Transition to college can be a challenge for students with ADHD


The start of college is a time of transition for all students, but can be especially challenging for young adults with attention deficit disorders.

"Kids with ADHD, in general, struggle with transitions and often do best with a large degree of structure in their lives," said Laura Markley, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Akron Children's Hospital. "The transitions from primary school to middle school, and middle school to high school tend to be challenging times because the learning environment has less and less structure. When these kids arrive at college, they enter an environment that is completely unstructured. There is no one to force you to attend classes or to study."

According to Dr. Markley, parents and their children with ADHD should begin an ongoing dialogue during high school and keep it going into the college years. Up until college, parents often play an important role in their children's ADHD management, from reminding them to take their medication to advocating for them at school.

"As children grow into teens and adults, their impulsivity and hyperactivity may decline but they may still struggle with issues like inattention, procrastination, forgetfulness and disorganization," said Dr. Markley.

Unlike high school, college students typically don't get points for attendance, homework and class participation. A class grade may be based entirely on a mid-term and a final exam, which demands disciplined study skills.

"Students with ADHD are often surprised and frustrated to learn that they failed a test because they know that they studied," said Dr. Markley. "The problem may be that they don't know how or what to study. They just can't sort out the relevant material."

According to Dr. Markley, research suggests that college students with under-treated ADHD are more likely to continue through college with undecided majors, change majors several times, be placed on academic probation, and take longer to graduate.

"Students with ADHD can be successful in college," said Dr. Markley. "They need to learn what works for them and how they best learn and study. Like all students, they will be better off being consistent in their studying, rather than waiting until the night before a big test to cram."

Dr. Markley offered these other tips for parents and their college students with ADHD:

"By the time you are in college, you are legally an adult and one step away from your career and complete independence," said Dr. Markley. "It's important to know you have the support of your family, and that your college wants you to succeed, but ultimately it's up to you to make good decisions."

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