How to Support Your Students with ADHD

Virtual class using best accessibility practices: recording, providing captions

Inclusive course design should be a priority for every instructor at Duke, which requires thinking upfront about how to design courses that are student-centered. Inclusive pedagogy benefits both students and instructors, as the Universal Design for Learning approach to instruction, “works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners by dismantling participation barriers and centering learner viability in curriculum development. Faculty can create goals that promote high expectations for all learners, use flexible methods and materials, and accurately assess student progress.”1 Students with ADHD may need particular accommodations, as “the academic manifestations of ADHD include distractibility in class and while doing homework, impulsive and unplanned reactions to environmental stimuli, inability to maintain regular schedules of any type, and the habit of procrastination until urgency helps to focus attention.”2


While Duke’s Student Disability Access Office can help students in need of accommodations and the Academic Resource Center can provide one-on-one learning consultants to help students develop learning strategies, instructors can also mindfully design their courses to be inclusive. Below are some strategies that will help you think about how to do so, keeping in mind some particular strategies to support students with ADHD.  

Designing an Inclusive Course

The Duke Accessible Syllabus Project, which emphasizes that instructors should think about designing their courses to be more inclusive as a whole, suggests that instructors take responsibility for providing accommodations as, “It is our society, not the individual or student, that has the ethical obligation to create the conditions for inclusivity – extending to the educational institution, the instructor, and the curricula.”3 This resource offers suggestions at all levels of course design — the syllabus, course delivery, grading, etc. — that will help you create a more accessible and equitable learning environment.

By including an Accessibility and Inclusion Statement in your syllabus, you can demonstrate to students your commitment to inclusive teaching before your course begins. Sample statements tend to emphasize flexibility and encourage open communication between the student and professor. 

You should also conduct an initial survey of your students. In addition to asking your students questions such as previous experience with the material and personal interests, you might ask them how they best learn or if they have any requests related to accessibility; Aimi Hamraie’s Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19 has sample questions specifically geared toward this. Throughout the semester, you might also provide anonymous check-in questionnaires (we suggest you use Qualtrics) to take the temperature of your students and see what you may need to adjust.

Communication

By ensuring you are effectively organizing your course materials and communicating with your students, you can reduce confusion and enable students to better plan long-term. A few examples of how you can do this are:

You can send reminders of upcoming assignments or work, perhaps as a weekly update; be sure to keep this method consistent throughout the semester (e.g. using the Announcements tool in Sakai). 

You can create a course calendar in which all class meetings, graded assignments and reading assignments are clearly listed with their due dates, to assist with students’ time management. 

Explain clearly how you plan to use Sakai or your course website, how information will be organized on the site, which tools will be used in the course and how best to reach you with questions. You can do this by:

  • Consistently using the same tools and organization structure throughout the term, and/or clearly updating students about anything you change.
  •  If there’s a section of the Sakai site or a tool in the Sakai template you don’t plan to use, turn that section or tool off to make it easier for students to find information.
  • Avoid having information (e.g., course links, readings) in more than one place.
  • Keeping the course site as simple and easy to navigate as possible.

When giving verbal instructions, be sure these are clear and concise. Repeat your instructions. Have a written version as well available to students. Be available to clarify directions or offer students assistance. Visuals are also helpful.4 Providing model examples of assignments such as forum responses can help guide students in their own work.

Ensure that you are available for office hours to work with students one-on-one. Provide several different days and times as options, and keep these consistent throughout the semester. You may need to work with students individually to find a time that works for them.

Synchronous In-Class Suggestions

You may already be recording your lectures and live course sessions through Zoom for your students to revisit. If you are not doing this regularly, record your in-class sessions, as it allows students to revisit material they may have missed the first time.5

Providing a transcript for class lectures and designating a notetaker for class session or having students collaborate to create course notes using a Google Doc is another way to ensure students can revisit material they missed during the initial course session.6 Allowing students to collaboratively take notes also is another way you can foster interaction between your students (see Collaborative Note-Taking with Google Docs for how you might put this into practice), especially given that creating community in remote courses can be more challenging than the face-to-face classroom.

Allowing short breaks periodically during synchronous sessions give students time to move around briefly, and be sure to end the Zoom meeting on time so students have a brief break before their next class, if scheduled back-to-back. 

Include active portions during the session so that students can engage directly with you and their classmates. Active learning, as well as teamwork between students, helps improve learning.

Assignments

If possible, design your assignments to be broken up into smaller parts. You could also create a suggested step-by-step schedule for working on larger assignments across a few weeks or the semester, to help students focus on one part at a time.7 (For an example of how we have done this, see our Course Design Planner.)

To help students read class material effectively, provide guiding questions. Can SQ3R Help Students with ADHD? suggests that the Survey -> Question -> Read -> Recite ->  Review (SQ3R) reading method may help students with ADHD in particular, as it “promotes better understanding and retention of what is read and learned.”

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Assignment Accommodations has specific recommendations by discipline and assignment type for how you can design your assignments to accommodate students with ADHD.

Being available and willing to work with your students based on their individual needs can reinforce the work you do in designing your syllabus, course sessions and assignments to ensure your students receive the support they need. If you are interested in more resources on how to support your students, particularly during the pandemic and this time of economic and political upheaval, please see the Flexible Teaching website’s resource How can I support student well-being?

Further Resources

Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

ADHD, Executive Function & Behavioral Challenges in the Classroom: Managing the Impact on Learning, Motivation and Stress

Can SQ3R Help Students with ADHD?

Collaborative Note-Taking with Google Docs

Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Duke Accessible Syllabus Project

Duke Flexible Teaching Website

Inclusive Teaching Practices Modules (University of Denver)

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Assignment Accommodations 

6 College Students Share Accommodations That Help Them Succeed

SQ3R technique 

When You Talk About Banning Laptops, You Throw Disabled Students Under the Bus

Inclusive Teaching and Learning Online (Columbia)


1. Inclusive Teaching Practices Modules at the University of Denver (Universal Design for Learning)

2. Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

3. Duke Accessible Syllabus Project

4. Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

5. 6 College Students Share Accommodations That Help Them Succeed, Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

6.  6 College Students Share Accommodations That Help Them Succeed

7. Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign