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Disability Specific Adjustments: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder1. According to ADHD Australia over 1 million people in Australia have ADHD1. Research indicates that ADHD is likely to be caused by biological factors that influence chemical messages (neurotransmitters) in certain parts of the brain. Recent studies suggest that brain experiences a delay in maturation, and this impacts executive functioning (reasoning, good decision-making, short-term memory, attention span, listening and following instructions and impulse control). The symptoms of ADHD vary from person to person and management of symptoms can vary depending on age at diagnosis, types of interventions and co-morbidities2.  

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.

Common symptoms people experience may include:

  • trouble with concentration or staying focused
  • hyper-focus
  • disorganisation and forgetfulness
  • impulsivity
  • emotional difficulties
  • hyperactivity or restlessness.

ADHD may also have additional conditions which may make ADHD more difficult to recognise or diagnose. These include mental health conditions such Anxiety or Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder; Autism Spectrum Disorder; other learning difficulties such as Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, sensory processing or executive function disorders, and seizure disorders. Treatment tends to be multi-modal and may include family support, educational support, medication, counselling/behavioural management, and/or occupational therapy2.

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
  • be energetic and engaged
  • 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
  • fail to complete tasks due to time management
  • overly focused on certain tasks
  • perfectionistic
  • 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. Students who have a recent diagnosis may need additional help in developing strategies for study. As a disability practitioner or educator your first step is to discuss with the student their specific needs.

Disability Practitioner Strategies

In addition to teaching and assessment strategies there are a range of services and equipment that are commonly facilitated by Disability Practitioners as reasonable adjustments for students with ADHD:

  • access to peer or professional note takers
  • provision of recorded lectures or transcription of lecture recordings
  • access to Assistive Technology for written assignments
  • access to Assistive Technology or a scribe in examinations
  • identifying challenges within the learning environment and addressing these with adjustments or modifications where possible
  • arranging a case management service to support engagement with study, planning and time management, and assess regular progress
  • the use of organisational apps to assist students to set up weekly and semester planners to assist with planning for assessment submission
  • informing academic staff of the student’s preferred method of communication
  • providing an individual examination room to minimise distractions
  • providing additional time within tests and examinations to assist focus and concentration 
  • meeting with lecturing/tutoring staff before the course commences, in order to provide the student with clear and detailed information about the structure of the course, practical arrangements, assessment requirements, expectations and deadlines. This information should be provided in written format after the meeting to ensure the student has an accurate record of the discussion.


    1. ADHD Australia; Health Direct

    2. ADHD information Dr Alison Poulton

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