Teens with ADD: Transitioning to Adulthood

How to help your ADD teen make a smooth transition to an adulthood with greater responsibility.

ADD teens may need more parental support

As you plunge into the river of life, be a boat, not a log.

Peter Jaksa, Ph.D.

Resources for Teens

Survival Guide for College Students with ADD & LD, by Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D. (Magination Press)

ADD and the College Student, by Patricia O. Quinn, M.D. (Magination Press)

Finding a Career That Works for You, by Wilma Fellman, M.Ed. (Specialty Press)

A Bird's-Eye View of Life with ADD and ADHD: Advice from Young Survivors, by Chris Zeigler Dendy and Alex Dendy (Cherish the Children)

"Grow Up Already!" by Ellen Kingsley

"College Bound" by Lois Gilman

National Resource Center on AD/HD


Welcome to adulthood! Late adolescence and early adulthood are exciting times, bringing tremendous change and personal growth. From choices about higher education to decisions about a career and family, there is so much ahead that it may seem overwhelming. Take heart - every adult has faced these same decisions and met the same challenges. You'll do fine.

As an ADD teen, however, be aware that you have some additional responsibilities and concerns to shoulder. As someone who has been there, let me outline six points to consider, and offer some advice and inspiration, as you enter the next phase of your life.

1. Take responsibility for managing ADD in your life

Be honest - by now, you're a little sick of hearing about ADD, reading about ADD, being treated for ADD, and just plain dealing with ADD. As you take responsibility for your own life, you might consider discontinuing medical treatment or letting go of the organizational strategies that you've developed to cope with ADD. This would be a mistake, one with potentially very damaging consequences. As life becomes more complicated and responsibilities increase (college, relationships, work), the need to manage ADD effectively becomes more important, not less.

Let go of any stigma or resentment you may have about ADD, so that you can manage it as honestly and constructively as possible. ADD is simply a part of who you are, like the color of your hair or your athletic ability. Companionship helps, so join a support group in your town or online, and talk with those who've learned to look beyond the ADD label. Feel comfortable with your unique kind of brain, one that has its positives as well as its negatives.

Get involved with your own treatment. Do you know not only the name, but the dosage of and schedule for taking your medication? Can you tell whether it's working properly or not? Can you monitor any side effects? Build a relationship with your doctor and take on the responsibility for refilling your own prescriptions.

Healthy self-awareness starts with a realistic picture of one's strengths and weaknesses, and willingness to work with them (or around them). Building on strengths and overcoming areas of weakness are two skills that help us succeed in everything we do in life. Accepting ADD is a step toward accepting yourself for who you are.

2. Don't feel that you must go to college - at least not right away

Attending college after graduating from high school is increasingly seen as a given: "Of course, I'm going to college - doesn't everyone?" But sometimes it makes sense to delay that next step, or not to attend college at all.You may be so tired after 12 years of struggling in school that, instead of seeing college as an opportunity for growth, it feels like a dreaded obligation. If your enthusiasm about this next stage is only lukewarm, consider deferring your enrollment. A college education should not be a race among friends to see who graduates first. Or, if you are not academically ready for a fulltime college program, consider taking classes at a community college, and transferring to a four-year school in your own good time.

In fact, for many, a college degree may not even be necessary for them to achieve their life goals. If you excel at carpentry or mechanics, for example, and you're thinking of pursuing a career in those fields, you don't need to spend four years at college. Consider your individual interests and abilities, rather than general societal expectations, before making a decision about the next steps in your education.

3. Develop life skills before you leave home

As a psychologist, I am always pained to see an optimistic 18-year-old go away to school, only to return home in a state of shock after the first semester, dismayed, demoralized, and possibly even failing his courses. Usually this happened because the student wasn't sufficiently prepared to function without the external structure that was in place while he was living at home during high school.

Start developing skills for independent living before you leave for college - long before. Take inventory of your survival skills. Are you more productive when you have a set routine? Start getting to bed at the same time and setting your own alarm clock. Which accommodations have worked best for you at your high school? Contact the office of disabilities or student services at the college you'll be attending and ask for similar accommodations there. Whether you're still in junior high or are finishing your last semester of high school, it's not too late, as long as you take action now, so these measures will be in place by the time you leave for freshman year.

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TAGS: ADHD and College, Teens and Tweens with ADHD

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