Best Help for College Student with ADD?
March 15, 2013 10:17 AM   Subscribe

College sophomore at very demanding school would like your best advice/tips for handling ADD.

I am on stimulant medication daily. I can't function without it, but it doesn't help me overcome severe difficulties such as: procrastination (I am almost always late with my work, often begging instructors for extra extensions when I've passed the first extension). I leave for class and halfway there remember I forgot my notebook. I wake up late even with alarms. I can't get myself to stop playing computer games until wee hours of the morning and then, of course, get up late.

I have great difficulty reading, often finding after twenty minutes that I am on the same page, having been daydreaming the whole time.

I am highly anxious and have to get into a state of panic in order to finally do a paper that's due the next day. The panic motivates me but it also wears me out. I am also often blocked in my writing. I can't really do 'drafts' -- each sentence has to be perfect or I can't move on to the next (yes, I have OCD symptoms that overlap with my ADD symptoms -- like perfectionism and some repetitive thoughts)

I have tried SSRIs for depression and anxiety and the OCD symptoms but I can't tolerate the side effects. I am currently on long-acting Adderall which, of course, sometimes makes me more anxious and OCD-ish.

I am in psychotherapy with a good therapist twice a week, so I have an outlet to talk things out. I have also received some "ADD coaching" at college but it all seems so obvious and literal-minded to me and I can't follow through on the organization recommendations. If I could, I wouldn't have these problems! I also get "accommodations" at school like extensions for papers but, as I stated, eventually there is a deadline and I haven't started the assignment. This is for every assignment, but when an assignment doesn't really interest me it is absolute torture for me to do the work.

All this said, I don't get bad grades (in fact, for the three semesters I've finished I have about a B average -- this is with doing minimal reading for my courses and charging through my papers shortly before they're due) and I enjoy the school and the work and have a decent social life. But I can't stand feeling as if I am falling apart as far as organization goes and always in a panic and at loose ends and late for something, e-mailing instructors in the middle of the night, asking for extra-extra time. I feel so ashamed about this and am always thinking this time is the last, I'm going to fail, etc.

Also I've looked at some of the popular ADD books (Halloran's and some others that are recommended in several posts here on MetaFilter) and I just can't follow through on the organization techniques.

I would like to hear from people here about what really works for THEM. How do you set up an external structure to help yourself and follow through with it when you can't structure yourself and follow through? HOW do you get yourself to START an assignment before the day before it's due when you just don't want to do it? How do you get yourself to focus on a text?

I feel as though the real world provides me with an interface that I just can't handle. It reminds me of how some older people just can't use computers -- they can't manage the interface. I am very scared that, after I graduate from school, I will not be able to hold a job and pay my bills.

What are some good ideas for helping an alien manage the earth's interface? thanks
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There should be someone at your school who would advocate for all students with disabilities. You may be entitled to some special treatment (like a sign language interpreter for a deaf student.)

My sister has some pretty severe dyslexia and she was able to opt out of the mandatory mathematics course and stats due to the nature of her disability.

Start there, they may have counselors who can help you with strategies, and who can work with your therepist to address your other issues.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

You should talk to your campus' disability services office. There are accommodations available for studs ts with ADHD. I do not know what they all are, but I've had students who take their exams or write in-class papers in a testing center, with a different environment and altered time constraints.

This is an office that can help you. You should contact them ASAP, as most accommodations are not retroactive. Even if you do not qualify for all accommodations, they are the organization that can give you resources, point you in the right direction, and advocate on your behalf.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:23 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I hear you. Learning to control my ADD and procrastination was the obstacle of my early academic life. I didn't really figure it out until grad school - when I absolutely had to figure it out. All the way through undergrad (and one grad degree!) I could maintain an A- average on not doing readings but paying attention in class when I showed up. Why work for an A when I can slack and get an A-?

For me, it came down to holding myself to high standards. I set up the schedule at the beginning of the semester and I decide that I am accountable. Other people's schedules won't motivate me to get it done. It's a bit of self-discipline but mostly it's self awareness. I'd love to stay up late and goof-off. But I can't do that and meet the schedule I've set for myself.

Don't rely on other people to create the structure. Create your own structure and commit to yourself that you'll honor that structure.
posted by 26.2 at 11:01 AM on March 15, 2013

This works for me and my ADHD; ymmv.

Treat your classes like a 9 to 5 job. During those hours, if your not in lecture, you're in the library, without the internet, whenever possible. For me the computer is the mother of distractions.

I have not tried this next suggestion, but know others who have. For your papers, dictate your first draft. Do not allow yourself to revisit your words until you have all your ideas out of your head. Then, transcribe without editing (if you don't use voice recognition software). NOW, you may begin to tinker and edit.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:14 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

ocherdraco has some good suggestions!

I was a friend to someone with ADD in college and if you are close enough friends with people you can ask them to help you out. I did things like phone calls to make sure he was up in time for important tests and class sessions, pestering him about homework if I saw him in game, etc. I'm sure it wasn't an ideal fix for things, but once you have a plan for how you want to organize things you can reach out for help in implementation. :)
posted by Feantari at 11:31 AM on March 15, 2013

My school's disability service office allows students to do work in the open office space. Perhaps if your school has the same thing, you could spend some time in the office and do some work there. I think having someone understanding and who would advocate for your success around could give you support that could help.

I understand where you're coming from. Realistically, the only reason I'm going to get work done today (at some point...) is because someone is waiting on my work so they can continue their own. I find this kind of motivation to be one of the most effective, but of course the downfall is that I need to be able to motivate myself because someone isn't always going to be breathing down my neck, but I will always have stuff that needs to be done.

As far as not forgetting things in the morning, I would get really anxious about forgetting things and so before I could allow my mind to relax at night, I had to know that I was completely prepared for the next day. I'd have my backpack all packed, my lunch packed, and multiple alarms set, sometimes placed across the room to force myself to get up. I'm starting to think I make myself anxious over things purposely as a way of motivating myself. If something is out of place, I kind of freak out because I know I won't be able to find it or I'll forget it later. (not sure this is the best tactic, it's a trade off for sure)
posted by sarae at 11:39 AM on March 15, 2013

Just saying that I read this and this poster says that s/he is already receiving accommodations such as deadline extensions for papers and coaching,but finds follow-through on the advice daunting.

It is difficult. I was like this until grad school also. Something more "compact" about studying only one field (even though of course there were separate courses in different sub-areas) made it easier to do the work. The "now go here!" "now study that!" "oh wait you also have to show up there!" about undergraduate school was very very hard to deal with.

Personally I think that a degree of *acceptance* of one's difficulties, although it seems counterintuitive and "through this door lies Hell"-ish, is important. Not just so that one will be motivated to change, but so that you can go easier on yourself in the "I'm doing as well as I can right now" way.

Yes you have to work harder, but you also have to work harder to accept that this is really who you are. Not some weird variation of "normal," but that this is YOUR normal, and it is a valid normal, and make sure you appreciate and play up your strengths and not regard yourself as a collection of weaknesses and falling-shorts.

I had these problems in college but, you know what? at the end of 4 years I was given the same diploma as everybody else. And I went on to graduate school. And a lot of people have trouble remembering to pay their bills and organize themselves. You have a lot going for you to be getting those grades in a difficult college.
posted by DMelanogaster at 12:34 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

There should be someone at your school who would advocate for all students with disabilities. You may be entitled to some special treatment (like a sign language interpreter for a deaf student.)

See if they have your reading on audio, I have a hard time even reading for personal enjoyment but I can make through audio books pretty well. If it's complicated material try reading those parts along with the audio.

As far as organization, I keep it simple. A legal pad for my to do's once a day, then I go somewhere away from distractions and plug in reminders into my electronic calendar. Things that need to be done sooner go on a sticky note where I won't loose sight of them. It's not easy, and you are going to fail at the organization thing. Just keep getting back on the horse. Ask your shrink about adding an anti anxiety med like Clonidine. It might help you, I had some side effects.

I'm 42, diagnosed 5 years ago. I'm pretty successful, but I still deal with allot of the stuff you are. I love to game and stay up late. I would forget my ass if it wasn't attached.

A few practical tips:(Clear the medication related stuff with your doctor):

1) Set an alarm hour earlier than you need to be up, have something to drink and your Aderall next to the bed. When that goes off take your Aderall and go back to bed. Either the stimulant kicking in will wake you up or when the second alarm kicks in the Aderall will have kicked in and you should have less trouble getting up. (This worked for me but I take and extended release version that kills my appetite for 12 hours so I need to eat breakfast before I take it.)

2) Your notebook and everything you need in one backpack, the night before, when your meds are still in effect.

3) Gaming, set a timer that goes off every hour. This will help overcome "ADHD time". If that does work make the games inaccessible. One of my shrinks called them cognitive junk food. In my opinion they are like cognitive crack for an ADHD brain. Get some support on this if you need it. I still game, but I'm not in school. You can always get back to gaming during breaks or after you get your degree. (I didn't and I still don't have my degree, the gaming isn't worth what it will cost you in the long run)

4) Know that for every drawback to you ADHD there is a gift. For every stupid thing you forget you will have 10 brilliant insight full things to contribute. You are pulling off B's now. That tells me you are pretty damn bright.

5) Perfection is a matter of perception. You need to start defining perfection for yourself. Right now your using a version imposed on you externally. Set your own standard of works or doesn't work for you. I used to spend an agonizing amount of time on papers that the prof would read once, give me an A on, mark down to a C for being late, then move on to the next student. Own what is "good enough" for you (I'm satisfied with the result) vs is it perfect (Will everyone who reads this be completely impressed).

Give your self room to fail every once in a while at something that won't ruin your life. I race junk old cars for fun, if I win I win. If I'm last I'm last. That isn't easy for me, but it's critical for my sanity. It's practice for the stuff that does matter.
posted by empty vessel at 3:02 PM on March 15, 2013

I feel ya. A few assorted things that have helped me over the years:

- finding a course in mindfulness meditation. Your college might actually have one, esp. if it has other mental health resources. I know I flog this horse sort of hard on AskMe, but - the training you get in gently scooping up your mind and placing it back on the newspaper, so to speak, has been very helpful to me as someone who seems to share many of your problems maintaining attention. So it is at least worth a try.

- give yourself some guilt-free time to let your mind wander. Sometimes you need to just take your mental puppy off the leash and let it run around a little. You might even try scheduling in some time for this - as in, "come hell or high water, I will play video games from 8:30 pm until 12:30 am on Tuesday night and nothing short of an Ebola outbreak is going to prevent me from doing so."

- ruthlessly cut obligations. Student groups are the worst, because they are often run by students who are ambitious but inexperienced and make up for it by promoting a culture of self-sacrifice. (I just wrote and then deleted a much meaner phrasing of this.) They also completely fracture your day and rob you of your most potentially productive hours. Which leads me to:

- try to get bigger chunks of time. This is a little abstract and not always totally within your power, and it may be a little late to do much about this right now, but as ocherdraco wisely pointed out college has a very desultory feel to it where you are often running between totally random things. Switching between tasks like that stresses me out and is not a trick my mind is very good at. If you can rearrange your schedule such that you have multi-hour uninterrupted blocks of time to work (minus short things like coffee breaks and food of course), I would try that instead.

- don't work in your bedroom, or the dining hall. Equip yourself with water/coffee/whatever and some trail mix and deliberately find the most boring, secluded, concrete block of a cell on campus to work possible. Use Leechblock and/or disable your WiFi.

- make breakfast dates, where you will feel like a jerk if you don't show or are more than 10 minutes late. This helps with getting out of bed and (somewhat) with going to sleep late. (You can also potentially use your parents for this. In college I occasionally asked my early-rising dad for a wake-up call, a task he took great joy in. He sometimes did this even if I hadn't asked him, which was less cute.) I've found promising my peers things to be pretty effective at a wide range of things, actually: for example, you can find a friend in the class and make a date to read each other's semi-finished drafts (assuming that's allowed, otherwise make a date to proofread together, or even just next to one another).

- don't try to change everything at once - pick one organizational strategy, say, and commit to it for a month. Gradual change is still a victory.

- be gentle with yourself because this shit is hard, and it is easy to use it as yet another club to beat yourself with.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:10 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hello, shipmate. We're in the same boat, though I'm taking something for my anxiety/ocd as well. I had to try a variety of things to find my sweet spot, but here is what (usually) works for me:

1) I have an iPod touch, it is my brain. I use the calendar, which syncs with my Google calendar. Everything goes in here, and everything gets reminders. My therapist recommended it and he was spot on. I like it better than a smartphone because I can't just get on the internet any old time. I also have a paper calendar on my desk so I can see everything coming at a glance.

2) Reminders for EVERYTHING plugged into said ipod. Checking for newly posted assignments. Studying time. Feeding cats. Going to bed. EVERYTHING. Noise-making alarms for all of them. You can set them to repeat at whatever frequency needed. It's hard to stick to following through, but you've just got to be tough on yourself for those bad boys. Timers, timers, and more timers.

3) On that note, I have to plan my days out pretty specifically. It feels dorky, but it's pretty helpful since my brain can't seem to do it. Plan out your study times, what you work on when and where. Don't forget to plan in plenty of breaks and flexibility (have a backup plan in case you can't work on whatever at that time).

4) I am easily distracted by conversations, etc., so when I have to read at school I try to find a low-distraction area and use a white noise app or even just earplugs. Other apps that I have found useful are Any.DO for my To-Do list (Syncs with the Goog! It feels good to cross out those tasks!) and the Pomodoro app. I thought Pomo sounded dumb but I like the timer and the ticking does help me stay focused. So weird. The short blocks of time are nice, too.

5) If I am really having a hard time staying focused, I give myself permission to do whatever I am trying to do instead for a measured time (yay timers) before I come back and try again.

6) Still trying to figure out the "writing a paper before it's due" thing, but I try to make sure I talk to my professors at the VERY BEGINNING of the semester to tell them what's up. I talk to them and check in a lot during the semester, too. If I can, I ask them to help me break down assignments into smaller, more concrete steps. I have yet to meet one who isn't willing to help out as much as possible.

The only other thing I can recommend is really limiting the gaming. Block them or delete them or hide them or whatever if you can't moderate. I won't play unless I have all summer or something so I don't get sucked in. I haven't missed it much, though, since I was just playing them out of avoidance.

These things work for me, but they don't always work. Some days are just going to suck, and that's okay. They may or may not work for you. Just keep experimenting and don't give up.
posted by wimpdork at 11:02 PM on March 15, 2013

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