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Can My ADHD Student Go to College if They Can't Find Their Shoes?

Updated: 3 days ago

Many concerned parents wonder if their ADHD student can handle going to college if they have not yet achieved the executive function skills needed to function with ease. The short answer is. . .  yes and the longer is  . . . maybe . . . and sometimes, no. It depends on a variety of factors.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Desire: Does your ADHD student want to go to college? With ADHD individuals, desire can be key. Now, by this, I am not asking how much your student has proven their desire to go to college by researching schools, scheduling college visits, beginning their college essay, or starting to fill out applications. Not at all.  I am merely asking if your child has expressed a desire to go. If your student is showing reluctance, it may be best to listen to them. Consider a gap year or starting at a community college. 

  • Distance: It can sometimes be best for students with ADHD not to go too far away from home. In the case of a crisis, it can be helpful to be able to reach your child rather quickly.  In addition, students with ADHD can sometimes benefit from periodic breaks at home to refresh and renew.  (Note: distance does not always have to be calculated in miles. It can be looked at as availability, accessibility, and length of flights.)

  • Passion: Will the student be pursuing a major of passion? If so, the possibility of success may be higher. Some ADHD students do better pursuing a BFA rather than a BA degree. Consider looking into specialized programs with fewer general  education requirements.  ADHD students can thrive when allowed to focus on their interests.

  • Support: Look into the amount of support the school offers to students with ADHD. Make sure to get your ADHD student registered with  disability services, even if they are saying they don’t need or intend to use their accommodations. That way, if things go downhill, they are already on the docket and can receive the special consideration given to students with ADHD. 

  • Mental Health: Consider the degree to which your child has struggled with depression or anxiety. Look into campus resources for these conditions, but be aware that most schools do not provide full mental health care and will refer the student out if ongoing care if needed.  Here, again, distance from home remains an important consideration. 

  • Academic Pressure: Be aware that some high-achieving ADHD students may do better at a gentler, lower-pressure school than at one of the “top” universities.  Being a bigger fish in a smaller (or, in the case of large schools, “gentler”) pond can have great benefits. 

  • Co-occurring Disorders: Does your student have other diagnoses in addition to that of ADHD? Do they have learning disabilities? Are they also on the autism spectrum? Additional conditions make your choice of college even more important. 

  • Self-Care: While we know that those who have ADHD struggle to be organized, it is helpful to reflect on how disorganized your student is. Are they to get themselves to bed, eventually? Will they eat  - say, at least once or twice a day - without being reminded?  Can they, eventually, find their shoes? We all know that the ideal would be to have all issues “fixed” before going away to college. I can’t tell you the number of parents who have said that they’d like their children to meet with me over the summer before college so they will be “ready.” But, here’s the deal, your child has had ADHD for about 18 years now (even if you didn’t know it!). If you have not “solved” their problems yet, they are unlikely to be solved in the 3-4 months before college.  That is not to say that certain skills can’t be worked on and developed. That is not to say that there aren’t amazing people out there with useful techniques (and many new apps to help as well). But the reality is, for each year your child ages, the needed executive function skills increase. So, there is a good chance they will not be “ready” when they leave home.    Now, occasionally, your child/young adult will come to a life-changing realization and will experience a total turnaround in their lives. I have heard of such things. I even experienced somewhat of such a thing myself when my eldest shared that they “woke up” about six weeks into freshman year and thought, “Mom’s not here!”  That being said, however, such miraculous realizations are often much more incremental than total and sadly, they cannot be scheduled. So, what is a parent to do? Should we put all plans on hold until the miraculous happens? Not necessarily.  Students with ADHD can thrive in college, but they often need significant support. ADHD students generally function best with a gradual, scaffolded release rather than a “sink or swim” approach.  So, make plans, prudently and cautiously, to send your ADHD child to college, being mindful of the fact that you will need to keep close tabs on how things are going and to remain ready to step in with help and support. If you'd like help finding a good fit college for your ADHD child, get in touch! And, if you find your student struggling once school begins, get in touch again! I'm just an email or facebook message away.

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