Poor executive function can make life at university incredibly challenging for female students dealing with ADHD. Everyday tasks like being organised, prioritizing, meeting deadlines on time, juggling multiple assignments and arriving on time can all be difficult to achieve.
Fortunately, the problem often isn’t knowing what to do, it’s getting it done. So, with the right strategies and support in place it becomes manageable. Here are a few ways you could better support female students with ADHD throughout their time at university.
1. Make a diagnosis accessible
Women often don’t get diagnosed until adulthood, meaning there could be undiagnosed female students at your university struggling to cope. Yet research has found that receiving a diagnosis helps women feel more in control of their lives.
You can encourage more women to get the help they need by making sure the mental health provisions at your institute are clearly communicated and easily accessible. It may also prove useful to educate academic staff on how ADHD presents differently in females so they can spot any warning signs.
2. To do lists and schedules
Managing time is a challenge for many female students with ADHD, so it makes sense that the next logical step would be to help them devise a system for staying organised. While many can hyperfocus – stay on one task for a long time – oftentimes it can be done at the expense of other, more important, projects which can lead to overwhelm and frustration. A simple to do list can help for many, but others many benefit from an hour-by-hour schedule set out at the start of each morning.
3. Factor in extra time
Some people who experience ADHD have difficulty grasping timings, so where possible you should advise them to add a ‘cushion’ to compensate. It’s tempting to cram tasks in in a bid to be as productive as possible, but that isn’t always achievable or advisable.
4. Use timers
It’s all well and good having a time plan to follow, but how do students who are easily distracted actually stick to it? A timer can be a tangible tool that indicates when it is time to move on to the next thing and stops them from losing track of the time.
5. Empower them to find individual solutions
Of course, everyone studies and learns in a unique way and that’s no different for students dealing with ADHD; there is no one size fits all approach. Research shows that multimodal learning helps people to learn and remember, so thinking outside the box is key. Strategies might include:
- Highlighting with coloured pens
- Audio note taking software like Glean
- Listening to audio notes while doing other activities e.g., exercising or commuting to campus
- Studying in different positions e.g., standing, rather than the traditional desk set-up
- Reading notes aloud
- Working alongside a peer
- Studying in a public place e.g., coffee shop or library
6. Outline the benefits of exercise
Research has found that exercise can improve cognitive performance in students with ADHD, so reinforcing the benefits to students dealing with the condition may be useful. This could be done by signposting them to available resources on campus such as team sports, gym access and exercise classes.
7. Invest in an ADHD coach
Depending on your budget, it could be worth referring students to a specialist ADHD coach that has experience with females with the condition. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests ADHD coaching can help students better learn to plan and prioritise, which can result in less overwhelm and more confidence.
8. Communicate specialist help available
Ensure any available academic support, such as tutoring or increase time allowances, are clearly communicated.