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Does ADD Appear In College?
We all know that, according to the official definition, ADD is a condition that is present from birth and has to show symptoms by age seven. But is it possible that the condition is only noticed when the young adult goes to college?
Here are two cases to consider: Judd is a sophomore at a small prestigious college. Freshman year had been rather stormy, with too much drinking and far too little attending to school work. However, as sophomore year started he changed his approach, attended classes regularly, and put in several hours a day studying. Despite his hard work he was having trouble focusing and staying on task. A roommate had ADD and through him he learned about the condition. He called home and asked to be evaluated.
Ellen is a senior at a good college. Her three years had been quite uneven and her average was a C. She called home saying that she had watched a program on ADD and they were talking about her. She too asked to be evaluated.
As I scheduled these evaluations several things came to mind. We know college students use stimulants as performance enhancing drugs. There are those who abuse drugs, and that could be a reason for wanting to obtain them. And I wondered if they had already tried pills supplied to them by classmates. They could then come to be diagnosed and get their own easy supply.
And then my thoughts became more positive. We know that ADD can be picked up at any age despite symptoms having existed for years, and I certainly see adults without questioning motives.
So it became important for me to develop an evaluation method that I was comfortable with. First I had to start with an open mind. Then I had to go about asking questions in such a way as to learn about how the student behaved and learned when much younger - perhaps 3rd or 4th grade. To do this I involved the parents, though generally it was Mom who responded. I sent my initial form, which is usually for children, and asked her to think back and fill it out as if the student was about 11. I then had an initial session with Mom and the student together.
I started by having the student describe the symptoms and the difficulties they were having. I then went back in time with Mom. Often the student had no memory of the early years. But since ADD has to appear in the early years, I felt I need some kind of evidence. In Judd's case I learned from Mom that in 7th grade the school had asked that he be put on medication because of distractibility. She did nothing, and the problem was not mentioned again. But I felt I had found an important piece of evidence.
I then met with the student alone to get a detailed history of the problems and how they are manifested. Distractibility was the focus for the students mentioned. This translated into trouble reading, difficulty paying attention, procrastination and often restlessness.
Then I traced these symptoms back and looked for them starting in earlier years. Both of the students described symptoms going back many years. The symptoms were never a problem or they were just accepted because there was no diagnosis. But they were there.
My evaluations lead me to feel that both these students had ADD, and they were presenting problems of increasing severity as the workload increased. They both have been helped by stimulants.
It is therefore clear that ADD can be spotted for the first time when a student is in college. While it does not start then, significant problems may not occur until the college years. If you have a college student or are treating a college student, it is still important to look for ADD.