ADHD College Survival Tips

Essential life skills to guarantee success for college students with ADHD ADD or learning disabilities.

College, Part 2

Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., a Silver Spring, Maryland, psychologist who specializes in ADD/ADHD, agrees that time-management skills are critical. She says that ADD/ADHD tweens and teens should get in the habit of using a day planner during high school, if not sooner.

"If your kid has a dentist appointment," she says, "have him write down 'dentist appointment, Dr. So-and-so,' on the correct date and time. Next, help him develop the habit of shutting down for the night, getting ready for bed, and taking a look at what's happening tomorrow - literally teaching him to anticipate the following day."

According to Holly Susi, a developmental education specialist at the Community College of Rhode Island in Lincoln, the typical ADD/ADHD youngster must be "explicitly taught" to use a planner. "Often I see students with day planners, but they haven't written a thing in them," she says. "Or they write in them but never look at them again."

To get her 18-year-old ADDer, Stephen, to use a planner, Susi sat down with him every Sunday night to go over his upcoming appointments. After six months, she says, he "took ownership of the process," and the weekly sessions were no longer necessary.

Drowning in paper

Meg Edwards knows firsthand what ADDers encounter in college. From 1995 to 1998, she worked in admissions at Landmark. Before that, she spent three years coaching young adults with ADD/ADHD. And she has ADD/ADHD herself.

Edwards remembers a college freshman who dropped out because she was overwhelmed by paperwork. "She had been in school just two weeks," recalls Edwards, who now works for the David Allen Company, a coaching firm in Ojai, California. "In that time she had collected a foot-high stack of papers - menus, syllabi, and so on. It all came at her. She had no idea how to make decisions about what she collected."

ADDers can avoid "death by paper," Edwards says, if they learn to use an old-fashioned in-box. Every day, the student puts every piece of paper she accumulates into this box. At the end of each day, the student goes through the box. She discards or files items that require no action, and transfers appointments or due dates to an electronic or paper planner. From this planner, the student prepares a daily "next action" list.

"Dear Dad, please send money"

Once they reach high school, children should assume more responsibility for managing their money. If you help them answer questions like "How much money can I spend?" "Where is the nearest bank, and what are its hours?" "How do I find time to go to the ATM and get cash for the coming week?" during high school, they'll be better equipped to manage money at college.

Nadeau suggests giving your high-schooler a monthly clothing allowance. She gave one to her own kids, including a daughter who has ADD/ADHD, and says they quickly started checking prices, looking for sales, and making good spending decisions. In addition, Nadeau says that parents should open a checking account in the child's name by eleventh grade.

All out of clothes - again

There's nothing hard about operating a washer or dryer, even for the most distractible teenager. The trick is to do the wash before you exhaust your supply of clean clothes. This is the sort of planning that ADD/ADHD kids have trouble with.

"It's not about teaching them to put the soap in the machine," says Patricia Quinn, M.D., a developmental pediatrician who specializes in ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities. "Children can learn that quickly. It's about learning how to schedule, a skill that you can apply to other areas."

Quinn suggests that youngsters start doing their own laundry during high school. Tell your child how long a wash cycle takes, she says, and then have him enter a "laundry day" in his planner, with the appropriate amount of time marked off.

Monday morning jet-lag

Adolescents are night owls, and few know that sleep deprivation limits brain function and attention span.

You probably can't control what time your teenager goes to sleep, but you can encourage your child to wake up at the same time every morning. Quinn explains: "Let's say your child sleeps from midnight to 6:30 a.m., all week long, and, on Friday and Saturday nights, he sleeps from 3:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. That's like going to Europe every weekend. Every Monday morning, he is jet-lagged. If your child is allowed to sleep until noon every Saturday and Sunday, he'll do it. But if he has to get up to play soccer on Saturdays at 9:00 a.m., he'll get up. Give the child the freedom to decide what he cares about, then figure out how to deal with that."

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