How do people with ADD study ADHD

Studying with ADHD: A personal experience report and tips for more success in your studies

by Sara Dörwald and Tim Reichel

In Germany, an estimated two million people suffer from ADHDwithout ever being noticed. Of those diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, 30-50% will take it with them into adulthood. Depression, self-doubt, drive disorders, potential for addiction ... all of these belong to the so-called “comorbidities”, i.e. the symptoms of ADHD that occur in parallel.

This is particularly difficult for students - they should organize and discipline themselves, manage their time, fulfill their duties - and the external pressure actually only comes in the examination phase, when it is often too late to really save the semester. And to be honest - four wins is a moderately cool motto for the entire course of study.

Sometimes it works, yes. But always?

If you (like me) have ADHD or know someone affected, I'll give you some first-hand information that can help you study. One thing in advance: I know that ADHD takes on very different forms. My point of view and experiences are individual. I'm definitely not speaking for everyone - that's not what I want. I just want to help a little.


Focused learning with ADHD


ADHD - my story

Hi. I'm Sara, soon to be 28 years old and I'm studying social work in Dortmund. At that age, I actually wanted to be “much further”, as the saying goes. In other words: husband, children, apartment or house, a permanent job (yes, it's a cliché, but hey, that's the way it is!). The fact that I am still studying is due to several things that somehow all come down to one thing: ADHD.

Just that for the vast majority of my life I had no idea that I had ADHD. And that makes life difficult and complicated. Because:

  • I can't "just concentrate"
  • “Motivate yourself” doesn't help.
  • I HAVE to fidget sometimes - that can be very annoying.
  • And sometimes I look completely empty and bogged down in the area - just like the fidgeting, this is counterproductive in school (and during studies)
  • I plan a lot and I like to - only I don't implement the plans.
  • I am gifted, have energy (well, often anyway) and want to achieve a lot - but unfortunately all at once.

Dealing with all of this is - in positive terms - a challenge. I have never met anyone who would have mastered a challenge straight away. First you fly on the flap and later you win. And in exactly these experiences I am now taking you with me a little.



“Dear Sara, if something interests you, you take good care and do well in class. But you could be more attentive when it comes to things that you don't find so interesting. "

This or similar sentences were in my certificates in elementary school for four years. My mother suspected from the start that I might have AD (H) D. Doctors comment: The child is only active and alive, it does not have ADHD. Yeah yeah Romped around all day, let off steam, moved and still not tired in the evening.

Concerning the linguistic area highly concentrated, in reading and writing from the beginning praise and good grades. Maths? Hated from the start, until 13th it went through. Graduated from high school with a bang (let's be honest, I'm not proud of 3.2 ...) and had no plan what to do with myself.


After school

So first of all abroad. Not Australia, but far away - Uruguay. I loved it there - the spontaneous and relaxed way of life, no pressure, a lot of freedom to try things out, it all suited me very well. The family I was with, rather less - too many expectations that cornered me.

Duties that I didn't understand. No lists that I could use for orientation. The projects that I was allowed to think up and realize myself, on the other hand, were amazing. Those were things that excited me, that I could remember without a calendar, that I put my energy into. Everything else? Forgot, missed, it doesn't matter.


Training and work - fail (not) optional?

It wasn't only when I was abroad that I noticed that I love languages ​​and that I can learn them with ease (well, the grammar is not like that now. Logic is not my strength) -Exam really good and got a job that was fun. Loved going to work. My desk was more organized than ever because I tried to use it to fight the chaos in my head. Checklists were stuck on it, all work processes recorded, I had created a glossary to look up and considered all eventualities. After three months I was fired. That happened again as well.

That threw me completely off course. What was wrong with me? Fears of failure and thoughts that I am stupid and inadequate, completely undisciplined, that I am not really viable - all of these stormed me. I wanted to quit. Not my life, but all of my plans. I wanted to run away and hide somewhere. But that's not really possible either.

Plan X: restart. So enrolled at the university, the waiting semesters saved me through the waiting list - otherwise I would not have got in with my average. After five semesters (only three of which I really studied), I dropped out. Again.


Maybe finally arrived?

If you don't quite know where you belong, an internship is often a good way to broaden your horizons. And because I had had enough of "normal", I sniffed into an area completely alien to my normal life - working with drug addicts and the homeless. On the first day I knew - that's it. I want to do THAT. I started studying social work in Dortmund, where I am now in my third semester. I love it.

It is varied, I am doing the focus profile “Assistance to offenders”. I have a part-time job in drug help, which I really enjoy, work here for Studienschiss, and I've found a university group that I work with. My week is packed with activities like never before - and I'm getting absorbed in it. In between I need my quiet time, time just for myself. Loneliness, walks, time to write down my thoughts, write poems or songs. Time to listen to music. And then you can go back to everyday life with strength.


My ADHD and his friends

I am still struggling with my ADHD. With the concentration and motivation problems. With the listlessness and the sometimes very strong depressive episodes that are part of my work and that keep catching up with me - especially in the dark season they really come out. My ADHD was only diagnosed six months ago and I haven't found any treatment yet.

I do not tolerate Ritalin and Medikinet and there are alternative treatment methods, but they are met with strong resentment and I have not yet dared to see a doctor. The health insurances are also skeptical ... and so I am currently fighting with my appointment calendar at my side for dominance over the disorganization in my life. We mostly win.


Tips and strategies that (not only me) helped

Over the past few years I have read many books and articles, watched videos, and gathered information on how best to deal with my ADHD. I found a highly recommended channel on YouTube - How to ADHD. Maybe some of my experiences and information will help you.

25-5-25 - The Pomodoro Technique

Sitting in front of a mountain of tasks is incredibly frustrating. But, to put it with a fortune cookie saying: Every long journey begins with a first step. For me, this first step is often a 25-minute learning unit. Most of the time it becomes more, so I work in Pomodori, i.e. in 25-minute blocks. Check out this technique here!


The good old to-do list

I have to do it in the evening, otherwise I'll forget half of it the next day. I mostly use paper for this, and I have now discovered Wunderlist's successor, namely “Microsoft ToDo”. There you can also simply move to-dos, mark them according to priority and sort them. Here are a few tips on how to do this.

I like to move it, move it! Or something like that.

20 laps around the block. Or 10 km. A couple of jumping jacks, push-ups. The alternative: lie on the floor and stare into the air for 20 minutes, breathing deeply. Sometimes it cools me down and I can think clearly again. Some call it meditation ...

Keep your hands busy - juggle

Do you always have a pen in hand and play with it? Or a kneaded eraser? Juggling while thinking activates my brain and keeps my hands busy. Whether you do it with torches, balls or liquor bottles is a matter of opinion. For me, it works best with balls.

Welcome to my memory palace!

I copied this from Sherlock Holmes. I knew the idea of ​​a memorial palace before, but have started to make it my own. Did you know that “Sensei Paolo kicks nasty” is a really good way to remember the four development phases after Piaget? The memorandum is placed in my cellar. The loci method is a forerunner and trailblazer.


The genius rules chaos

Finding the chaos in my head on paper, providing it with connections and thus establishing order, has already saved me through a few exams. In common parlance, this sorted chaos is called “MindMap”. There is no ideal variant of a mind map. Google a little, maybe you'll find inspiration there. Or you just go ahead and do it randomly.

Homemade wallpaper

Said mind maps, images, information and timelines hang all over my room and sometimes I stand in front of it juggling or spinning a pen and repeating them. To a certain extent, this is also a link with the loci method mentioned above.

Darkened prospect

Sometimes I grab a non-permanent marker and write notes on the window pane. Sometimes these are definitions, sometimes images or contexts. You can also do that with a mirror. Unusual places stick better in my head and with it the information.

Loose daily structure

Structure is very important to me, but I've found that when the day is too structured and I can't do one thing, I get frustrated. Then comes “it doesn't matter now” and “the day is over anyway.” So I leave a buffer between the appointments, roughly determine what I want to achieve and if I can't do everything - tomorrow is a new day.

Step by step, little by little

The lower the goals, the easier they are to achieve and the more reward moments there are. The dopamine release when you simply tick off a simple and quickly achieved goal carries me through some frustrations. You can read more about this here.


First come, get the most

The earlier I start learning, the less the procrastination that occurs from time to time matters. Because I've planned buffers. That helped a lot over the last two semesters and gave me good grades (after only 13 years of school and five semesters before that). Creating a good learning plan is not that difficult and, if you have fully planned it, there are also tips here.


There are certainly many other strategies and techniques that I still have to try out ... maybe you also have a recommendation for me?


Focused learning with ADHD


Conclusion: ADHD in studies

Studying is not always easy anyway - and certainly not with ADHD. With this disease, there are again difficulties and obstacles on top. However, as you've read, this doesn't have to stop you from building a happy and successful student life. It depends on how you tackle your problems. I have shown you a few suitable methods in this article - you can find more in my book, Concentrated learning with ADHD,Find. In it I will show you how you can improve your concentration step by step and really get started with your studies. You can get a free XXL reading sample here: Concentrated learning with ADHD (reading sample)

That was my view of things now, but how is it with you? Do you feel the same way or do you feel completely different? Do you have any more tips? What will help you further? How do you cope with your everyday life? Write to me, write in the comments - keep learning and trying new things is one of the most valuable things I've learned over the years. I can only recommend it to you.


Image: © Andrei Lazarev /