ADHD College Survival Tips

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


Filed Under: ADHD and College, Teens and Tweens with ADHD, Organization Tips for ADHD Kids, ADHD in High School, Learning Disabilities
College Success for ADD/ADHD students ADDitude Magazine

My natural state is complete and total chaos. My life is about trying to overcome that.

David Burkhart, ADD/ADHD graduate student
   
 

Would a "Bridge" Program Help Your ADD/ADHD Teen?

Many colleges offer "bridge" programs designed for ADD/ADHD and LD students. These programs typically allow students to spend a few weeks living in a dorm, eating in the dining hall, and meeting with faculty members and other matriculating students - before the school year starts.

During the college application process, find out which of the colleges under consideration offer bridge programs. If the college your child chooses to attend does not offer such a program, it may be possible (and advisable) for him to attend summer school there.

Another option is to take classes at a community college - to repeat classes they failed in high school or to "experiment" with subjects of potential interest. "High school kids often get excited about learning when they come to a community college," says developmental education specialist Holly Susi. "Success in the community college classroom often breeds the self-confidence they need to attend college."

 
   

Visit ADDitude's ADHD College Survival Guide

John Muscarello had no trouble making the transition to college life, despite his severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD).

That's because the 20-year-old cultivated good habits while attending high school in Glen Head, New York. "I had an assignment pad where I wrote everything down," he explains. "I also had a big calendar on my bedroom wall. I wrote down upcoming papers and dates, so I always knew what I had going on. I would get home from sports, take a shower, eat dinner, take a pill, and then do all my work."

In high school, John handed in papers before they were due. "Teachers would help me revise them," he says, "and I'd hand them in again, when everyone else did." And he cultivated close relationships with faculty members - a strategy he continues at Pennsylvania's York College by e-mailing his professors at the beginning of each semester to introduce himself and explain his academic "issues." He got this idea from his mother, Mary, who always made it a point to meet with her son's teachers to give them a heads-up.

Of course, laughs Mary, "The fact that we owned a pastry shop and brought stuff to school didn't hurt either."

Things were different for David Burkhart, a 28-year-old graduate student. He had done well at the prep school he attended, where students woke up, ate, studied, and went to bed at prescribed times. Given the order imposed on him, no one even suspected that David had ADD/ADHD, as well as dysgraphia.

But David's life unraveled as he began his freshman year at Auburn University.

"I got to college and moved into my own apartment. For the first time in my life, I didn't have a bedtime," he says. "I had no clue how to eat or plan my day. I went from having one hour of free time a day to having three hours of class a day - and nobody cared if I didn't show up for those. I 'washed my clothes' by buying new stuff. I bought a new pair of slacks every week."

Within weeks, David had dropped all his classes. He tried to hide the truth from his parents, but his father, the chairman of Auburn's psychology department, and his mother soon found out. David's dad sent him to live with an uncle in Florida, where he spent four grueling months pouring asphalt and considering what he would do differently if he returned to college.

Real Life 101

If you're the parent of an ADD/ADHD child or a child with learning disablities (LD), you probably try to make sure he or she learns critical academic skills. But knowing how to listen in class and keep up with assignments aren't enough to ensure success at college. Your youngster must know how to manage his time, set and stay within a budget, do laundry, and generally get through life on his own.

To give your child the best chance at succeeding in college, try to make him the "author of his own life," says Karen Boutelle, director of coaching services at Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. Rehearse real-world situations that will let your child practice essential skills before leaving home.

"Children must be allowed to fail," Boutelle says. "If you let them experience disappointments, they learn to make choices and handle the results. It's not about teaching a system, but about engaging in a learning process."

Boutelle encourages parents to ask their children what she calls "curious questions." "When people with ADD/ADHD run into a roadblock," she explains, "they tend to feel they have no option. But if you ask them a question, it serves as a gateway into their options, and helps them activate their knowledge."

Not enough hours in the day

As David Burkhart learned the hard way, college lets students choose how to spend their time: Write the paper or attend the party. Do laundry or buy new clothes. His problem, he says, is that he had no experience at managing his own time.

Ben Mitchell, director of admissions at Landmark College, says kids can avoid this problem by getting into the habit of scheduling everything in their lives - sports, laundry, parties, TV shows, and, of course, study time. "The more a student can externalize his schedule, the more likely he or she is to remember it," says Mitchell.

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