Taking ADHD to College

Is your ADHD teen prepared for college life? I wasn’t. My parents thought I would be under the watchful eye of my brother, who was a year ahead of me. We lived together in an apartment my first year, and he had already found his family of brothers before I arrived. It’s called a fraternity. 

My brother and I shared a car. He needed it one day when I would be in imprisoned in afternoon classes. He asked me to meet him on campus before my first class so I could tell him where I had parked it. “The car is on East Main St.,” I said. I didn’t add that it was out of gas! He still likes telling that story. It begins it with, “I will never forget…” He hasn’t. 

My parents didn’t attend college and had no idea how to prepare me for living independently and managing academic work at the college level. I was barely 18 years old and maturationally challenged. After a couple of false starts and interruptions, I began to enjoy the academic work and discovered creative ways to manage my schedule, papers, and preparation for exams. The library was my best environment for studying; our apartment was the worst. Higher level undergraduate classes and graduate school were more interesting than the early classes. General education classes were structured too much like high school then. 

Preparing kids to leave home should start long before high school graduation. By the time your teen is in the eleventh grade, you are lucky to have some influence, and you can squander it if your aim is to control what you can’t. Trying to assert control often results in push-back, which is not abnormal at that age, developmentally speaking. 

Appealing to your adolescent’s drive to get away from you can help. I often asked adolescents in therapy if they wanted my help in getting their parents off their backs. No teenager ever declined my offer. One 17-year-old began doing homework immediately upon arriving home from school. His explanation reflected his developing awareness and acceptance of his ADHD. He explained that (1) completing assignments early prevented interruptions of preferred activity and having to restart the dreaded academic work later; (2) having medicine still active at 3 pm helped him complete assignments efficiently and without careless mistakes; and (3) his parents were more flexible and generous when he could show completed homework by dinner time.

Unlike the parents of my adolescent clients, I had the advantage of a brief relationship and no prior history with them. Your teen may decline your generous offer to help him acquire independent living skills, learn to organize and prioritize academic work, use adaptive tools, and employ adaptive strategies. Professional support can encourage your adolescent and preserve family relationships. An academic coach, professional organizer, or summer program may help prevent wasting tuition on a failed semester. And you can save your child from becoming discouraged and embarrassed to be back home with you while his peers are moving on. 

You can find links to websites and books for parents on the resources page of my website: http://terrymhuff. You can follow links from those to other websites and explore more resources. There are many. Keep browsing. 

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