Finding the Perfect Career Path

By Eve Kessler, Esq.


Going from high school directly into college may not be the best choice for your child with learning challenges. Understanding and evaluating the alternatives can help put your young adult on a career path in line with her abilities, strengths, and maturity level

For many students with ADHD, the leap from high school to college can be formidable. Given your newly minted high-school grad’s executive function issues, she may not yet be ready (or able) to successfully manage a traditional college experience with limited structure and less parental oversight.

Rick Fiery, co-founder of InventiveLabs, believes that with the right environment and supports, people with learning differences can achieve substantial success. Below he provides guidance for families of kids with ADHD who are looking at options for life after high school.

Higher education. If your teen decides she wants to attend a four-year college or university, she must acknowledge how much support she’ll need to be successful, both academically and organizationally. Will she need an active and involved support center and customized curriculum modifications, or will peer tutoring, a writing center, and accommodations be enough? Can she handle a full credit load, or will her executive-function challenges make part-time study more effective?

Perhaps she should get her feet wet at a two-year community college before transitioning to a more traditional college experience. Is she independent and socially aware enough to move away from home and live in a dorm, or should she attend a local college and live at home or take a test run in the dorms? What about on-line options or enrolling in night school, while pursuing a related career path during the day?

Gap year to explore potential career options. A gap year is a way for your teen to defer college for a year and build maturity, independence, and life skills without the simultaneous crush of academics. For Fiery, the key considerations for a gap year are: What will her career path be? Is she truly excited about it? And can she follow up by attending the appropriate college?

Fiery advocates having your young adult live away from home during a gap year. Being on her own will help her develop the skills she needs for daily living—getting up and out in the morning, boiling water, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, dealing with landlords, and interacting with roommates.

A gap year can also include an academic component such as taking a class at a community college to familiarize your teen with the standards and expectations of a post-high school educational environment.

Fiery advises against a “see the world” gap year for a young adult with ADHD. He reasons that the sheer volume of irresistible experiences will be overwhelming and will undermine her ability to narrow her focus on tangible career opportunities.

Internships. Internships are a great way to try a career before investing heavily in training, time, or education. Because internships are not just for kids going into college, they offer opportunities for your teen to be part of – and to learn from – a more diverse workforce.

Entrepreneurships. Fiery underscores that entrepreneurships offer tremendous learning opportunities, and that people with ADHD often make great entrepreneurs. He believes that “sometimes it’s best to chart your own course” — pursue an idea and create a business opportunity from it.

One suggestion is to give your teen a reasonable sum of money and let her develop a startup as a gap year project. Alternatively, she could work for another startup to get a sense of the long hours, frenetic pace, and the excitement of the process.

Job Training. More and more high-level job training programs are available, especially in areas such as software design or digital art and illustration for the entertainment industry. In addition, many schools and colleges have begun training students for jobs in culinary and hospitality fields.

Shortages of tradespeople are providing high-income career opportunities for those interested in training to become electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders, or other skilled workers.

Whether the answer to “What’s next for your teen?” is college, a gap year, an internship, entrepreneurship, or job training, her next steps should be directed towards the essential goal: a career that’s perfect for her. It may take her longer to get there than her peers, but that’s okay; no one’s keeping score.

Looking For Inspiration?

The success-story website Necessary Brilliance shares the journeys of famous entrepreneurs who celebrate the strengths of their learning differences, have found success, and are pursuing careers they’re passionate about. Boasting that learning differences can be a superpower, the website emphasizes that success and learning differences go hand in hand.

This article 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, co-founder of InventiveLabs, a company offering programs designed to explore careers or create new businesses in an all-accepting environment. Eve Kessler, Esq., a former criminal appellate attorney, is Executive Director of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids.

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