By: Judith S. Bass – Original rendition featured in Attention Magazine for CHADD©
AS A PARENT OF A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT who has ADHD, you are likely excited about the idea of your child attending college, but perhaps terrified at the prospect of finding a college where your child can thrive. As we learn more and more about the ADHD brain, it is evident that the transition from high school to college for students with ADHD must be carefully thought out and planned. One important consideration in college planning is whether your child is even ready to start college right after high school. Assessing your child’s college readiness will guide you in finding the best path forward.
When thinking about college readiness, most people focus on academic readiness, due to the societal belief that good grades alone lead to acceptance into a good college. Many parents of children with ADHD are worried about their child being accepted to any college at all, because their grades are not a true reflection of their strengths and abilities. But college readiness is more than having good grades; it includes social and emotional readiness as well.
Children with ADHD typically lag three to five years behind their peers in social/emotional development, even if they are years ahead of those same peers academically. This uneven development can lead to your child having difficulty connecting with other students, and they may need additional time to “catch up” socially.
In college, students will have to self-advocate with professors, accept help and support when they need it, and not try to “do it all on their own.” Good grades might get a student accepted to a college, but self-advocacy, self-awareness, and strong executive function skills are what students need to stay in college and graduate.
Essential life and executive function skills: There are certain essential skills that a student must have before leaving home for college. The most difficult for students with ADHD to master, but perhaps the most crucial, are life skills and executive function skills.
When evaluating a child’s independent living skills, think about your child’s ability to wake himself up on a school morning and be ready to leave on time. If they’re on medication, do they take it independently? Does they know the names, dosages, and purpose of her medications? Your child should be able to cook a simple meal and do their own laundry. They should also be able to manage money wisely and not spend impulsively.
Think about your child’s executive function skills. Is your child able to manage time efficiently, especially unstructured time? Can they begin homework independently? Can they break down assignments into manageable pieces? Does your child frequently lose belongings?
If the answers to most of these questions are no, a gap year working with an executive function coach would be a great next step. This will give your child the time they need to develop these skills fully.