Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Andrew London


ADHD, Attention, College, Ethnography, Executive, Student

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a complex, heterogeneous condition associated with organizational and time management challenges that can impact academic performance. Using information gathered through texts and 28 semi structured, in-depth interviews, I explored the everyday lived experiences of college students diagnosed with ADHD as they worked to adhere to the schedule and time expectations of their college coursework. I also the explored institutional policies and processes of the community college they attended to determine if, and how, these impacted the work of adherence.

Using institutional ethnography and Liza McCoy’s three-way alignment model as frameworks, this qualitative, ethnographic study examined the responses and data from 14 community college students diagnosed with ADHD and two staff members in the Office of Disability Services. Student participants were enrolled in college credit courses and had registered for accommodations with the Office of Disability Services.

The findings suggest that adhering to the expectations of college course work involved a three-way alignment between the schedule, the student’s inner experience of time, and clock time. Every student experienced some degree of disconnect between their inner experience of time and awareness of clock time, causing them distress and leading to problems adhering to the schedule. The components of the three-way alignment interacted with and influenced the executive functions of attention, focus, and memory in complex ways. The work of maintaining the alignment was unrelenting, and the students were not always successful. They had to perform additional work above and beyond that expected of their coursework just to maintain the alignment and adhere to the schedule.

The students used various accommodations, strategies, and tools to maintain the alignment. None proved consistently useful over time and all added another layer of burdensome work. Only half the students used accommodations provided through the Office of Disability Services. For those who used them, the accommodations were not always helpful. Time management and organizational strategies designed to decrease effort and increase productivity often caused more work for the students and were rarely effective. Deadlines, stress, procrastination, volition, and resistance influenced adherence to the schedule. Some behaviors commonly associated with non-adherence were instead purposeful self-protective strategies the students enlisted when forced to call up abilities they did not have or could not consistently sustain. Some students developed their own organizational strategies. Traditionally, professional “experts” have driven the historic and contemporary narratives of people with ADHD. I contend that, as researchers, we have not often consulted the real experts who live these experiences every day. I offer that a true interdisciplinary effort must include people with ADHD in order to develop strategies better suited to their needs.


Open Access