Helping Kids with ADHD Succeed in College

By Robert M. Tudisco, Esq. with Eve Kessler, Esq.

The transition from high school to college is a challenging one for most kids.  All of a sudden responsibilities change and the need for independence increases: they are on their own, without support, structure or accountability.  The only academic feedback comes from midterms or finals; parents are no longer available to give daily comfort and support.

For kids with ADHD and LD who may be used to having accommodations and modifications embedded in their academic curricula – such as extended time and tutors – the transition is even more drastic, because the laws that have protected them since grade school have changed.

Their IEPs are no longer in place. Rather, as noted on the websites of numerous colleges and universities, “A significant degree of independence is expected of students.” Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the American with Disabilities Act as Amended of 2008, students with disabilities must self-report to the Office of Disability Services and advocate for themselves to ensure they are able to access and participate in the curriculum and available opportunities.  Many times, although accommodations may be available, these students are reluctant to ask for help to avoid looking different from their peers: all they really want is to be like everyone else.

On top of more difficult academic challenges, college kids must now manage all the other activities of daily life on their own: they must eat and sleep properly, get to class on time, do their laundry, manage their finances, buy text books, get enough exercise, and make new friends and romantic partners.

It’s a lot to expect from 17-year-olds with ADHD and Executive Functioning impairments, who often neglect self-care and for whom self-management, time-management, organization and planning don’t come naturally.

Benefits of an EF Coach

One highly effective intervention for college students with ADHD and Executive Function difficulties is Executive Function coaching, a supportive partnership in which a trained coach and student together identify areas of focus, build a plan, plot a coarse for the student to achieve reasonable and achievable goals, and monitor those goals and progress on a regular basis.

Through a non-judgmental questioning approach, coaches work with students to develop structures, supports, skills and strategies.  Over time, a coach can help students remain focused on their goals, face new challenges and address executive functioning-related issues, as well as increase their self-awareness, self-esteem and self-reliance.

The idea of personal coaching as an adjunct to the treatment of ADHD stems from a 1995 article by Dr. Edward Hallowell, a well-respected psychiatrist working with patients with ADHD, who realized his patients needed more intensive support than he was able to give for them to manage and follow through with daily life’s complicated challenges.

ADHD coaching has come a long way since 1995, with the publication of many books on the topic, emerging research in the field, establishment of professional associations for coaching, and development of specific training and certification standards.

This article is based on the presentation, Understanding ADHD: A View from the Inside Out, by Robert M. Tudisco, Esq., sponsored by Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities and the Westport Public Library. Eve Kessler, Esq., a criminal appellate attorney with The Legal Aid Society, NYC, is co-founder and President of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.

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