Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are chronic neurological conditions resulting from persisting dysfunction within the central nervous system that affects behavior and performance. It may interfere with the academic achievement, self-esteem, and social and personal relationships of otherwise promising individuals. The hyperactivity component was once thought to be outgrown by early adolescence. Recent research has shown that in some cases hyperactivity does exist in adults as well. The physical manifestations of childhood hyperactivity are no longer so obvious, but these manifestations are internalized resulting in many of the characteristics listed below. However, the person with ADD who was not hyperactive as a child may go undiagnosed for many years. As a result, many students are not diagnosed until they begin college.

Recent research supports the view that ADD continues throughout adulthood. An estimated 50-65% of children diagnosed with ADD will continue to exhibit symptoms throughout adolescence into adulthood. Additionally, ADD does not always occur alone; about 40% of individuals with ADD may also have a learning disability or other conditions such as anxiety, depression, Tourette’s syndrome, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Persons with ADD characteristically exhibit poor short term memory that may be attributed to inattention or to an auditory processing problem. For some adults with ADD, effective long term listening is nearly impossible. Processing information only auditorially simply makes it difficult for persons with ADD to receive, process, and comprehend oral output. These characteristics, along with those below can best be dealt with by using some of the hints in the “Teaching Students with ADD” section.



  • Distracted by irrelevant stimuli
  • Hyper-focusing (over focusing on an activity)
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Difficulty disengaging from tasks
  • Frequent traffic violations
  • Poor listening skills
  • Short attention span unless very interested
  • Falls asleep or becomes tired while reading


  • Interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Tactless
  • Impatient, low frustration tolerance
  • A “prisoner of the moment”


  • Driven
  • Must be moving in order to think, trouble sitting in one place, mental restlessness
  • Internal sense of anxiety or nervousness
  • Difficulty with printing or writing skills
  • Coordination difficulty


  • Inability to recognize common social cues
  • Trouble sustaining friendships or intimate relationships, promiscuity
  • Trouble with intimacy tendency to be self-centered, immature
  • Verbally abusive, argumentative, seeks conflict
  • Avoids group activities difficulty with authority


  • Poor organization, often has piles of stuff, chronically late
  • Always in a hurry
  • Overwhelmed by tasks of everyday living
  • Poor financial management
  • Difficulty performing tasks sequentially
  • Successful when surrounded by organized people


  • Chronic procrastination
  • Difficulty starting projects
  • Enthusiastic beginnings but poor endings
  • Expends excessive time due to inefficiencies
  • Inconsistent work performance chronic sense of underachievement
  • Inability to recognize success or failure


  • Mood swings
  • Chronic problems with self-esteem
  • Sense of impending doom
  • Negativity
  • Test anxiety


  • Sleep disorders
  • Low energy, tiredness
  • Search for high stimulation (thrill seeking, high stress jobs, doing many things at once)
  • Self-medication (alcohol, drugs, caffeine)
  • Tendency toward addiction (food, work, alcohol, etc.)

Medication is often used as a component of treatment for ADD. As a neurobiological disorder, the symptoms listed may be alleviated with medical assistance. Without the correct medications, other interventions are often ineffective. Characterizing these students as “lazy”, “disorganized”, or “unmotivated” and telling them to “get your act together” or “try harder” only adds to low self-esteem and frustration. A total treatment program that includes medication, therapy, learning strategies, academic accommodations, and support groups is essential for adults dealing with attention deficit disorder.


  • Amen, D. G. (1995, July). Windows into the adult ADD mind. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Association on Higher Education and Disability, San Jose, CA.
  • Hallowell, E. M., & Ratey, J. J. (1993). Driven to distraction. Cincinnati, OH: Tyrell & Jeremy Press.
  • Hallowell, E. M., & Ratey, J. J. (1994). Answers to distraction. Cincinnati, OH: Tyrell & Jerem Press.
  • Quinn, P. Q. (Eds.) (1994). ADD and the college student: A guide for high school and college students with attention deficit disorder. New York: Magination Press.