Help Your Teen Transition from High School to College

 ADHD Weekly, May 5, 2022

If you are the parent of a graduating senior who plans to attend college, you might feel you have done all you can to prepare them. Or, you might wonder whether your teen is ready for the challenges of college and independent living. The end of senior year can be filled with joy, but also with worry.

“It’s particularly normal at this life stage to be experiencing insecurity, fear, and concerns about the present and the future,” says Sharon Saline, PsyD, who specializes in families of children with ADHD. Even though this can be a time of anxiety for you and your teen, there are things you can do this summer to help your teen build or reinforce independent living skills, she says.

Make a plan

Some parts of the brain develop more slowly in those who have ADHD. Executive functioning skills, like self-reflection, are often the last skills to develop. Self-reflection, self-regulation, planning, self-motivation, organization, and time management are all critical skills a person needs to live independently. Parents of teens with ADHD may have to do more to help their children become college-ready.

Kathryn Essig, MEd, and Janet Price work with youth with ADHD and their families. They say self-reflection can be key to helping your teen be successful.

“For students with executive dysfunction and other special needs, a critical part of this self-assessment means taking a hard look at the soft skills and self-advocacy strategies that are so crucial to accessing support at the postsecondary level,” they write. Parents can ask questions to help children discover their strengths and motivations and look for teachable moments that encourage self-discovery. Ask questions like these to help your teen increase self-awareness:

  • What motivates you?
  • What strategies have helped you be successful?
  • What are your strengths?
  • How does your ADHD interfere with your learning/studying?
  • What are some things you can do when you get stuck?

Dr. Saline suggests that parents sit down with their teen before move-in day to make a plan that considers things like course selection, accommodations, and medication management. If your teen will be living at home, put in writing what that will look like: identify study times, bedtime and wake-up times, and household responsibilities. Many college students with ADHD struggle because of the lack of routine and unpredictability. Having a written plan can help reduce anxiety and provide need predictability throughout the day or week.

During the summer, your teen will need to talk with the disability services office to ensure accommodations will be in place for the fall. Your teen will need to be the person to make requests for academic supports and to schedule any needed appointments with the school’s learning center. Recognized now as an adult, your teen must speak for themself and complete the necessarily paperwork. Most first-year college students appreciate their parents’ help and support, however, so be prepared to offer guidance in this process.

“Students who develop good self-advocacy are more likely to be successful when they go to college,” says certified educational planner Judy Bass.

After meeting with the appropriate staff regarding academic support, your teen will need to meet with their instructors to request further accommodations. College and university instructors are not necessarily required by law to provide accommodations in class. This means your teen should be prepared to advocate for their needs. You and your teen can discuss and role play how to make these requests with the education center and instructors.

Questions to ask

Take an inventory of the skills needed for successful college living Can your teen do these things independently this coming semester? The summer before college is a good time to help incoming students practice these skills. Your teen and you can evaluate readiness and plan which skills they need to practice during the summer months by answering a few questions.

Can your soon-to-be first-year student:

  • get up independently in the morning?
  • do laundry and care for living space?
  • identify how or where ADHD affects them and their learning ability?
  • request assistance or accommodations and explain why they need help?
  • manage their medication and refill their prescription?
  • make their own doctor appointments?
  • stick to their ADHD treatment plan?
  • speak up for what they need, whether it is to an instructor, a school administrator, or to you, their parent?

“It’s very difficult to be independent at a college without having these life skills; without being able to handle the living part of college,” says Ms. Bass. “The earlier you can start, the more likely your child is going to be mature and ready for college.”

Looking for more tips on college readiness?

Join the discussion: How is your family preparing for your soon-to-be first-year student’s college experience?