Alternative for Failing College Freshman

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  ADHDmomma 1 year ago.

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  • #69472


    My 18 year old is failing her first semester at a college located a plane’s ride from home. Am not there, but have seen her twice and spoken with her weekly. She is in denial: doesn’t want to continue failing, can’t seem to turn it around, and doesn’t want to leave. I think she needs options, but I don’t know what the best ones would be.

    Her executive function is severely impaired. She has a very slow processing speed (6th percentile) and she’s very bright (VIQ 140’s, PIQ 130’s). Tried hard in beginning and now is shutting down. She isn’t getting work done, isn’t handing it in, and has stopped studying. She has access to great ADHD coach (who comes to the college, but daughter misses appointments in library), an excellent psychiatrist/therapist (short Uber ride away), and college disabilities services. Accommodations include double time on all exams, use of keyboard, reduced course load.

    Is in well known music school (Frost School at U Miami) which was her dream come true. Just too overwhelmed by executive function requirements (keeping room and school belongings organized, taking meds, managing time) – that coupled with needing much longer than peers to get work done – seem to be overwhelming her. Also, slow processing speed may be stopping her from playing instrument at high speed, so she’s unable to keep beat (on electric bass) with rest of ensemble/band. She’s extremely sweet and was well liked in high school. College peers like her, but don’t understand what’s happening with her. She wants to be like everyone else, so moving in with adult who can help keep her organized is out. Has been coached endlessly at high school for kids with ADHD about using alarms, apps, everything else to compensate. None of it seems to work for her.

    My main concern is loss of self-esteem and motivation due to depression and failure. Her high school friends are all away at college – nobody near home. She is youngest child, so if she comes home she’d be with me and husband – no siblings. She could get job, and go into therapy at home, and when ready start community college courses slowly. Or she could go to program away from home – but it would need to be one that has enough therapeutic support as well as understanding of how to compensate for executive dysfunction to help her succeed in transitioning to independence. Says she doesn’t want to go to Landmark College because she wants normal school.

    Any advice would be welcome. Are there transitional programs specifically for ADHD/executive dysfunction to help young adults like her succeed? Thanks.

  • #69503


    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

  • #69670


    Hi Penny,

    Your response helps. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience with me.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote, “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.”

    Thanks to your post (and the articles you cited) I have been reading up on avoidance. Do you have any suggestions on how to tackle this obstacle?

    Gratefully, Janet

    • #69918


      Honestly, I should have advice on avoidance, but I’m finding it difficult to improve with my own son at the moment. I think the extra difficulty lies in the fact that it’s learned helplessness — a coping mechanism they’ve learned over time. By the teen and young adult years, it can be very ingrained and habitual. Avoidance is born not just from fear of failure, but also from a pattern of failure (whether it really was failure or not – perceived failure is powerful too).

      What I’m doing right now is trying my darndest to get teachers to help me hold my son accountable. He has a brutally stubborn habit of saying he finished work and turned it in, true or not. I’m working with teachers to confirm completion and watching his grades online like a hawk. Then, I’m calling him out when it’s not true. And I’m pushing him to let me help him more with homework — which he puts a ton of effort into resisting, because he knows it takes longer if he actually has to try to do well on things. What’s sad, is that this is a highly intelligent kid who wants to succeed. He’s just been programmed over many years of school struggles and inappropriate messages that he’s lazy at school, to the point that he doesn’t think he can do well and please his teachers, so why bother.

      It’s more difficult for your daughter, because she’s an adult and away from home — you simply don’t have the influence and control needed to help her turn this around. At this point, she has to accept her ADHD and accept the help. You can’t force her to do that. And, the more you nag about it, the more she will likely resist (our kids don’t want to do what we tell them, they want to figure it out on their own). All you can do is continue to let her know you’re there to support her and help her in any way she needs. And, maybe, let her know you won’t pay for her to continue to do poorly — set a minimum GPA (most majors require a C average to get the degree) that you’ll pay for. Sometimes an approach like that works, and sometimes it backfires.

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

  • #69935


    Your advice matches what other professionals are telling me, Penny.

    At this point the best strategy appears to be maintaining communication and trust while allowing her to separate. When she is ready to accept help at least she’ll feel free to turn to us. Setting limits she cannot meet will likely backfire. For me, not nagging or setting limits is difficult; I feel such loss of control and fear. But it helps that she’s talking to me.

    Your son is lucky to have you. It sounds like you are giving him exactly what he needs to succeed – even though it takes a lot of effort on your part.

    With respect,

    • #69946


      It is difficult to put the responsibility on our kids and relinquish control. Especially when they have differences and we have spent so much time helping them all these years. Your fear is valid, and human. Accept and validate your feelings about it, then you can move past it and start using that energy for something more productive.

      It’s so very hard, but you can totally do it. And, your daughter will very likely succeed in the end, just in her own way, with more bumps, and on her own timetable.

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

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