Redefining Success for Teens with ADHD

By Eve Kessler, Esq.

Taking the leap from high school to college is an eagerly awaited rite of passage for many teens. The idea of independence is exciting to teens longing to forge their own way with new routines, friendships, responsibilities, and boundaries. Yet we know that many young adults with learning challenges who make the leap to college end up stumbling at best, and at worst fall flat on their face.

According to Rick Fiery, that doesn’t have to be the outcome. As co-founder of InventiveLab, a company that helps students with LD and ADHD explore career options, Fiery maintains that people with learning differences can achieve success given the right environment and appropriate supports.

For Fiery, the likelihood of young adults with LD and ADHD achieving success increases when they understand the why behind what they are doing.

Relevant Answers

Fundamentally, the ADHD mind questions why it needs to do something. Why do I have to write a research paper if I’m going to be a musician? Why do I have to do all this homework if I’m getting straight As on my exams?

Without instant gratification or something genuinely exciting waiting in the wings, mundane tasks such as writing a college essay or submitting a job application are hard to begin and even harder to complete.

“Because” is not an acceptable answer for kids with ADHD. It doesn’t compute as a response to “Why should I go to college?”  Replies such as “Everyone else is applying” or “To get a degree” are not inspiring or reassuring. And even a guidance counselor’s suggestion of a traditional career path is far from sufficiently motivating.

Although Fiery believes that, if achievable, college offers the most opportunities in this day and age, he appreciates that a traditional four-year college is often an unattainable challenge for students with LD and ADHD. He, therefore, stresses that the goal should be a “perfect” career – one that provides enjoyment and excitement every day – not a college degree.

Your Role

Your job as a parent is to encourage, support and guide your teen, without enabling him. Pause; take a deep breath; think about what your definition of success is; and be prepared to change the mindset that equates success with college. While some people can slog through boring studies or workdays, those with LD and ADHD really can’t and, if put in that position, will likely not succeed.

Begin by reducing everyone’s anxiety: recognize that college isn’t the only option after high school; learn about various post-graduate opportunities that can make the most of your student’s strengths; and recognize that your young adult can attain career success by taking any one of many diverse paths.

This post is based on an ADDitude Magazine Expert Webinar, Encouraging Your Children to Find Their Own Paths: A Roadmap for Choosing a College, a Career, or Something Different,presented by Rick Fiery, MS, MBA. Eve Kessler, Esq., a former criminal appellate attorney with The Legal Aid Society, NYC, is Executive Director of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.

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