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ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) in the Classroom

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While the following suggestions for classroom practices will benefit most students in higher education, they will be particularly useful for adult learners with ADHD, regardless of the severity and whether or not ADHD has been diagnosed. 



The posting below looks at ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) in adult learners and some of the strategies that may help them in the classroom. It is by Dev Kumar Bose and is from Currents in Teaching and Learning, Vol.5, Nos.1&2, Fall 2012 - Spring 2013. Currents in Teaching and Learning is a peer-reviewed electronic journal that fosters exchanges among reflective teacher-scholars across the disciplines. It is a publication of the Center for Teaching and Learning of Worcester State University, Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Copyright © WSU, 486 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.



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ADHD in the Classroom



Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is described as \"a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with development, has symptoms presenting in two or more settings (e.g. at home, school, or work), and negatively impacts directly on social, academic or occupational functioning\" (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Since approximately one-half of the individuals exhibiting ADHD early in life go on to have persistent time-management symptoms into adulthood (DeSimone II & Busby, 2014), research on more effective teaching strategies focuses on organizational skills (see, for example, Bose, 2011; Ratey, 2008).

ADHD affects the executive functions (activation, focus, effort, emotion, memory, and action) of a learner's cognitive processing (Brown, 2006). Executive functioning is necessary to carry out the difficult and highly abstract tasks required in higher education. Adult learners with ADHD face certain challenges that may hinder their classroom performance; of particular concern are verbal working memory, internalized speech, self-regulation, and planning (Barkley, Murphy, & Fischer, 2010). The list of symptoms that follows is derived from the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Further information about symptoms and diagnosis is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) at diagnosis.html, and further information about long-term outcomes of ADHD, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011) at


ADHD can be present along a continuum, from very minor and undiagnosed to a diagnosed condition. Higher-education teachers should consult with their institution's disability services office, where students with documented evidence of ADHD can arrange for services such as extended test time and assisted note-taking. The focus here is on implications for learning, not on diagnosis, and is specifically for postsecondary students. Information sheets on ADHD that expand the scope of this document are available at the National Resource Center on AD/HD (2013): Many of the symptoms listed below can also apply to other disorders and conditions. In addition, many can be observed in most students at one time or another, but students with ADHD will exhibit more of them, and more often.

Dev Kumar Bose, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of English at Iowa State University. He teaches professional communication and specializes in disability studies and multimodal composition.



1. Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork

2. Has difficulty sustaining attention in the classroom

3. Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly

4. Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork (not due to failure to understand instructions)

5. Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities

6. Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort

7. Loses things necessary for tasks or activities

8. Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli

9. Is forgetful in daily activities



1. Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat, or may have a fidget toy (such as a stress ball)

2. Leaves seat in classroom situations in which remaining seated is expected

3. Has difficulty engaging in independent activities quietly 

4. Is \"on the go\" or often acts as if \"driven by a motor\"; appears restless

5. Talks excessively



1. Blurts out answers before questions have been completed 

2. Has difficulty awaiting turn 

3. Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations)

Recommended Classroom Practices for Adult Learners with ADHD

While the following suggestions for classroom practices will benefit most students in higher education, they will be particularly useful for adult learners with ADHD, regardless of the severity and whether or not ADHD has been diagnosed. These suggestions incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL does not limit curricula to specific learning disorders but addresses \"the need for multiple approaches to universally meet the needs of diverse learners\" (Cooper, 2008, p. 176). The Center for Applied Special Technology (2013) offers more information on UDL: Information for college students with ADHD is available from ADDitude (2013) at html.

Design documents that are visually appealing and interactive:

* Provide assignment objectives in short sentences at the top. 

* Use text boxes and bullet points that provide essential information. Blank lines provide opportunities for students to fill    in information during class.

* Use color-enhanced documents and illustrations with hierarchical organization. 

* Use \"talking\" headings; for example, \"lists, bullets and spaces\" is more descriptive than \"organization.\" Refer to the Web Style Guide Online (Lynch & Horton, 2009) for an exhaustive guide to web documents and other visual aids.

Use interactive teaching techniques:

* Encourage critical analysis by surveying students' attention throughout long lectures. A simple comprehension check is not enough: prevent boredom and distraction by embedding online polls at critical points. Google Forms and SurveyMonkey offer free online surveys. There are also a number of applications that offer free mind- mapping software, such as Coggle and FreeMind.

* Allow opportunities for evaluation by conducting investigations (e.g., case studies) and panel discussions. Combine audio-visual cues to aid in absorption of materials and reinforce deficits in executive functions. Free, open-source applications such as Moodle as well as commercial course management programs such as Wimba and Blackboard include discussion forums and wiki capabilities, all of which enhance evaluation; several applications offer argument analysis software to reinforce critical thinking.

* Strengthen holistic thinking by having students re-create elements of existing projects into new structures. Open-source online media production tools such as Moviemasher and Jahshaka, and commercial tools with free options such as Prezi serve this purpose and are easy to learn. GanntProject is a tool for project scheduling and management; it is also free and works across platforms.

* Understand that today's college students, including adults with ADHD, are digital learners and consequently prefer to network simultaneously with many others. Monitor groups closely and provide explicitly labeled steps, making sure to assess progress on a continuum. Feedback is essential. Encourage groups to come up with sample work problems. Move students around to different groups to have them solve these problems.

Encourage assignments addressing discipline-specific challenges. 

Bose (2011) asserts that adults with ADHD benefit from work that is:

* Interdisciplinary: addresses at least two other disciplines that relate to their field.* Policy-driven: addresses existing solutions in the field and the policies that drive them.* Active: involves a plan of explicitly labeled steps. * Collaborative: designs a multi-step process that requires at least three individuals to complete.--


Additude. (2013). Mastering college with ADHD. New York, NY: New Hope Media. Retrieved from center/adhd-college-success.html

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Barkley, R.A., Murphy, K.R., & Fischer, M. (2010). ADHD in adults: What the science says (1st ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Bose, D.K. (2011). Communication crossroads: Assertiveness pedagogy for college writers with ADHD. Dissertation. Clemson University. Clemson, South Carolina.

Brown, T. E. (2006). Executive functions and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Implications of two conflicting views. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 53 (1), 35-46.

Center for Applied Special Technology. (2013, October 14). Postsecondary Implementation and UDL. In National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter. org/implementation/postsecondary

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (\"Symptoms and diagnosis\"). Retrieved from diagnosis.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (\"ADHD Long-term outcomes: Comorbidity, secondary conditions, and health risk behaviors\"). Retrieved from adhd/workshops/outcomes.html

Cooper, B.G. (2008). At the brighter margins: Teaching writing to the college student with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (Doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park, 2008). Proquest, AAT 3307877.

DeSimone II, E.M., & Busby, K. (2014). \"Adult ADHD: Treatment of a grown-up disorder.\" U.S. Pharmacist, 39 (1), 52-56.

Lynch, P. J., & Horton, S. (2009). Web style guide online (3rd ed.). Retrieved from http://webstyleguide. com/wsg3/index.html

----------Currents-to-go is an occasional feature in Currents in Teaching and Learning, providing higher-education teachers across the disciplines with handy guides to topics of current interest. Each Currents-to-go guide will be numbered (collect the set!), and will include a brief introduction to and overview of the issue or problem, a list of teaching strategies or classroom practices designed to address it, and references for further reading.

Dev Kumar Bose, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of English at Iowa State University. He teaches professional communication and specializes in disability studies and multimodal composition.

National Resource Center on AD/HD. (2013). What we know: Info sheets on ADHD. Retrieved from, N.A. (2008). The disorganized mind: Coaching your ADHD brain to take control of your time, tasks, and talents. New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin.WORCESTER.EDU/CURRENTS CURRENTS@WORCESTER.EDUBose - ADHD in the ClassroomCTG-4