Guest Expert

College Readiness: What Does That Mean for Kids with ADHD?

By Featured Experts, Dr. Jodie Dawson and Jane Benson, MA, CPCC

Fearing Failure?

Coach: “What would happen if you didn't remind your child to do his homework?”

Parent: “He would fail his class, wouldn't do well on the SAT's, wouldn't graduate high school, wouldn't go to college, would never move out, would never get a good job and would be a total failure.

Do any of these fears sound familiar? We have heard and experienced a wide range of these and related fears from families with children diagnosed with ADHD. We are here to let you know that you are not alone.

As parents of children with ADHD, we find ourselves, more often than not, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We work so hard trying to keep our kids organized, manage their time and help them stay focused, that we don't always recognize the toll this is taking on us, them and our families. How long can we keep it up, and at what expense?

So, when we begin thinking about college readiness for our ADHD children, we are extremely mindful of the practical issue such as grades, standardized tests, and applications. But we often overlook some important life skills that our children will need in order to be successful in a college setting. We over-focus on getting them through and less on the skills that lead to greater independence. Once the structure of home life and high school are gone, our children, almost overnight, become the drivers of creating that structure for themselves.

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Build Skills Over Time

In order for them to sit in the driver's seat, the transition of survival and life skills has to begin sooner rather than later.  The word “transition” inherently implies a process that occurs over time. We believe, ideally, this process should begin upon entering high school, in small steps and increments, and through a collaborative parent-child partnership. The goal is, ultimately, having your child take ownership of their course. Once in college, your child is the one sitting in the classroom, getting assignments, doing laundry, and managing an inordinate amount of free time outside of the classroom.

Having worked with many college students, we have seen many who have not been adequately prepared for the realities of the college life. They lack certain survival skills that ultimately get in the way of their success. Getting to class on time, tracking assignments, speaking to professors about accommodations, asking for help, and setting goals are just a few of many important skills that need to be honed in order for students to be successful.

For your high school student, the safety of home life is a perfect environment to begin flexing the independence muscle. For many, we have been managing all of our children's academic and social responsibilities because of our own fears and the realities of their challenges. So, in what areas are you, the parent, willing to begin transitioning to your child? It is definitely not easy, and our own fears often get in the way. But it is critical to your child's success. Let that knowledge help keep you track.

Here is a list of important skills and areas for you to look at and examine. Think about ways to begin transitioning responsibilities to your child in preparation for college success:

    1. Understand their diagnosis and how it impacts their performance
    2. Time management
    3. Organization
    4. Self-care and chores
    5. Medication issues
    6. Asking for help
    7. Setting goals

It is important to note that not all of these skills and college “readiness” develop at the same time for all ADHD kids, nor do you have to have them “figured out.” Each child has their own journey toward college success. This could mean taking a gap year, going to a community college or taking some time to work. All of these options essentially allow time to continue growing, maturing and developing critical skills.

College Readiness for Kids with ADHD

In all, college readiness is a real possibility for all kids with ADHD. “Readiness” will manifest itself at different times and in different ways. Kids need to be given opportunities to be in the driver's seat before they make the leap to college life. This enables them to begin taking ownership for all aspects of their lives, and experience what true independence might be like for them in the future.

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