Assisting ADHD After High School: Next steps to best support children with ADHD who have just graduated high school.
Does your child have ADHD? Do they have an IEP or 504 Plan in high school right now? Do you worry about how he/she will get support after graduation?
One of the big questions parents ask me is how they can support their child after high school. Depending on the chosen pathway, the support systems will vary. The most important thing to know is that the federal laws that guide K-12 schools do not apply to colleges and universities. Students who have IEPs who graduate are no longer entitled to the same services they have received in high school.Students with 504 plans are more likely to be able to receive the same or similar accommodations in a post-secondary environment, but because the rules that guide higher education institutions are different, support services will look different at every school. Most higher education institutions have learning support centers and disabled student service programs in place, but the range of support offered is incredibly variable and is not guaranteed. In addition, because colleges and universities do not have the same accountability to the federal government as K-12 institutions, the likelihood of your child facing a professor who isn’t willing to be as accommodating is higher. That being said, the support center on the college campus is meant to be a resource in helping students communicate their needs with their professors. This brings me to another important point, which is that once your child turns 18, the responsibility of advocacy is theirs. Professors don’t want to hear from parents, they want to hear from their adult students. So, how do we best prepare for life after high school?
Here are some tips and recommendations of what you can do now, before they graduate from high school, to help your child stay on the pathway to success:
1. Talk to your child about their strengths and challenges. Do they know they have ADHD? Do they understand how ADHD impacts their learning? Can they explain that to someone who doesn’t know them well?
- Research has shown that young adults who are self-aware and can explain their strengths and challenges are more likely to be successful in adulthood. Employers are looking for highly motivated and self-determined employees who can advocate for themselves. It is important for your child to know and understand what their own barriers are and the types of things that help them be more successful.
2. Go over the list of supports your child has now and ask your child which ones are the most helpful. They will need to be willing to talk to future employers and the college disability service center about why those accommodations are necessary.
- While they aren’t likely to have every accommodation carry over, knowing which ones have the greatest impact and being able to explain why can help them get similar support in post-secondary institutions.
3. If your child takes medication to help manage their ADHD, make sure they know what and how much they take, so that they can take responsibility for that when they leave home. Talk to their medical provider about a plan for getting medication when they are away at school (if they are going to college).
- Medication management and responsibility are important parts of adulthood. Your child needs to know what they take and why – how does it help them?
4. Talk to your child about what post-secondary pathway makes the most sense for them. Do they want to go to college? Have they thought about community college or vocational school? What do they want to do for a living? What kind of training does that choice require?
- Some individuals with ADHD may opt not to go to college right away. Some students will have higher success if they start at community college and transfer to university later. It’s important to look at all options for your child and help them determine what pathway makes the most sense for them.
- Also, whatever pathway they choose is not set in stone. It’s ok if they change their mind.It’s important to support your child on this journey, because navigating the post-secondary world can be its own challenge.
- Consider course load if going to college. Do they have to take a full load or can they ease their way in? The demands of college are different. Students are expected to be more independent and to take on more responsibility. They will not have a case manager or someone holding their hand making sure they get the work done.
5. Work with your child’s teachers and guidance counselor on making sure they have the necessary soft skills to be successful in the world after high school. Note, if any of these areas are weaker, come up with a plan to remediate prior to graduation.
- Self-awareness & Self-determination
- Strong executive functioning skills (organization, planning, prioritizing, time management, cognitive flexibility, and self-regulation)
- Good communication skills
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving skills
6. Help your child identify and understand who to talk to when they have a problem at college or on the job. Who are the people they can get support from in these settings? Encourage them to reach out to these people before a problem starts.
- One of the challenges neurodiverse individuals face is when to disclose their disability and when to not say anything. Employers cannot discriminate against you when you disclose. It’s important for your child to know that disclosure doesn’t mean it’s okay for them not to do their job or to not fulfill certain responsibilities. Having accommodations in the workplace does not mean modified work. This distinction is important.
- In higher education institutions, if a student doesn’t share that they have accommodations with their professors, it is not the professor’s responsibility to seek them out and make sure they have the support they need. If the student doesn’t make arrangements with the professor, accommodations are not guaranteed. This is why self-advocacy is so important.
No matter how much you do ahead of time, the actual experience is likely to vary from what your adult child expects. It’s ok if things don’t go exactly as planned. One of the biggest things they need to understand is that the choices they make have real consequences, and that they carry the burden of responsibility for following through. Many young adults with ADHD are successful because they put in the effort to do what they need to do. They cannot hide their head in the sand and hope for the best. You cannot fight their battles for them. The best gift you can give your child is to teach them how to be their own best cheerleader and to help them acquire all the skills necessary to be successful on whatever pathway they choose. Support them emotionally. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it, and be accepting of who they are.