  • interrupt others’ conversation or activities.

Adjustments need to be tailored to meet the individual's needs.  Students with ADHD are not all alike: the nature of the student’s disability and its impact on learning will vary significantly. Your first step is to discuss with the student his or her particular needs.

Teaching Strategies

The following strategies will help all students learn more effectively, but will particularly benefit students with ADHD:

  • Consider a creative presentation of course material
  • Aim to stimulate a range of senses by providing, for example, visual aids and hands-on experience
  • Link course material to personal stories, visual images and sounds
  • Encourage students to be active readers; to underline, highlight and jot down responses to and questions about their reading
  • Encourage students with ADHD to sit near the front of the classroom to minimise distractions
  • Help students break assignments and reading tasks into small, manageable chunks
  • Encourage students to establish a study space conducive to effective learning
  • Suggest that students develop time-management and organisational habits, such as writing themselves reminders, keeping diaries and writing lists
  • Encourage students to develop a study routine
  • Provide clear, detailed instructions about course structure, key dates, assessment requirements and practical arrangements, in both oral and written form
  • Provide reading lists as early as possible. Offer guidance to key texts, and allow an in-depth study of a few texts in place of broader study
  • Teach using a variety of formats – handouts, overheads, worksheets, films, flow charts and diagrams
  • Use as many verbal descriptions as possible to help students process written material
  • Consider using different colours to help students process visual information
  • Provide a list of subject terms and acronyms
  • Consider recording lectures and seminars
  • Repeat and emphasise important information.

Assessment strategies

The following assessment strategies are particularly helpful for students with ADHD:

  • provide an individual examination room to minimise distractions
  • extend exam times to assist focus and concentration.

Further Reading & Related Resources

The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability (Spring 2013) contains the following relevant articles:

  • Assessing the impact of ADHD coaching services on university students’ learning skills, self-regulation, and well-being. Pages 67-81
  • Assessing compensatory strategies and motivational factors in high-achieving postsecondary students with ADHD. Pages 89-99