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It’s Never Too Early to Foster Independence in ADHD Kids

Foster Independence in Kids With ADHD - It's Never Too Early

I remember the day well.

Parents were dropping off their kids for the first semester of their Freshman year at Boston University. I could see the mixture of excitement and anxiety etched on the faces of parents and kids alike. As kids were settling into their dorms, parents checked out the various campus resources As an Academic Support Specialist, I was charged with overseeing the tutoring center for undergraduates.

A mom and dad came in to check out the tutoring center. In no time, the conversation took a turn...

Concerns About Fostering Independence

The mom started to tell me that she was worried because her son has ADHD, and she was not sure he could navigate all the responsibilities of being independent at college. While she was not really expecting an answer from me, she wondered aloud, "Without my husband or me here, will he...

  • take advantage of the resources available, like tutoring? (She noted that any support he took advantage of in high school was a result of her "prodding.")
  • advocate for himself with the professors?
  • request accommodations if he needed them? (He was registered with the Office of Disability Services, but since he was firm that he did not want accommodations, they did not request them.)
  • remember to do his laundry? (She had always done it for him.)

She was clearly concerned about how he would manage in college. And judging from our conversation, it sounded like she had good reasons for concern.

Is there something she and her husband could have done to prepare him better while he was still at home?

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Preparing Early to Foster Independence

Each of our children with ADHD is vastly different in their needs and abilities.  Given this reality, consider how you can help your child grow and to foster independence by asking:

  • How can I empower my child to self-advocate?
  • How can I encourage my child to seek out needed support?
  • What task(s) could my child start taking responsibility for doing?
  • Where can I step back so that my child can step up?

Then, focus on supporting and holding your child accountable. Rather than jumping in and doing everything for them, turn your focus to the processes that your child can do independently. Celebrate systems or processes well-executed instead of only looking to results as a sign of success. The key is to remind yourself of the long-term goal to foster independence, rather than the immediate short-term goals of “getting stuff done.”

An Example

This process is not easy and takes infinite patience. Often, you will feel like jumping in and "saving your child!" But the patience pays off, as you can see in this example (offered with my daughter's permission).

After first-term grades came out this year, my daughter and I had a conversation about getting help in one of her classes. We mapped out a plan, including...

  • what kind of help she might seek out
  • who she needs to talk to in order to find out what resources are available
  • the specific steps she needs to take

Two weeks went by before a plan started to take shape. I could have done this in a day by calling her guidance counselor. Trust me, I was tempted!

Instead, each time she hit a "roadblock," we strategized. When she said...

  • "I forgot" … we reviewed (again) how to use her new planner and how to check her to-do list throughout the day.
  • "I couldn't find my guidance counselor" … we talked about other ways of reaching her instead of giving up. She sent an email to set up an appointment.

After finally meeting with her counselor, my daughter said, "I'm glad that I initiated that."

Me, too!

Where Can You Foster Independence?

Can you think of places in your child's life where you can step back and your child can step up? Could they...

  • do their own laundry?
  • cook a meal on  occasion?
  • maintain their own calendar, while you also keep their appointments in your calendar, too?
  • keep their own to do list, which you can review as they learn how to use it?
  • work with you to problem-solve around a "current roadblock"?

You may cringe just thinking of asking your child to do more. After all, I know it takes plenty of your time and energy just to help keep up with schoolwork and extracurriculars, right?

So, it is tempting to conclude, "Why add more hassle to the mix. And besides, if I don't do it, they won't. Then what?"

In the long run, this thinking can lead us to do a lot more for our kids with ADHD than is useful for them.

Beyond The Here and Now

It is challenging to help kids with ADHD successfully navigate the middle and high school years, never mind the years beyond. I know.

But the bottom line is this: the road to independence for kids with ADHD is longer than it is for most neurotypical kids. It just is.

And while you certainly can't anticipate all that your child might need when they get to college, the earlier you start to prepare, the easier it will be in the long run.

Next Steps

It is never too early. At every stage of development, there are opportunities for your child to stretch a little, to take on just one area of responsibility at a time. They can be baby steps at first, but they lead to the ultimate goal of fostering independence. A particularly good time to start taking steps is in eighth grade, preparing for high school. But really, it's something to start doing, step by step, along the way.

What is one area you would like to focus on helping your child become more independent?

By the way

My daughter started doing her own laundry a year ago, in 8th grade. Yesterday, I found her clothes in my hamper. She explained (with that adorable smile) that her hamper was full.

It's a process, a long process.

Last time, I helped her out. She's learning, after all, and it takes time to learn new skills. This time, the clothes are going back in her hamper. One step at a time…

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