The College Try: Is Your Child Ready for Freshman Year?

Solid college prep begins at home, and it doesn't happen overnight — so make a long-term plan to help your child succeed when she heads to campus.

Moving to College

Mary learned to deal with conflict. By her senior year, she handled most school conferences on her own.

— Theresa Maitland, Ph.D.

First, the good news: the number of students with ADHD and/or LD attending college has increased exponentially in the past 30 years. Getting into college is only half the battle. All teens, especially those with ADHD and LD, need strategies to meet increased academic expectations and to live on their own.

A Tale of Two Freshman

Catherine and Mary finished their first semester at college. Catherine is distraught. She found out that she is on academic probation, and her performance next semester will determine whether she'll be eligible to return to college the following year. Catherine knew that having ADHD and LD in reading would make college more challenging, but she was blindsided by having to manage it all with no adult supervision.

Her social adjustment went well — she joined some clubs and made some friends — but the academic transition was rocky. She was late for classes or missed them entirely. She found it hard to make and follow a schedule, keep up with her assignments, take her medication, and use available resources at the school to help her avoid this crisis.

Mary, on the other hand, is happy. She got a 3.0 GPA. She was able to create and follow a daily schedule, made some great friends, kept her room and herself organized, and handled her medication and much of her daily life, with only occasional help from her parents. Her ADHD and LD in reading brought many academic challenges, but she had practiced coping skills in high school, had ongoing coaching from her parents, and knew how to use all of the services and accommodations available to her on campus.

A Tale of Two Parents

Both girls had been diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school. They both have above-average abilities, went to challenging high schools, and did well. A major factor in their success, or lack of it, is the way their parents worked with them in high school. When their daughters were young, both families adapted to their executive function deficits by advocating, planning, and structuring their kids' school lives for success. Without their parents' involvement, college wouldn't have been possible for Mary or Catherine.

However, Mary's parents decided to use parenting practices to prepare and empower her to take charge of her life before she left home. They began by thinking about what their daughter would need to function in college. They got support from professionals to find a middle ground between staying in control and letting go. They became increasingly less involved as they helped Mary lead the way.

Catherine's parents didn't think about her college years. They focused on their daughter's short-term success. They helped her make the grades to get into college, but they didn't encourage her to practice the skills needed to manage life on her own.

Which Type of Parent Are You?

If Catherine's parents' approach sounds like yours, don't despair. There are Parent Warriors, who fight any battle to ensure that their child is treated fairly; Parent Directors, who prevent problems before they happen; and Parent Repairmen, solving problems as soon as they crop up. Many are trapped in these roles because their children struggle with thinking and acting on their own. Shifting parenting approaches, as Mary's parents did, isn't easy, and it takes time and support. But it is possible, and the payoff in college is worth it.

Next: Let Her Develop Independence

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