Students cope with ADHD and college life

Brittany Moseley

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was once thought to be a disorder that started in childhood, which people would eventually grow out of. Now doctors know adults can be diagnosed too, and ADHD won’t just go away.

“ADHD has traditionally been viewed as a childhood disorder. However, researchers have clearly demonstrated that ADHD can affect anyone at any age and now it’s getting more attention,” said Donald Caserta, graduate assistant in the clinical psychology department.

ADHD affects 3 to 7 percent of school-age children and two to four percent of adults.

Junior theater major Will Scott was diagnosed with ADD, a subtype of ADHD, when he was 6 years old, and he still deals with it.

“Listening is hard (in class) because I would block it out and my sight would be caught by something else,” Scott said.

Scott said he took Ritalin until eighth grade, and he went from being “this really hyperactive kid to this really solemn kid.” He said he stopped taking it because his father said it made him lethargic.

“After I stopped taking it, I was introduced to sports, and I channeled the pent-up energy into that,” Scott said.

Though Scott was diagnosed at a young age, some people don’t start showing symptoms until they are adults.

“Some young adults, who grew up during a time when there was more awareness about the disorder, may have been diagnosed and treated at a young age,” said Bryan Goodman, deputy director of communications and media relations for Children and Adults with ADHD. “Still, despite tremendous gains over the years, many people with the disorder still go undiagnosed and untreated.”

Caserta, who was also the assistant director of the ADHD program for Evaluation and Treatment at Cleveland Clinic, said some doctors call it the most under-diagnosed disorder among adults.

“ADHD was kind of masked by other mental health problems, such as depression,” he said.

Most people think those with ADHD are hyperactive children, but for adults, the symptoms change.

“In adulthood, it’s not so much about hyperactivity,” Caserta said. “It translates into restlessness, distractibility and difficulty with organization.”

Scott said his ADD makes him more aware of the world around him.

“My level of awareness is more heightened,” he said.

To be diagnosed with ADHD, Goodman said an individual must have six of the nine characteristics in either of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders categories. A list of criteria for the three primary subtypes of ADHD can be found online at

“In addition, the behaviors must also create significant difficulty in at least two areas of life, such as home, social settings, school or work,” Goodman said. “Symptoms must be present for at least six months.”

Scott said he has trouble concentrating sometimes, but he has learned to work with his ADD in college.

“You notice your ADD happening more when you’re really focused on something,” Scott said. “I just try my best to stay focused on the teacher or whatever I’m doing.”

For other college students with ADHD, Caserta recommended enrolling with the Student Accessibility Service Program because it can help students work in class. He also recommended finding a major that works best with ADHD.

“As they get older, individuals learn to compromise and find what works best for them,” he said. “Many people learn how to set deadlines, find an organizational system and create structure.”

ADHD is different for everyone, and Scott said for him, concentration is key.

“I have to concentrate on what I’m doing and be on the ball,” he said.

Much research has been done on ADHD, but Caserta said doctors are still working to learn more about different kinds of medicine and the exact cause of the disorder.

“We don’t know enough to say what the cause is and doctors are interested in finding out what else works besides medications and behavioral,” he said. “It’s a lot of trial and error.”

Contact features correspondent Brittany Moseley at [email protected].