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  • Writer's pictureYvette Morton

How to Help Students with ADHD, Learning and Mental Health Needs Prepare for College

College students talking

Starting a new life in college is an exciting time that can also bring some unexpected challenges for even the most prepared students. Academic performance, organizational habits, coping strategies, and basic life skills are put to the test as an individual adjusts to a new living environment, challenging classes, and unpredictable routines.

For students who are also managing ADHD, Learning Disabilities, or who have other physical and mental health needs, college can add an additional level of challenge. The good news is that universities are more equipped than ever to meet the diverse learning, physical and mental health needs of their students. The key is to do your research ahead of time, anticipating that the transition to college may come with some bumps, so your student knows how to get the support they need before potential problems arise.

Some commonly reported problems students may encounter include:

· Adjusting to their new routine (or lack of routine)

· Challenging coursework and classroom structure

· Study and organizational habits

· Adherence to medication regimen

· Caring for physical and emotional wellbeing

Universities want their students to be successful, and they work to ensure that comprehensive and accessible services are available to their students with disabilities. However, unlike in high school where students may have had a clear plan and someone to check in with them regularly, it is solely up to the student to determine the level of support and accommodations they think they will need in college. Here are some tips to support a smooth transition:

Know where to find help:

University Disability Services:

For students who received accommodations in high school, with either an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan, now is the time to reach out and connect with the university disability services program to request any needed accommodations.

IEPs and 504 plans from high school do not transfer to universities. However, once a student turns 18, section 504 becomes the legal avenue for extra support and services in college. According to section 504, colleges and universities are not responsible for identifying students with disabilities or providing effective support. However, students with documented disabilities may request modifications and accommodations to help them participate in and benefit from post-secondary coursework and activities.

Though a student’s high school IEP and/or 504 plan are not transferred to the university, these documents can play an important role in helping a student obtain appropriate accommodations.

If your student will be seeking accommodations for a disability covered under section 504, connect with the university disability services department as early as possible and have the required documentation available to determine eligibility for services. These may include previous IEPs and 504 plans, letters, evaluations, and records from physicians, psychologists, other healthcare professionals.

Additional Services and Resources

In addition to the structured accommodations that may be established through the university disabilities program, there are a plethora of academic and wellness resources that often go underutilized by struggling students.

  • Academic resources

Most universities offer a variety of services to support academic performance, and it is often free! Services may include peer tutoring, academic coaching, writing lab, and advising. Don’t forget that professors and TAs are a valuable resource. Encourage your student to make note of their office hours and get to know them early in the semester.

  • Health and Wellness Resources to support wellbeing.

Universities have begun to increase their offerings within student wellness programs, well beyond the typical medical services. Check out the university wellness center and see what is available. I have seen everything from free 1:1 therapy, group counseling, dieticians, health and wellness coaching, LGBTQ support and even massage and acupuncture. Often for free or offered at a low cost.

Establish a routine:

This is critical for success, especially for students managing ADHD/Learning Disabilities and mental health needs.

  • Utilize organizational tools to create a schedule for the week that includes classes, study time, homework/exam deadlines, and self-care needs (medication schedule) and activities like planning exercise, healthy meals, and rest.

  • ·Creating a somewhat predictable routine, especially during a time that is often unpredictable, supports not only academic performance but also mental and physical wellbeing.

Discuss a communication plan to stay in touch

As your child embarks on this journey into young adulthood, we want to be sure to encourage their healthy development and learning as they navigate the challenges that lie ahead. As parents, it is natural to want to jump in and help, to make the phone calls and find the resources.

  • Support your child in doing as much as possible on their own. At first you might have a conversation about what resources could be helpful to them and encourage them to find out where they are located. You can guide the process a bit, but also watch from the sidelines as they begin to figure things out on their own.

  • Agree to a regular call schedule to catch up and hear how things are going but allow them to have space and time to work on independent habits. Encourage them to seek out resources if they begin to need them, while also stepping back to let them work through problems.

Allowing your student to work through struggles and develop self-efficacy is an important part of their college journey and becoming independent adults. They may bomb a test or two as they begin to sort out the routines and habits that work best for them.

Regular check-ins can help them evaluate how things are going and what their needs are, and if circumstances require intervention, you can then offer guidance and support at a level that is appropriate.

Students with unique learning needs have many options to help them thrive in college!

Help them get a head start by connecting with disability services early for needed accommodations and locate additional campus resources so they know how to access those services as challenges arise throughout the school year. Planning now will support both student success and overall health and wellbeing as they move into this exciting chapter of learning and life.

Hi, I'm Yvette! As a former school psychologist and National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, I bring years of experience working with adolescents and young adults, and proven strategies to support learning and growth to guide my clients. I help them get clear about their strengths, interests and goals. They will create a plan of action, practice new habits, learn from setbacks and successes and develop a growth mindset. They will move confidently into their adult lives with habits and strategies to support their success!

Yvette Morton Ed.S, MA, NBC-HWC

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