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“Mom, I Handled It.”

Lee was a poster child for ADHD in high school – always disorganized, out-of-sync, and running late. On her first day of college, she showed me that her struggles with executive functions were (finally!) behind her. She was ready to succeed on her own, without my support.

I sat down with my second cup of coffee, taking a moment to relax. Ever since Lee had left that morning, I’d kept myself busy with e-mails, phone calls, picking up the house – anything to keep myself from worrying how she’d navigate her first day of college. My phone started dancing across the table and I grabbed it, watching Lee’s texts come at me in classic ADHD hyper-speed.


“I’m on time, but no one’s here!”

“Classroom’s empty.”

I stared at the phone. What had gone wrong? I’d been there in June when she got her student schedule and memorized the days and times. What was I thinking?  I hadn’t checked the schedule since then, and things could have changed. Wasn’t it up to me to give Lee the extra support she deserved because of her ADHD, anxiety, and learning disabilities?

I started to text, “Go to your counselor’s office…”

Then I remembered the parent lecture during the new student orientation when the counselor asked us, “When you went to college, what was the biggest life lesson you learned during the first year?  Did it come from a mistake or an accomplishment?” Laughter rippled throughout the room.  “Yep…a mistake, right?”

How could my child learn if I took away her mistakes?  Or claimed them as my own? I put the phone down. She needed to find the solution, not me.

[13 Survival Tips from College Graduates with ADHD]

I thought back to the night before. I’d poked my head into Lee’s room and saw her packing her backpack for school.  Organization was executive function #1, the ADHD challenge that regularly gave my daughter headaches.

“Can I help?” I asked.

She gave me a warning look that said, Back off, I’m in charge. And I tried to hide my amazement as I watched her pack as if she were going on a trip for the weekend. Computer, textbook, binder, voice recorder, lunch bag and student ID, all neatly tucked in as if she did this every day.

As I left her room, I thought back to the old Lee in high school. I was lucky if she remembered her shoes, let alone her backpack! I had done so much for her in the mornings, from waking her up to making her lunch and checking that her homework was in her backpack. But in those days, Lee’s anxiety had me by the throat. If I could get her out of the door and into the car, I did whatever it took, including breaking every rule of how to raise a teenager.

Now here we were, the night before college, and I felt superfluous to her new life.

I heard Lee calling from her room, “Mom, I need you.”

Finally. I went back into her room, eager to be a small part of this miraculous change into a confident college student.

“Before I go to class, I need to ask for the accommodations memo for my professors. Can you remind me of what to say?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Executive function #2, prioritization, also tough for Lee, was now grinding away, helping her plan her first day of college. Together, we thought of the way to ask, and she wrote the words down on a Post-it, then put it in the outside pocket of her backpack where it wouldn’t get lost.

[Free Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?]

Even after these signs that Lee was turning over a new leaf, I was still holding my breath the next morning.  She’d been the poster child for ADHD all through high school.  She was a poor sleeper, unable to wake early; she’d rolled into school late, consequences be damned.  Time management was executive function #3, and she struggled with it the most.

But she was up this morning, right after the alarm clock went off, and ready to start the day. Of course, I knew this was just the beginning, and we had a long way to go before we’d know if she’d make it through college.

The phone danced across the table again. I picked it up and read the screen.

“I handled it.”

I raised both fists in the air. “Yes!”

“Study Skills is a late start class. I’m three weeks early.”

Three weeks early? I put down the phone and started laughing. Then, I read her text again.

“I handled it.”

Three little words that carried so much hope.

[Conquering College]