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“A Mom Faces Reality as College Looms for Her Daughter with ADHD”

There are few road maps to navigating college for students with ADHD, but this parent was surprised and pleased to find a way forward.

My new doctor was looking through my patient questionnaire. She said, “How old is your daughter?”

“18.”

“Is she going to college?”

“Fingers crossed. Lee wants to take it slowly, due to her ADHD.”

The doctor said, “My nephew has ADHD. My sister’s pushing him into college because she doesn’t want him to stay home and feel…different.”

“He is different. Get over it.” The words were out before I could stop them, like throwing cold water in someone’s face. I started to apologize, but the doctor nodded, concern filling her eyes.

[The College Try: A Freshman Survival Guide]

“I know. I worry so much about him.”

I was still thinking about my blunt words on the way to pick up Lee from school. If anyone knew how difficult it was to raise a child with ADHD, it was me. Funny how time hardens you, I thought. Years before, like my doctor’s sister, I’d battled frustration that my child didn’t match my expectations, like a puzzle piece you keep shoving into the wrong edge, willing it to just change shape a little and fit in. It wasn’t until I accepted Lee’s unique differences that I could finally breathe, move forward, and let go of the fantasy typical child.

Now that Lee was 18 and a senior in high school, I felt it was more important than ever that I faced reality. There were few roadmaps to navigating college when you had ADHD, learning disabilities, and anxiety. I agreed with Lee’s plan to start at a community college and take just a couple of classes. In the meantime, she’d gain more of the young adult skills that would allow her to succeed in a career, like organization, making wise decisions, and independent thinking.

I pulled up to the curb at the elementary school, where Lee was working as an educational aide for high school elective credit, and parked. She yanked the door open and flew into the car, music blaring.

[Self-Test: Could Your Teen Have ADHD?]

“Mom, I left my wallet on my bed. They almost didn’t let me out of the high school to come here today.” So much for remembering to put it in the backpack the night before. Strike one for organization.

“And I cancelled my tutoring session today.  I can study for the vocabulary test by myself.” Lee always got a better grade when her tutor helped her study for the test. Strike two for making a wise decision.

“Mom, I also forgot to turn in my timesheet from the elementary school. Text me tomorrow so I don’t forget.” What if it were a real job instead of volunteering for elective credit? Strike three for independence.

I blew out a breath and jammed the key into the ignition. 

“Oh! I almost forgot. Check this out.” Lee handed me her phone, and I looked at all the alerts she’d set up: 3:30 Homework, 5:30 Feed Pets, 6:00 Treadmill, 6:30 Shower, 7:00 Eat dinner, plus a dozen more.

“I’m trying…,” she said, her large brown eyes looking to me for affirmation as she reached for her phone.

I held on to it for a moment, feeling as if I’d discovered buried treasure, solid as gold, real proof that Lee could make plans for her future. It was the beginning of her road map to college and that made all the difference.

[How to Steer Your Teen Without Hovering or Nagging]



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  1. This article speaks to me! My 9 year old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD last year. I’m struggling with the fact that I had envisioned a mini version of myself when I had a daughter. I do not have ADHD and excelled academically, was quiet, calm, and obtained a nursing degree by age 22. Being an educated woman is very important to me. I see how my daughter is impacted basically “globally” by her diagnosis. She hates school and really struggles academically despite being medicated, on a 504, and having private tutors. Navigating daily life with her is exhausting. I feel judged by other mothers. I worry about her and her future to the point of having anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

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