Tips for Young Adults: Transitioning to College and Work

 ADHD Weekly 2017-06-01

Is your teen finishing high school and preparing for the next stage of life? Starting college or a new job can be exciting. Both offer the opportunity for greater independence, meeting new friends and colleagues, and learning new skills. It can also be a stressful time for most young people. For many young adults affected by ADHD, strategies that previously helped them manage ADHD symptoms may no longer be effective for their new independence.

We have some tips you can share with your young adult as he transitions from high school to college or career.

An all-new experience

Your young adult will be leaving a familiar structure when he starts college or lives independently to begin his career. There will be new people, new rules, and new ways of thinking. While this offers many opportunities for young adults, it also presents new challenges.

“Parents and teenagers alike should know in advance how totally different a college or university is from home,” Edward Hallowell, MD, writes in Delivered From Distraction. “At home, someone makes sure you don’t watch TV or surf the Net all day and all night. Someone makes sure you get physical exercise. Someone makes sure you eat right and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol (more or less). At most colleges, no one sees to any of this.”

Start with recognizing how these changes—from the structure of the school day and home life–will affect your young adult’s ability to stay focused, manage his time, and plan effectively. Knowing this in advance can help young adults prepare for the newness of college or job, and be less likely to become overwhelmed by the need to change the strategies used to manage ADHD symptoms.

“Parents and students ought to prepare for this transition methodically, instead of simply letting the student jump into the college environment [or living independently] literally overnight, hoping she can swim,” Dr. Hallowell says.

Get organized early

  • procrastination or poor organization and time management
  • self-care – managing sleep, forming healthy habits
  • difficulty keeping current with tasks, assignments and reading
  • emotional and social problems making new friends and colleagues
  • independently managing emotions and stress level
  • distractibility and difficulty focusing
  • prioritizing, setting goals, creating and following plans

—See more at Succeeding in College with ADHD

When your young adult understands his unique set of symptoms and likely challenges, he can create strategies for effectively managing them and practice using those strategies before his transition. Many young adults will work with their parents or a coach to create their transition plans and give parents the opportunity to offer support during this time of life.

It’s okay to ask for help

Young adults are now in the position to make decisions on disclosing a diagnosis of ADHD to their colleges, universities, and employers. Sharing an ADHD diagnosis with a school or employer is a personal decision that needs to be considered carefully, and many young adults will discuss this choice with their parents first. Obtaining accommodations and support services greatly increases a young adult’s chance of success in college. According to a recent study, only 20 percent of college students with a diagnosis who received academic accommodations in high school informed their universities of their disability status. Of those students who did, only 19 percent used the resources available.

There are many reasons a young adult might choose to disclose, or not disclose, an ADHD diagnosis. Some young adults may think they are effectively managing their symptoms and do not need additional support or help, while others may be concerned about the potential for a negative impact at work or from professors. Whatever the reason, it is important to understand the transition will likely cause significant stress, which, in turn, can aggravate ADHD symptoms.

Students who do receive support and accommodations at their colleges or universities tend to experience lower levels of stress and frustration, and higher levels of academic success. Campuses have a variety of support services, in addition to disability services, from tutoring and learning assistance, to writing and developmental classes.

Young adults considering entering the workforce or starting a career might seek assistance from a career counselor, psychologist, social worker or other health care worker with career counseling. Specific career training can be helpful in understanding and coping with ADHD on the job. Unfortunately, too many people who wait to be noticed and helped find themselves floundering in the workplace before assistance is offered, if it is at all.

Many young adults have difficulty asking for help. Talk with your young adult about how to recognize that he is struggling, and how to appropriately ask for help. Identify whom to ask (such as human resources) and what supports to ask for. You and your young adult might be interested in 5 Ways to Get Better at Asking for Help from Harvard Business Review for suggestions in starting this conversation.

For more information to help your young adult decide if disclosing an ADHD diagnosis in the workplace is the best choice, visit Workplace Accommodations Can Make You and Your Employer Successful.

Tips for managing the transition from student to young adult:

  • College requires a greater level of focus than high school, and the work environment requires more than college. Strategies for managing impulsivity and emotions can include practicing meditation and relaxation techniques, and learning to use self-talk to monitor impulsive actions. It’s important to learn to anticipate problems that can trigger impulsive reactions and developing routines for coping with these situations. Taking frequent breaks, exercise, walking up the stairs rather than taking the elevator, and taking notes during meetings and lectures can help with hyperactivity and feelings of restlessness.
  • Dosages and when to take medication frequently change when a young adult begins college or a job. Longer work days and increased demands for learning and productivity may require an adjustment for medications. A young adult needs to work with his healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for his needs.

—Adapted from Succeeding in College with ADHD and Workplace Issues.

Ready for the next adventure

Is your young adult ready for the transition from high school to college and work? This is an exciting time and stressful for most young adults. You can work with your young adult to help him understand the possible challenges young people might experience as they move toward independence. Together, you and your young adult can prepare ahead of time for those challenges and create a strategy for avoiding significant stress.

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