Do you have difficulty sustaining your attention in class, at home, or with friends? Do you feel like you’re always “on the go,” you often fidget, or have difficulty waiting your turn? These experiences are commonly associated with a condition called attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This resource page provides information about attention and ADHD that may help you understand your experiences and improve your performance.
At the Carruth Center, we hope to assist students in enhancing their college experience. Our staff includes counselors and psychologists who are experienced in working with students with ADHD and other cognitive concerns. For more information on our services, please call to schedule an appointment (304) 293-4431.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a “persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development” and is “inconsistent with the developmental level and negatively impacts directly on social and academic/occupational activities.” (1)
ADHD is a neurodevelopment disorder, meaning that symptoms begin in childhood. There is also research to support the persistence of childhood symptoms or the onset of symptoms in adulthood. (2, 3) According to the American Psychological Association, ADHD now ranks among the most common mental health disorders in adults. (1)
Perhaps you have also heard of “ADD” or Attention Deficit Disorder. “ADD” and “ADHD” are often used to refer to the same disorder. ADD is an outdated term that is no longer used in clinical settings. ADHD is now the appropriate term for people who have symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or both.
ADHD has three types: Predominantly Inattentive, Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive, and Combined Symptoms.
Symptoms of inattention:
- Difficulty sustaining attention on tasks or activities
- Pattern of careless mistakes or overlooking details
- Forgetfulness or tendency to lose personal items (e.g., keys, phone)
- Distracted by internal factors (e.g., unrelated thoughts, “daydreaming”) and/or external factors (e.g., noise or movement in environment)
- Difficulty planning, organizing, and completing tasks
- Avoidance of or dislike for tasks that require sustained mental effort
Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity:
- Feel “on the go” as if “driven by a motor”
- Fidgets or taps hands or feet
- Difficulty remaining seated when this is expected
- Difficulty with turn-taking
- Interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations or activities
Assessment and Diagnosis
Assessment and diagnosis of ADHD should be conducted by a qualified mental health or medical professional. Evaluation of your symptoms may include:
- Psychodiagnostic interview
- Self-report of ADHD symptoms
- Collateral-report of ADHD symptoms (e.g., from a parent or teacher)
- Continuous performance test
- Tests of cognitive and executive functioning
Other tools may be used, such as tests of mood or academic functioning, to identify variables that may be related to your attention concerns. For example, assessment of your academic functioning may help to clarify whether your difficulty is attributable to attention deficits or learning issues.
The Carruth Center can provide you with community referrals for assessment services to help you. For information on testing, please call us at (304)293-4431.
There are a variety of ways to treat attention problems. Some may be performed by you, while others may require working with your doctor.
Keep in mind that your attention is multi-faceted and may be impacted by a variety of factors. Attention problems can be caused (or worsened) by lifestyle factors including sleep hygiene, nutrition, substance use, emotional and cognitive states, motivation, trauma, or a medical issue. Improving these areas of your life may have a direct impact on your attention.
In general, there are five basic types of treatment:
Personal or environmental intervention
This involves taking care of yourself so that you can perform at your best. Focus on developing good sleep and study habits, a healthy diet, and an exercise regimen. Also consider how to improve your emotional or psychological health. Spend time in activities or with people that you enjoy. This will help you to manage stress and build resilience to medical and mental health problems, including ADHD.
Sometimes the stress we face is too much to manage by ourselves. Counseling can be a helpful way to process your experiences and develop coping skills. It may also help you to address the variety of ways that your attention problems impact important areas of your life.
There are two types of medications used most often to treat ADHD: stimulants and non-stimulants. The difference exists in which chemicals in your brain are affected by the medication. Medications can reduce ADHD symptoms. However, like most medications, they have side effects. Common side effects include sleep problems, increased blood pressure, dizziness, headaches or stomachaches, and decreased appetite. It is important that a doctor closely monitors use of these medications.
Counseling and Medication
A combination of counseling and medication may be helpful to simultaneously address an attention disorder and the myriad of factors that may exacerbate your symptoms.
Cognitive enhancement is a treatment for ADHD that does not involve taking medication. There are two main parts: Cognitive Training and Neurofeedback.
Cognitive training involves a series of mental exercises, in a game-like format, that helps individuals improve their attention span and memory.
Neurofeedback uses EEG patterning to help you learn to modulate brain wave activity to ensure peak attention and cognitive functioning. When used in conjunction, students who undergo cognitive and neurofeedback training have been shown to make substantial improvements in those areas of deficit that characterize ADHD. In other words, Cognitive Enhancement is like a “mental gym” that helps students strengthen their attention, focus, memory, and motivation, without the need for medication.
The improvements gained from cognitive and neurofeedback training have been demonstrated to remain even after training has ended.
Mindfit offers more information concerning cognitive and neurofeedback training.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
- Guelzow, B., Loya, F., & Hinshaw, S. (2017). How persistent is ADHD into adulthood? Informant report and diagnostic thresholds in a female sample. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 45(2), 301-312. doi:10.1007/s10802-016-0174-4
- Moffitt, T. E., Houts, R., Asherson, P., Belsky, D. W., Corcoran, D. L., Hammerle, M., … & Caspi, A. (2015). Is adult ADHD a childhood-onset neurodevelopmental disorder? Evidence from a four-decade longitudinal cohort study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 172(10), 967-77. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14101266