For students with ADHD, the transition to college can be especially difficult. However, there are strategies parents can use to help ease the transition. Overcoming these difficulties requires planning ahead and developing strategies to help them successfully navigate that transition. The more time you allow for this preparation, the likely your teen is to experience a smooth start to college life.
Challenges for College Bound Teens with ADHD.
Among the challenges a freshman student with ADHD has to content with are:
- Less structured environment of college life – College life demands that students be able to make their own decisions and manage their schedules and workloads without a lot of supervision or guidance. This can cause problems for those with ADHD who may have difficult planning and organizing.
- Lack of a familiar support structure – In high school the student with ADHD could count on the support of parents to help them get their work done, keep to a schedule and follow a daily routine. When away at school, that support structure no longer exists.
- Establishing a daily routine – A daily routine is essential, especially in an unfamiliar place. The transition to a new location can be very disorienting, especially during the first year of college.
- Poor executive function skills – The academic life of college assumes that students can organize their studies, keep to a schedule, get their work done on time, maintain a study discipline. This can be very difficult for students with ADHD, who may struggle with poor executive function skills, but have attention challenges and can become easily distracted.
- Problems with maintaining a medication regimen – Many students with ADHD have been prescribed medication to help manager their symptoms. However, often these students don’t stay on their medication or are under pressure from their peers to share their medications. While parents may have supervised the medication routine at home, in college they are own their own. A broken medication regime can lead to an exacerbation of ADHD symptoms.
- Lack of effective support services on campus – Not all college are “ADHD friendly,” in that they provide support services for students learning differences. Counselors at college may not be trained to work with the problems that students with ADHD / LD have.
So what can parents do before their teen’s first year begins to help prepare them for these challenges?
Strategies for Parents to Help Their ADHD Teen Prepare for College
Kevin Antshel, Ph.D. offers the following recommendations for parents anxious to prepare their ADHD teen well in advance of their first days in college.
Communicate openly and often with your teen – Start talking about college and the potential challenges early to allow your teen time to share any concerns (and to hear yours) regarding the transition. Together you can work on finding solutions before they are on their own in college. These early and frequent discussions will also provide valuable insight into what they know about the college experience and how to address any gaps in their knowledge. Validate their fears and concerns without shame or judgement.
Encourage them to become more independent– High school is the time to progressively teach your child key self-management skills like taking and refiling medications and managing schedules. Explain each skill they need to develop and its importance. It helps to model these for your teen. Teens gain independence by building resilience — experiencing stress and working through frustrations on their own. If necessary, work with an ADHD coach to help your teen with these aspects of their preparation for college.
Boost organizational skills – Organization skills are essential in college. These include things like planning, prioritizing and managing tasks. You may want to consider having your teen work with an ADHD coach to help them hone their executive function skills.
Do your research – Contact colleges to learn about available programs for students with disabilities, including pre-college or summer programs. Ask about upcoming information meetings and orientations. Go beyond academic accommodations in your research. Ask about interventions, services, treatments, coaching, skills-based groups, counseling, and other supports available to students. Verify what type of documentation health services will need to prescribe ADHD medication and treat students. Remember that accommodations can be handled after acceptance.