ADHD in Young Adults: Avoiding Symptom Collisions in College, First Jobs & Beyond
Young adults with ADHD may experience failure to launch — struggling to manage symptoms on the road to college graduation, first jobs, and independent living. Here, understand common academic, organizational, and social challenges in young adulthood — and ADHD-tested strategies for each.
ADHD in Young Adults (18 to 24 Years): Overview
Developmental Milestones in Young Adulthood
Leaving home for college. Organizing a gap year. Applying and interviewing for a first job. Adulting. Young adulthood is one big life event after another, each one needing the following developmental skills and each one impacted by ADHD symptoms like executive dysfunction:
- Advocating for oneself. College students with ADHD must communicate their needs (a quiet testing area, a class notetaker, etc.) to sometimes reluctant professors. New employees must be able to request performance-enhancing modifications, like frequent progress check-ins or telecommuting options.
- Juggling academics, work, and social obligations. This is hard for many young adults, who are tempted to hang out with friends rather than study or get to bed early.
- Taking responsibility for your physical and mental health. Young adults must develop a consistent daily medication routine, exercise regularly, practice self-care, and eat healthy meals and snacks. This requires self-discipline.
- Making thoughtful decisions. Which college to attend, which career to pursue, and how to nurture (or end) relationships — answering all of these important questions requires listing, considering, and measuring alternatives in a meaningful way.
Young Adults with ADHD: Strategies
It is the norm for college students with ADHD to have academic, organizational, and social challenges. Heavy course loads, a new independence, and a more complex social scene all bring their problems. Many young adults don’t realize how much they have relied on external supports through the years. To build independence, try these strategies:
1. Find the best college fit for your student. This doesn’t mean pursuing the highest-ranked or most prestigious schools. It means researching course offerings, requirements, and available waivers. It also means contacting the disabilities office and discussing accommodations such as:
- Using a student note taker
- Getting a copy of the professor’s notes ahead of class, so they can be reviewed in advance
- Getting help to identify content, professors, and assignment types that are a good fit for a student
- Breaking testing into shorter sections
- Recording lectures to listen to while studying.
2. At the outset of each semester, gather your syllabi, lay out assignments on a master calendar, and look at the entire semester. When are the major tests? When is the midterm? When are papers due? How to fit in parties and the social aspects of college? It all goes back to that basic advice — make a plan.
3. Structure is crucial for maintaining control of one’s time and life. Avoid an all-or-nothing approach; lay out achievable daily intentions instead. Try external motivators, like using a “body double” when studying or working at household chores, to boost productivity.
4. Daunting or uninteresting tasks will be difficult to initiate. This challenge is tied to weak emotional regulation — a core ADHD issue — not just poor time management. Admit your discomfort and be honest about why you’re avoiding the task. Divide large projects into small, doable steps with allotted times. Take breaks and reward yourself along the way.
5. To develop a regular routine for taking ADHD medication, set up a check-in system with your family, clinician, or your college’s health center. Target your medication to be effective when you need it most, and consider that your dosage may need to be adjusted by your doctor. Set reminders for refills. If shame gets in the way, remember that medication is an important tool for bringing out your strengths.
6. Aim for balanced meals or, at least, balanced days. Stick to set bed and wake-up times, and participate in movement-based activities. Notice what makes you feel good, and add more of it into your day. Use apps and reminders to build new habits.
Young Adults with ADHD: Treatments
Medication needs may change as focus shifts from a college schedule to a work schedule. This may require an extended release stimulant formulation that works for longer periods. In college, an ADHD coach can help young adults discover tools to combat procrastination and poor time management and prioritization skills.
Young Adults with ADHD: Next Steps
- Free Download: Need Help Finding Your Passion? Use This ADHD “Brain Blueprint”
- Read: The Case for (Working, Maturing) Gap Years
- Read: The College Survival Guide for Students with ADHD
The Ages & Stages of ADHD
Access more articles from ADDitude’s 5-part “Ages & Stages” series exploring common ADHD-related challenges through the lifecycle, along with strategies and treatments for each:
- Ages & Stages Part 1: ADHD in Children
- Ages & Stages Part 2: ADHD in Teens
- Ages & Stages Part 4: ADHD in Adults
- Ages & Stages Part 5: ADHD Medication List
These strategies for young adults with ADHD were derived in part from Meg Leahy’s, MS, NCC, BCC, work and expertise as an educator and ADHD coach. Read more about her recommended ADHD strategies through the ages in “The Life Coach Guide for ADHD: Strategies for Every Age and Stage.”
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