How to Prepare Your ADHD Student for College

Too many distractions and not enough structure derail many college students with ADHD. How to help your child prepare for freshman year.

College Prep, Part 2

Get what you need

Of course, accommodations vary depending on the individual student. Does your child struggle with organizing her time and assignments? Support services may arrange a special exam schedule for her, so she never has more than one a day. Does she have trouble reading? The school may arrange for her to have assignments recorded. Lots of ADHD students find note-taking a challenge, as it requires two skills — listening and writing — at once. In such cases, support services may arrange for note-takers. Does your child have trouble in a particular subject? Does she have a hard time paying attention? She may need smaller classes, and support services may arrange for her to register early so that she gets them.

Learning accommodations can be as simple as a seat in the front of the room or extra time on a test. But in order to qualify for any special considerations, your school needs to know about your child's ADHD in advance.

"When you decide you need extra time on a test, you can't just go in and say, 'Hey, I want to take my test untimed,'" notes Dr. Weyandt. "The university will expect documentation."

Handing over your child's evaluation is only the beginning. "Students should be able to describe their challenges and know what accommodations they're eligible for," stresses Lakshmi Clark, CSD (Center for Students with Disabilities) Coordinator at NYU. "They should read their own evaluations and understand the recommendations."

Self help

Being proactive is yet another important variation from high school. As young adults, college students are responsible for their own advocacy. This is no longer the job of their parents or teachers. And it's an ongoing process that doesn't stop after your child has arranged to have a note-taker in his Western Civilization class. If the note-taker gets the flu, your child needs to follow up with support services to find a replacement.

Not only can the LD support services office help your child get the accommodations she needs, it can also lead her to other resources on campus. For instance, support services may steer your child to the writing center, where a counselor can help her brainstorm ideas, get started on a paper, or organize her thoughts. If she alerts support services that she's feeling overwhelmed, they can direct her to the counseling center to sign on for stress-management workshops.

If your child says she's struggling in a particular subject, learning support can hook her up with a tutor. (Incidentally, it's a good idea for your child to personally alert her professors about her ADHD in the fall.) Perhaps a coach, offered by the school or hired privately, would be helpful. At NYU, Aaron Wolf meets with a coach weekly. "I bring my planner and get my week organized."

Lakshmi Clark works with Wolf and many others. With her students, she maps out daily and weekly schedules, planning in increments as small as 15- and 30-minute intervals. Time is set aside for study and for going to the drugstore to buy shampoo. "I find that students enjoy the sessions," says Clark. "Most come regularly and find it helpful — even if only to check in and show they've completed their assignments."

Summer lessons

While many graduating seniors see the summer before college as their last great vacation, one last chance to live it up, experts suggest that students with ADHD spend the summer pretending that freshman year has already begun. "When structure falls away, it's hard for ADHD students to think about what's keeping them on track," says Catherine Axe, coordinator of disability support services at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. So parents and students should address what's going to happen in the coming months, now.

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