Coping with AD/HD
Coping with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder requires achieving balance in life so that you are healthy, happy and working to your fullest potential. Coping with college is an especially difficult goal because you are constantly surrounded by other students who have an easier time functioning and succeeding in classes than you do. Unlike other colleges, Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s academic year is split up into four terms, which each last seven weeks. This schedule creates a fast paced learning experience that demands a lot from you in a short amount of time. The following information will provide a few tips and tricks that can make the WPI lifestyle easier for students with AD/HD.
Tips on making college more manageable
Utilize available resources during college. There are many resources at WPI that are designed to help you succeed. The following list provides you with aspects of college that students with AD/HD generally have difficulty with and identifies people who can help you to cope with these difficulties.
- Academic Resources can give you strategies for taking better notes that are consistent with your unique learning style.
- When you are having difficulty taking notes, whether it is understanding what material to write down or trying to balance listening and writing during class, continue to go to class, participate and take notes. Don’t give up. If needed, see the professor during office hours to see his or her notes or to help you understand the notes you took.
- Sit next to a friend in the class so that you can glance at their notes and ask them short questions during class if you need to.
- Bring a tape recorder to class so that you can listen to the lecture as many times as you need to and at your own pace. Always ask the professor for permission before taping their class.
- Academic Resources staff can teach you test taking strategies for different types of exams and may give you tips on taking exams from specific teachers.
- Ask the professor for a sample exam, possibly an exam from a previous year. In WPI’s short terms, it is essential to be prepared for the specific teacher’s style of testing because a failed exam is often difficult to recover from.
- Attend the professor’s office hours and the teaching assistant’s (TA) extra help hours and study sessions. Even if you don’t know what questions to ask, other students at the study session may have questions that you can benefit from. The TA and the professor are also able to rephrase the lecture so that you can understand the material better.
- Academic Resources can teach you study strategies that match your unique learning style.
- Remember that you are not alone in your difficulties so find a study buddy, preferably one who attends class regularly and seems to try hard. Study buddies can help you stay focused on studying and make new friends. Students with AD/HD have a unique way of thinking about things so you will probably be a huge help to them on certain problems while they will be of great help to you on other problems.
- M.A.S.H. (Math and Science Help) are extra help sessions provided by Academic Advising at WPI. They are taught by students who have already taken the class and who excelled in it. You should try to attend as many M.A.S.H sessions as you can.
Approaching your professors
At WPI, the term is only seven weeks long so the atmosphere is always fast paced. Unfortunately, this type of atmosphere makes it more difficult for professors to get to know their students. It is important to be aware of how AD/HD affects your learning and what accommodations help you to perform to your fullest potential so that you can clearly explain your situation to the professor. Make sure to contact your professor at the start of each course so that he or she can be prepared to work with you.
Time Management Evaluation
Time management evaluation is meant to help you evaluate how you currently spend your time and then, with this knowledge, help you to organize your time better to improve your level of productivity.
Students with AD/HD tend to have difficulty measuring how much time and energy they should spend on a certain task. This becomes a problem because the student makes unrealistic expectations for him/herself and then becomes discouraged when they realize that they can’t accomplish their goals.
When evaluating your time and energy capabilities, always ask yourself the following questions
- How realistic is my goal?
- How much time can/should I really spend on this task?
- How much energy can/should I really spend on this task?
- How likely am I to accomplish my goal?
- Keep reevaluating and making changes until you think the goal is realistic for you.
- Keep a clock around in order to evaluate your time accurately.
Find a notebook to use in order to record how you spend your time each day. Write in this throughout the day, making sure to record the date and time of day and the task you are working on.
Record every action of your day for one month. Answer at least the following questions in your notebook daily:
- How much sleep did you get?
- How well did you sleep?
- What time of day did you wake up?
- How long did daily hygiene such as showering and brushing your teeth take?
- What types of foods did you eat?
- How often do you eat and at what time of day?
- How much do you eat in one sitting?
- Did you go to your classes?
- How well did you concentrate during class?
- How long did you study?
- How productive were you during your study hours?
- How long did you engage in social activities?
- How much exercise did you get?
- How long and how hard did you exercise?
- Did you feel energized or tired after exercising?
- How many hours did you spend doing absolutely nothing productive?
- What exactly were you doing when you weren’t being productive?
- How difficult was it to go back to doing something productive after your break?
Evaluate your Current Schedule
Choose a typical week and rate each activity depending on
- How much energy it took to perform.
- How stressful it was for you.
- How much time and energy were wasted and can be put to better use?
- How much sleep do you need and how can you realistically adjust your schedule to meet your needs?
- How can you make your diet healthier?
Prioritize your Activities
What activities are vital in your life and need the most energy?
- Doing homework.
- Preparing for exams.
- Going to work.
- Participating in sports.
- Spending time with family and friends.
- Make a list of all of your activities and rate them according to importance.
Make a Plan and Evaluate it
- Make an outline of your ideal schedule. Keep your priorities in mind.
Test your new plan for one week to see how it works out. Record your answers to the following questions:
- How much energy was saved?
- How much more productive were you?
- How stressful were the changes you made to your schedule?
- Did your new schedule make you happier or more frustrated overall?
- If needed, make changes and improvements to your plan.
Sometimes the best way to cope with having AD/HD is to organize your life. Without good organization, it is easy to lose your focus and it is difficult to remember all of your responsibilities. Organization is hard to accomplish without a pre-determined plan. The best way to maintain organization and order in your life is to make it a daily habit.
Quick tips for getting organized
- Keep a clock, preferably one with an alarm, handy at all times so that you can keep track of time.
- Use an assignment notebook. Write down all of the assignments and tasks, both short and long term, that need to be done, no matter how insignificant they may seem. This is vital to your survival, especially at school, because it is extremely stressful to keep track of everything in your head and you are more prone to missing deadlines and appointments if you don’t write them down. Make sure to check off each assignment when it has been completed.
Organize your notebook and keep it organized.
- Use a different colored notebook for each subject.
- Place your syllabus in the very front of your notebook.
- Organize your notebook into sections such as notes, handouts, exams, labs, etc.
- Keep the last page of each notebook free so that you can record all of your grades for that specific class.
- Date all of your class material and your notes.
- Tidy your notebook every night. If you do this regularly, it should take no more than five minutes and it provides a quick review of the material covered that day.
Make yourself a good study area.
It is important that this area is always spotless and organized. The more organized your area is, the more likely you will be productive in it. Before studying, make sure to prepare your area with anything you might need so that you don’t have to stop working to go get it. These items usually include any homework materials, your textbooks, writing utensils, a calculator and munchies. Before studying, make sure to rid your area of anything that will be distracting such as the phone and the TV. Also, be sure to put up an away message if you use an online messaging service such as Yahoo or AIM. Additionally, people who might distract you should be notified that you must be left alone until you finish your work. It may be helpful to post a “do not disturb” sign on your door to prevent interruptions.
- Use the classroom to your advantage. The best way to have organized notes is to sit in the front of the classroom where there is the least number of distractions. Also, make sure to take notes even when you know the material because it will help to commit the information to memory.
Make a schedule for keeping your living space clean.
Make a list of every task that helps to keep your living space organized and clean and how long you can afford to spend on each organization task. Examples are:
- Cleaning your laundry each week.
- Cleaning your room, which means putting all items where they belong and discarding any items that are only cluttering your room.
- After a complete list has been made, write down all the responsibilities on a calendar with a small circle next to each item so that the tasks can be checked off when completed.
- Post the calendar in a visible area that is frequently used so that you are not able to forget about your organization responsibilities.
- Make sure to time each activity with an alarm so you don’t expend too much time or energy on one activity.
Organize your living space.
- Go through your living space and choose the most important items which are needed everyday in order for you to survive. Make sure these items are easily obtainable.
You should determine how important each item in your living space is. If you don’t really need it, you should discard it or put it away in storage for later use.
- If you don’t remember what it was for or what it is, it should be discarded.
- Discard any gadgets which are half put together or broken, which you had intentions to fix "one day".
- Don’t keep items that you are not sure what to do with.
Methods for Coping with Stress
Feeling overwhelmed? Often life is more of a challenge than you are ready for, so you have to change the way you manage your life in order to function at your fullest potential. Stress management and stress reduction can make your life easier to handle.
Stress management means coping and recovering from stress.
- Learn to recognize the early signs of being stressed out from life and college, such as fatigue, headaches, irritability and anxiety.
- Learn the appropriate response, which usually means regulating your sleeping hours or your diet and managing time effectively.
Stress Reduction means eliminating or reducing the source(s) of stress in your life.
- Identify the stressful activities that can be avoided or eliminated.
Identify your natural reaction to stress and determine whether or not it is effective. Consider other methods of coping with stress that may be more helpful:
- Deep breathing exercises.
- Sleep regulation.
- Confiding in someone (personal or professional).
- Identify the activities which help you to relieve stress. These activities are especially important because they help you to balance stress in everyday life.
- Determine how much "no stress" activity you need each day to function at your fullest potential and try to work these activities into your schedule.
Self-medicating for stress increases stress
Alcohol and drugs create more anxiety in your life and reduce your time and energy capabilities. They will not cure:
- Social difficulties.
- Muscle aches.
- Sleep problems.
Poor eating habits can affect how much energy you have and your general state of health.
Overeating is a common method for coping with stress. This can become a serious problem especially since this tends to involve eating unhealthy and unbalanced meals in large quantities. Some of the consequences of overeating are:
- Becomes a habit.
- Causes damage to self-esteem.
- Causes poor physical health which affects the mind’s ability to learn effectively.
Many times, the workload can be overwhelming, especially at WPI, and eating junk food in place of meals seems like a desirable and logical way to save time. However, maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle increases your ability to be productive. If you feel as though you have a tendency to skip meals, consider the following suggestions:
- Eat at the same time every day. Irregular nutrition can cause your productivity to become more erratic.
- Keep healthy snack foods readily available.
Find someone to talk to when you feel stressed.
- Friends and family often offer support and advice in a very personal way.
- The West Street House at WPI provides students with counselors who can help to deal with all types of problems in a more professional way.