Reply To: Alternative for Failing College Freshman

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Penny Williams

There are some great gap year programs for kids with ADHD and learning challenges. SOAR is one I know of for sure. It’s not just adventure and fun, but teaching and adopting strategies and skills to prepare them to be successful in college. It’s expensive, but not as bad as flushing out-of-state tuition down the toilet.

Ideally, a consistent and heavy dependence on disability services would be taking place. Most large universities offer a high level of support (tutoring, weekly or more frequent check-ins, help with EF, etc). However, it is solely up to the student to ask for and show up for the help.

So, the question becomes… does she want the help? Is she not showing up for coaching meetings because she doesn’t want to, or because she genuinely can’t keep up with her schedule and manage her time? A really honest answer to this determines next steps. If it’s a functional issue, you keep trying apps, technology, alarms, etc… until you find something that works. If it’s denial, and not wanting to be different, and not wanting to need extra help, then that’s a whole different ballgame to engage in. And much more difficult to overcome.

I think a collaborative meeting is in order. Help her outline her goals. Then help her determine what she has to do to meet those goals. Then help her see the correlation between getting help now and meeting her goals and aspirations down the line. Many times those with ADHD can’t see all these pieces and the sequencing clearly or on their own.

Of course, there are other alternatives too, like taking 2-3 classes at a time to reduce overwhelm and stress to provide an opportunity for success. Or going to community college next year to get her grades up, acclimate more to college life, and then go back to finish her dream degree at her dream school.

My daughter is also a freshman in college this year. While she doesn’t have an ADHD diagnosis, she has significant anxiety and a lot of EF struggles. I was terrified that she wouldn’t be able to manage. She is also terrified of failing at it. BUT, that has really fueled her to kick it in to gear and use apps and calendars and all the strategies and tools mom has been nagging her to use all through high school only to be met with her refusal. She’s doing quite well, but she’s still utterly terrified of “screwing this up.”

Now, my son, who’s a freshman in high school and does have ADHD (in addition to a list of other diagnoses), is an avoider when he gets overwhelmed or is afraid to do something wrong or get something wrong. Found out that much of the reason he has a 23% in math class right now is because he feels certain he’s going to do it wrong and lose points for not showing his work, so he just avoids doing it (found that out during an IEP meeting yesterday — fun times!). This could be part of the issue for your daughter, that she’s kind of paralyzed by overwhelm and fear of failure.

There are just so many potential possibilities, but you have to determine what is really the driving force behind her struggles and not getting help before you’ll now how to move forward.

Here’s more on helping college students with ADHD succeed:

The College Try: A Freshman Survival Guide

From Dropping Out of College to Working for Google: How My Son Found Success

ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism