ADHD in College

College Prep for Your Teen with ADHD

How your teen should begin preparing for college now.

Fill in the blanks and start prepping for college now
Fill in the blanks and start prepping for college now

For most high school graduates, the transition to college is both exciting and confusing. For those with ADHD, that transition can be far more challenging than most people imagine. Without preparation ahead of time, your child is likely to stumble.

College is full of newness. Students find themselves living in strange cities, sleeping in dorms, wandering around foreign campuses, and mingling with strangers. Teens with ADHD can become so lost in their new surroundings that they become depressed. They are ill-equipped to handle the newfound freedom at college, and often, they veer off course. Many routinely miss classes. Others cease to be physically active. Some get involved with drugs and alcohol, enter into traumatic relationships, even lose their zest for life.

Some people consider all of this a rite of passage. I consider it a waste of time, a waste that can be avoided. If your child has ADHD, it’s crucial to begin preparing him for college — anticipating and addressing the changes that will occur — during his senior year of high school. The following steps can help your child navigate, even enjoy, his new college life.

Discuss the exciting aspects of college as well as the less welcome surprises. Ask how he will handle waking up, doing the laundry, and obtaining spending money. You don’t want your talk to become a nagging session; you do want to come up with some realistic plans. Reassure him that you’re not going to college with him, just offering help on how to survive without you. Get down to specifics. Set up a plan that makes sense to you both.

Around February of his senior year, begin to withdraw your daily supervision and support. (Of course, you should warn him first!) Think of the next six or seven months as college training camp, a time for him to learn how to handle freedom. Without help from Mom or Dad, he should practice living independently — going to bed and waking up on his own, doing laundry, managing money, choosing (and preparing) healthy foods. Talk about drinking responsibly, and how he can get medical help on campus should he ever need it.

Once you know which college your child will attend, call the school’s office of Disability Support Services and find out how your child can get the learning accommodations he needs. Maybe he’ll need extra time on tests, or maybe he’ll require a note-taker if he writes slowly. Don’t assume that just because he had such support in high school, it will automatically be there in college. It won’t — in college, it’s your child’s responsibility to seek out the learning support he needs and follow up until he gets it.

When your child gets to college, find someone to coach him. This is crucial. He needs an adult friend to check on him three or four times a week and help him with time management and organization. Talk with your child about the importance of this person, then find a nearby relative, a college counselor, or a reliable graduate student looking for part-time work. Over the course of his college career, encourage your child to seek out a senior faculty member he finds inspiring. This type of mentor can help motivate your child to do well academically.

Finally, stay in touch with your child and his coach. Agree in advance how and when you will do this (phoning once a week or maybe e-mailing every other day) so there will be no conflict about it. If your child resists, do whatever it takes to accommodate your watchful eye (bribes sometimes work!).

If you and your child work together to avoid the pitfalls of college life, he has a better shot at enjoying the rambunctious, stimulating experience that college ought to be.