On average, people with ADHD complete two to three years less formal schooling than their peers. In studies, only about 15% of people with ADHD complete a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with about half of people without ADHD.
However, many students with ADHD do graduate from high school and enroll in college and university.
These findings are encouraging; they show that many students with ADHD go on to higher education. On the other hand, college life is challenging to students with ADHD. They do not have familiar support systems such as family, peers, teachers, and the structure of high school. Life in residence is often distracting, crowded, and noisy. There may be very little privacy.
College students may handle ADHD in different ways:
- “Fresh start”: These students do not tell anyone they have ADHD. They may feel no-one at college will know them and/or that they no longer have problems. They may abandon treatment that helped them get into college, deny or fail to recognize that they are running into problems, and resist seeking help from student support services.
- “Uninformed, unprepared”: These students have been diagnosed before college and may have been receiving treatment. However, they do not understand how ADHD affects them, how it might affect college life, or how medication and treatment help their symptoms.
- “New ADHD”: These students have never been diagnosed with ADHD. They have been able to cope despite their symptoms. With great effort and support, they have succeeded academically. However, during college they become overwhelmed and suddenly realize that there is a problem.
Teenagers and young adults with ADHD are more likely than their peers to fail academically and to drop out of school or college. They tend to have lower grade point averages and more academic problems. Barriers to success at the college level include academic and personal issues.
Academic issues may include:
- taking on too many courses, due to problems estimating how much time will be needed
- poor organization and time management skills, which may result in “crash and burnout” (staying up all night and sleeping all day after studying, partying, or both)
- reading problems: difficulty concentrating and focusing, inability to read fast, and needing to re-read often
- poor note-taking or writing skills, resulting in course failure, low marks, and a low grade point average
Personal issues may include:
- frustration or poor self-esteem
- poor social skills or too much time socializing
- procrastination and problems sticking to a task
- lack of sleep and trouble getting up in the morning
Helping your child
There are several things you can do, or encourage your child to do, to help ensure a smooth transition to college or university:
- As with any teenager, teach your child independent living skills at home, including responsibility for taking his own medications, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and some cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Similarly, encourage your child to develop good study habits and skills while he is still in high school.
- Most universities have an office or centre for students with disabilities. You and your child should contact and, if possible, visit the office at the university your child wants to attend to see what sort of information, advice, and support services they can offer your child.
- Some colleges also offer programs that are specifically designed to help young adults who have physical or learning disabilities with career planning or employment training. They may help upgrade literacy, academic, or computer skills, or offer help with job skills.
- Your child can attend an orientation course offered by the university to new students. Many centres for students with disabilities offer a special transition course during the summer to new students with disabilities.
- Before the college or university year commences, you or your child should obtain a comprehensive letter(s) from his physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist that contains information about his ADHD diagnosis, learning profile and special needs. This may help him get more time to complete exams and papers.