In College Things Will be Different; the lies ADHD high school seniors tell themselves and anyone else who will listen
If there is one pearl of wisdom I can impart on a high school senior who has ADHD, it is that going away to college will not magically change the fundamentals of who they are as a student. A student who has ADHD and impaired executive functions and does not turn in homework regularly, study for tests, or is not motivated in high school will not turn in homework regularly, study for tests, or become highly motivated in college. Yet time after time, year after year, I see the exact same pattern among ADHD students. They have convinced themselves, and often their parents, that once they pass through those college gates, they will, like Dorothy on the road to Oz, go from gray scale to full color only to eventually end up (hint: there’s no place like it!) back home.
It is understandable that ADHD students and parents become all caught up in the excitement of touring colleges, applying to schools, and the unadulterated joy of receiving acceptance letters. But under the surface, parents know having ADHD and going off to college may not end well for their child. New friends! Parties! No nagging parents! So much fun to further distract their ADHD brains! Will ADHD students who were hanging on by a thread in high school suddenly develop the maturity and discipline to overcome their difficulties in sustaining attention, time management, pre-planning, problem solving and self advocacy? Maybe, but the odds are not in their favor.
With tens of thousands of dollars on the line each year, sending an ADHD child off to school on a wing and a prayer is risky. Luckily there are ways to increase the chances of success.
Delay, Delay, Delay – A structured gap year program, a post graduate year, attending community college, and living at home…. anything to give their ADHD brains more time to mature while developing crucial executive function abilities.
Smaller Schools – Choosing a college that has a smaller student population fosters more personal relationships among students and their professors. Large lecture halls and ADHD do not mix well.
Support Services – Parents should make sure there is a “students with disabilities” office to help advocate for students with learning challenges and implement accommodations. Tutoring centers for math and writing (a weakness for many ADHD students) are crucial as well.
Academic Coaching – Some schools offer support for ADHD students in the form of academic or student success coaching. However, most schools employ only a few academic coaches for a student body of thousands, so supplementing with private academic coaching is recommended.
A Contract – Developing a contract with an ADHD student that lists realistic parameters really does help, as long as it is taken seriously and followed to the letter. Once concessions are made, it is no longer effective.
It is important to remember that people with ADHD and executive function weaknesses, on average, have higher IQ’s than the general population. Most ADHD students have the capacity to do well in college but it takes support, responsible behavior, and a true desire to succeed – no magic necessary.