A Christian College of the Liberal Arts & Sciences

Attention Deficit Disorder: Tips from those who know

Student #1  (got “A’s” strong math/technology abilities - very ADHD)

“I have made it through with the help of God and technology.” “I have to understand everything or I know nothing - the tree will fall over if a chunk of it is missing.  I have to be neat or my whole environment falls apart and I can’t function.  If I don’t put something exactly where it belongs I will never find it.  I am an extremely visual person; I love anything to do with the senses.  I appreciate everything God has given us.”

“The file cabinets in my brain do not open when I want them too.  Therefore, I have to create external (physical) reference systems.  I kept Computer files on everything and back them up weekly.” 

“I have to know what I will remember and what I will need help on.   I generally don’t remember things I learn beyond the course, but I do have thorough notes, and I know exactly where to access them.   I understand the concepts - they are incorporated into me somehow - so I can operate from the wisdom I have gathered.   So I retain the wisdom and themes though I don’t retain the details.  I know what I have learned about and I know where to  find it because of my filing system.”  To recall something he needs a physical trigger - the right question, seeing his notes; he can’t recall things at will.

“I need to know what I need to learn.  I can’t take 200 pages and learn with no focus, or pick through and find what is important.  But if I know the test is from the notes I can just memorize.  For a book I’m compelled to digest myself, I make outline notes of all the chapter headers and fill in just the important bits of information under each header.”

“I color code everything.  I color code each day’s notes so I know where each topic starts and where it stops.” He only highlights the single words that represent an idea flow in his texts.  He wants no extra words to confuse him.”

“My ADD has hurt me relationally.  I am an extrovert.  People love me at first, but after a couple of months when I keep running into them and don’t know their name for the fifth time things cool down.  I forget which things are significant in their lives so I can ask them about them.  They think I don’t care.  I might be able to recall these things 10 minutes later.  I confuse similar faces sometimes as well.”

“I have a good self-concept because of the way I was raised; I used to think it was everyone else that was strange.  Why couldn’t they make up their mind, I could decide on the spur of the moment.  Why didn’t they speak up in class when they knew something, I would impulsively offer up something I knew was valuable.  Now I know it’s me that’s different.  I want the bottom line.  I want people to get to the point.  I drop out everything that isn’t essential.  I summarize constantly.  I memorize summaries for essay tests, outline them on the back of my test and they become the triggers for writing my whole essay.  I’ve learned what things to write in my notes that will trigger what I know (because I can’t recall without these triggers).”

“I have to test myself over and over to make sure I really comprehend.  I need to test that my trigger words will really bring up the correct information.”

“Never pass up an opportunity to learn more about yourself.  It will help you see how you function best and help you develop the systems that will work for you.    As you learn how you learn, things get better and easier for you.  You learn when you are off track and how to get back on track.”

Student #2  (got “A’s” and “B’s”)

This person studies specifically for tests, paying minute attention to how each professor constructs their tests.  They develop a specific study system for each class by trial and error.   “It takes until the first test to develop a study method.”  Grades are very important;  this person said, “I need to get good grades to be listened to”. 

This person learns systems and causation as it is very time consuming to retrieve details (a disability-related characteristic).  To get an earlier start on succeeding in classes, this person has learned to meet and discuss each course with the teacher.

Student #3  (got mostly “A’s” - also had a reading disability)

This person needs to ask lots of clarifying questions.  The person liked courses with study guides (like Gen. Bio. and Intro. to Psych.) They coped by taking a low load of classes each semester (12 to 14) and picking up some extra transfer credit in May term or summer.

This person relies on good reworked notes and asking questions.  Lectures are recorded in great detail; notes are compared with a classmate for clarification.  A week before each test, summaries are made of these notes then reviewed.

Student #4  (got mostly “B’s” and “C’s”- also had a math disability)

This person got through history by thinking of it as a big story.  This person remembers stories well, thinking of history as “a big story” helped memory.  This person took notes from the book on all important items.  (If it has more than 2 paragraphs, it’s important, or if a visual goes with it.)  This person designed charts listing items by name, then dates and then a summary associated with the person (politics, economics, mood of the time).

An hour before the test this person reviewed the charts to memorize.  The act of taking notes (writing) and developing charts also helped memory.

This person advises knowing right from the beginning whether your course covers broad concepts or details (who, what, where, why, when).  Takes notes and study according according to the type of material to be learned.

Student #5

This student liked the idea of structuring learning so each person could use their gifts to gain "mastery" of a body of knowledge. “I wish I were a part of such an experiment during my school years. It's funny that people with ‘different learning abilities’ seem to need a good structure yet freedom for creativity within that structure. This seems too difficult or unnecessary for others who don't understand or would call this ‘coddling the student’."

© Susan M. Hice, Houghton College, 1998