I have four children who keep me busy, but out of all of them, my son has forced me to grow the most. He was in second grade when he was diagnosed with ADHD. I spent the next decade learning to manage his medication, teaching him life skills, advocating for his education plan, and trying to keep up with him. When the time came for college, my biggest worries were how he’d cope without me and whether he’d find support to help him thrive.
“We watched your son do the work. But when it came time to turn it in, he never did,”
~ said by teachers, plural, over many years.
Honestly, although my son made it into college, I wasn’t sure if he’d make it through. Impaired executive functioning skills are common in neurodiverse, ADHD teenagers, and my son is no exception. He has trouble staying on task and meeting goals.
Because he cannot organize his work and focus, I spent years keeping close tabs on him to make sure he was doing his homework. But even with prescribed medications, techniques for children with ADHD, a 504 education plan, and my oversight, it was still a struggle to make sure he turned work in.
To give him the best start at college, I did everything I could to help him succeed — starting with bringing him to the doctor’s office to ensure he’s good with his medications.
I also connected with a support group called the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (“ADDA”) to help calm my nerves. Through the ADDA, I discovered that most colleges can grant accommodations for students with ADHD if students let professors and staff know about their diagnosis. I let my son know that students can work on accommodations with their professors directly, or go to the school’s office of disability to ask for help. Here’s what I learned about how to handle ADHD in college students.
Accommodations for ADHD in College
According to ADDA, colleges have lots of resources for ADHD students to lean on, like health centers, disability offices, writing centers, and tutors. It’s just a matter of encouraging students to ask questions, seek out resources, and advocate for what they need.
My son could ask his college for:
- Permission to record lectures.
- Written instructions from professors.
- Access to audio textbooks instead of or in addition to print.
- Help with taking class notes and getting assigned to a reading group.
- Extra time to complete tests and assignments.
- Tests divided into segments.
- The ability to take tests in a separate and quiet place.
- Priority registration with a professional in the disability services office.
- Permission to substitute one class for another within the curriculum and to reduce course load.
Once I knew he’d have resources and help available, I felt more comfortable sending my son to college because now he had a better chance to succeed.
ADHD dorm room essentials
Like many parents, I searched online for tips about what to pack for living in college dorms. On top of those recommendations, I made a list of items to help my son with concentration and his particular needs.
He’s a visual learner, so we got him a whiteboard where he could track his assignments. We made sure he brought his guitar because he says playing it relaxes and soothes him. And because he loves using essential oils, we found some scented plug-ins to fill his space.
Our main objective with decorations was to create a fun and comforting space where he wouldn’t get bored.
Sending my son to college has been a learning experience for both of us.
When the day finally came to drop off my son at college, saying goodbye to him and driving off was not easy. Leaving him was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, because although I had prepared him to take care of his ADHD needs in college, I forgot to adequately prepare myself to let him go.
Now that he finished his first year in college, I admit my attempts at letting go haven’t always been successful. I still messaged him to ask if he did his homework, and sometimes I ranted about keeping up with his work. Still, I recognize that we both made progress. My son completed his assignments, and I learned to hold my tongue. My reminders became less frequent and when I realized I was ranting, I stopped.
Sending my son to college has been a learning process for both of us. We have both learned to make good choices, and when we fail, we have learned that we can recover on our own.