For college students with ADHD, navigating academic responsibilities presents unique challenges. Our blog, “Academic Accommodations for College Students with ADHD,” explores the crucial role of executive functioning skills such as time management and task initiation. We also illuminate the various academic accommodations and modifications available, offering key insights into how they can effectively support students in their educational journey. This informational post serves as a valuable resource for students, educators, and anyone interested in the intersection of ADHD and academia.

college students learning how to deal with ADHD

Executive functioning skills are crucial for success in college. These skills refer to a set of mental processes that help individuals plan, organize, prioritize, and complete tasks effectively and efficiently. While these skills may come naturally to some individuals, other students may struggle to develop and utilize them due to a specific learning disability, such as ADHD.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects many individuals, including college students. One key aspect of ADHD is difficulties with executive functioning skills, which are crucial for academic success. In this blog post, we will explore what executive functioning skills are and discuss the various accommodations and modifications that can help college students thrive in their academic pursuits.

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What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Three people holding different tools that depicts Executive Functioning Skills


Executive functioning skills are cognitive processes that enable individuals to plan, organize, initiate, focus, sustain, and monitor their actions. These skills are essential for goal-directed behavior, time management, impulse control, problem-solving, and self-regulation. College students often struggle with one or more aspects of executive functioning, which can significantly impact their academic performance and overall well-being.

Examples of Executive Functions

Executive functioning skills encompass a range of cognitive abilities. Some common examples include:

Time management:

Students may struggle to estimate time accurately, prioritize tasks, and meet deadlines.

Organization:

Difficulties with organization can manifest as messy study spaces, misplaced materials, or trouble keeping track of assignments and due dates.

Task initiation:

Starting a lesson or projects can be challenging for neurodiverse kids, as they may struggle with initiating the first step.

Focus and sustained attention:

Maintaining attention on the lesson during class time for an extended period can be difficult, leading to distractibility and reduced productivity.

Working memory:

Neurodiverse kids may have trouble holding and manipulating information in their minds, affecting their ability to follow instructions or complete an assignment or complex tasks.

Self-regulation:

Impulse control or having trouble staying seated, emotional regulation, and self-monitoring can be important parts of class discussions and can be areas of difficulty for neurodiverse kids.

When these skills are inconsistent or less available for college students, academic success does not come easily. College life presents a myriad of responsibilities, from juggling multiple courses, assignments, and exams to maintaining a balanced social life. Students with well-developed executive function skills can navigate the demands more easily and with less stress than one with challenged executive function skills.

Developing these skills, can teach students how to improve their success and overall experience in college. The following strategies are recommended to improve executive function skills;

Three woman marking their schedule to maximize time efficiency

Improve Time Management:

Effective time management is essential for college success. Students who can manage their time effectively can balance their academic workload, finish assignment, extracurricular activities, and personal life. To develop time management skills, students should create a schedule or a to-do list, prioritize tasks based on their importance, and allocate time accordingly. They should also learn to avoid procrastination and set deadlines to complete assignments in a timely fashion.

Organization:

Organization skills are essential for students to keep track of their personal space and classwork. Paying attention to deadlines, expectations and supports available is important. It’s also important to develop a system for taking notes, asking for preferential seating, assignments, and other course materials.

In their physical space, it’s important to have a better understanding of how a home environment affects overall study skills. Keeping areas clean and free of clutter to minimize distractions. Developing good organization habits early on will help students stay on top of their workload and complete projects in a timely manner.

Goal-setting:

two person setting their goals


Goal-setting is an important executive functioning skill that can help reach academic and personal objectives. Setting clear, measurable, and achievable goals, such as earning a certain grade or completing a project on time is essential. Breaking down long-term goals into smaller, achievable steps can make them more manageable and help people stay motivated compared to other students who may not have any issues with motivation.

Self-regulation:

Self-regulation is the ability to control one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. While a student may not have any problem with this people with ADHD find it difficult to manage. It is an essential skill for college success, as it help any student overcome procrastination, distractions, and negative self-talk. To develop self-regulation skills, a student can practice mindfulness and meditation, learn to identify and manage their emotions, and use positive self-talk to boost their confidence.

Three college students doing different tasks to showcase their flexibility

Flexibility:

College life can be unpredictable, and college kids must be adaptable to changing circumstances. Flexibility is an executive functioning skill that allows each student to adjust their plans and goals when necessary. Students should learn to be open-minded, embrace change, and seek out new experiences to build resilience and expand their horizons.

College student graduate with ADHD

When these are all taken into consideration, it’s important to also focus on external supports such as accommodations and accommodations available to any neurodiverse student. Often, these supports are resisted by a student who wants to be independent from their parents, but most students who allow themselves to access these supports find they are the key to success.

Common Reasons for Accommodations or Modifications in School

two people with ADHD sitting on a stack of books

Executive functioning accommodations for students with disabilities aim to level the playing field for students with specific learning disabilities. In the context of ADHD, these executive functioning accommodations are implemented to address specific challenges and enable students to access education on an equal basis. Some common reasons for accommodations or modifications in school include:

Reduce distractions:

Providing a quiet and structured environment can help a student focus and concentrate better.

Enhance organization:

Implementing systems and tools, such as color-coded folders, for example, or digital task managers, assistance with class notes, can all aid students in keeping track of assignments and materials.

Promote time management:

Allowing extra time for task completion, breaking assignments into smaller, manageable chunks, and providing visual schedules can assist students in managing their time effectively.

Support information processing:

Offering visual aids, graphic organizers, or verbal prompts can help students comprehend and process information more efficiently.

Minimize task initiation difficulties:

Breaking down tasks into clear steps and providing explicit instructions can support students in starting class work or projects.

Purpose of Giving Students Accommodations or Modifications in School

The purpose of providing accommodations or modifications to any student is to ensure that they have equal access to education and the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities. These adjustments aim to reduce barriers, and support each student in reaching their full potential. Common accommodations and modifications can foster a positive classroom environment, and enhance academic success for students with learning disabilities.

Difference between Accommodations and Modifications

While accommodations and modifications serve similar purposes, it is essential to understand the distinction between the two. Accommodations are adjustments made to the school environment, instructional methods, or assessment procedures that do not fundamentally alter the content or learning outcomes. They provide support and remove barriers without changing the essential nature of the tasks.

In contrast, modifications involve changes to the curriculum, standards, or expectations to meet the individual needs of a student. Modifications may be necessary when a student’s learning disabilities significantly impacts their ability to meet the standard requirements. The special education services available to meet these needs vary from one college to the next.

Executive Functioning Assessment from Effective Effort Consulting

Meeting Criteria for Disability Under IDEA

a person checking if she meets the criteria for disability under IDEA for people with ADHD


Accommodations for a student with disabilities can be The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines criteria for determining if a student has a physical or learning disability that requires special education and related services. This can serve as a parent’s guide to supporting their child.

Some common accommodations include the following;

Examination Accommodations

Providing appropriate support systems during examinations is crucial for ensuring that a student with learning disabilities can demonstrate their knowledge and skills without being hindered by their executive functioning difficulties. Some common examination accommodations for college students with ADHD include:

a) Extended time: Allowing extra time to answer test questions, answer questions in class, finish projects, class work, and quizzes can alleviate time pressure and enable a student to complete tasks more effectively.

b) Reading aloud: Providing staff or technology to read aloud test questions or other written material can assist any student who has difficulty with reading comprehension or processing written information.

c) Quiet and separate location: Often a student may require a distraction-reduced environment, preferential seating, or a separate room to minimize external stimuli that can disrupt their concentration.

four students with ADHD doing physical activity to help regulate attention and increase alertness.

Movement Breaks

Movement breaks can be beneficial for a student with ADHD, as physical activity can help regulate attention and increase alertness. These breaks can involve stretching, walking, or engaging in other physical activities to help students recharge and maintain their cognitive performance.

Revision of written work:

Giving students the opportunity to revise their writing assignments to meet a standard before grading the assignment can help them improve their writing skills without penalizing them for initial errors.

Access to the school counselor:

A student may benefit from scheduled access to a school counselor to discuss any challenges they are facing, set goals, develop strategies, and receive support in managing their executive functioning difficulties.

Use of graphic organizers:

Providing graphic organizers as a tool for organizing thoughts and enhancing writing skills can assist a student with ADHD who have trouble organizing in structuring their ideas and improving reading comprehension.

Teacher check-ins:

Offering regular check-ins with teachers during independent classroom assignments can provide students with guidance, clarification, and motivation, helping ease the difficulty and help them stay on track and manage their tasks effectively.

Reducing reading level:

Modifying the reading level of materials can make them more accessible to any student, ensuring that they can comprehend the classroom content and actively engage in the learning process.

Printable List of Executive Function Accommodations

To help a student, providing a printable list (to parents if needed) can be valuable. This list can include a range of supports and strategies tailored to address specific executive functioning challenges. It serves as a quick reference guide to support a student in various academic settings.

Taking Tests in a Small Group Setting

a student with ADHD taking a test with his teacher in a small group setting to reduce distractions.

For some students with ADHD, taking tests in a small group setting can be beneficial. This arrangement can reduce distractions and create a more comfortable testing environment. It can also allow for personalized support, such as clarifying teachers instructions or addressing questions, as the teacher or proctor can give more individual attention to each student.

Providing support for students with disabilities is essential. They can give a child access to extra support to learn executive function skills can all play a crucial role in supporting college students and their executive functioning challenges. By providing appropriate adjustments in the school environment, instructional methods, and assessment procedures, students can access education on an equal basis and achieve their academic goals.

Other helpful resources related to supporting college students are the following;

“Executive Functioning in the College Classroom” by Dr. Laura Riffel – https://www.edutopia.org/article/executive-functioning-college-classroom

“Teaching Executive Function Skills to College Students” by Dr. Peggy Li and Dr. Maryellen Weimer – https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/teaching-executive-function-skills-to-college-students/

“Executive Functioning Skills: The Key to Academic Success in College and Beyond” by Christina Cipriano and Sarah Kiefer – https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-psychology-quarterly/executive-functioning-skills-the-key-to-academic-success-in-college-and-beyond

“Executive Functioning in College: What You Need to Know” by Dr. Regina Kuersten-Hogan – https://www.understood.org/articles/en/executive-functioning-in-college-what-you-need-to-know

“Executive Function Skills and the College Transition” by Dr. Susan M. Swearer and Dr. Lisa D. Berger – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/202008/executive-function-skills-and-the-college-transition