Students in university have difficulty paying attention for many reasons - boredom, sleep deprivation, a cold, poor nutrition, to name a few. Attention can also be affected when students are experiencing depression, anxiety or chronic illness. When difficulties with attention are persistent and are impacting upon the student's ability to meet their academic goals, then these difficulties need to be assessed. Assessment of attention difficulties generally involves obtaining a developmental, family, medical and educational history. Tests of cognitive abilities including attention, memory and metacognition (awareness of how one thinks and learns), of personality and of academic achievement are also given.
Some students with attention difficulties may be diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Diagnosis of ADHD involves consideration of the many factors that can cause attention difficulties. A key aspect of the disorder is that the attention difficulties began before the age of 7 and have been persistent and pervasive. Thus, for students diagnosed during their university years, there must be evidence of early attention difficulties. Complicating the diagnosis is the fact that ADHD can occur concurrently with other learning and mental health difficulties.
Students with ADHD report severe difficulties remaining focused on the task at hand unless they are very interested or the need to stay focused is great (e.g. paper due the next day). They are often highly distractible so have difficulty staying focused in a room with many students (e.g. examinations, the library). Some students with ADHD may also be impulsive, acting before thinking. They may blurt out ideas or say things without thinking. They may also have difficulty with social relationships and report becoming angered or frustrated very easily. Some students with ADHD are more inattentive than impulsive or hyperactive. They have difficulty concentrating so report problems reading and studying and listening during lectures or conversations. Many students with ADHD report severe difficulties with organization and time management. They may have difficulty being on time and getting assignments in on time. Interventions for students with ADHD include some or all of the following: increasing self-awareness, coaching for support with organization and time management, learning metacognitive strategies, using accommodations and taking medication. Students need to be aware of when and how they learn best so they can select, when possible the best types, times and topics of classes. They may need a coach to assist them with organization and time management. They may need to learn some textbook reading or study strategies that permit easier attending. Accommodations may include a distraction free room for examinations or use of assistive technology. Extra time on examinations is sometimes recommended so that the student can take breaks, walk around and refocus as needed. Pharmacological interventions may help with staying focused. They are generally used in combination with strategy intervention.
The Disability Resource Centre assists students with attention difficulties to obtain an assessment and to access appropriate supports. DRC staff work closely with staff in Counselling and Student Development, Health Services and across the University to support these students as they strive to meet their academic goals.