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ADHD in College and Beyond

By Dr. Jon Thomas

Introduction and Overview

College-bound students who have AD/HD often face an overwhelming array of challenges.  Despite these challenges, many manage to find their way through college successfully.  However, for many others, leaving home for college is a short-lived foray into the “carefree, can’t-wait-to-get-out-on-my-own era” that is so often anticipated.

Developmentally, these young adults face the most stress-prone period of their lives.  It is during this era that they must balance competing demands and resources, depart from the familiarity of home, learn to live independently, function effectively in a completely different academic environment, and begin the all-important journey of choosing and preparing for their life work.  Mental health professionals have long identified this epoch as a time when any serious underlying mental health challenges are most likely to break through into consciousness and behavior.

The stresses of this major life transition are magnified for the student who has ADHD.  More and more, economic realities limit resources for individual learner needs. Students who have come to rely upon them may find these academic supports harder to find and not quite as user-friendly as they were in high school.

Today’s college students confront a new set of obstacles.  The dizzying velocity of electronic innovation provides students unparalleled opportunities for learning and information exchange. Ironically, this new opportunity leads many to a myopic life view, encouraging sound-bite answers to complex life questions. Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of information available, students are tempted to select out that which reinforces or justifies their own feelings in lieu of conclusions drawn from more in-depth consideration.

Losing sight of the larger picture, students may begin to see themselves as tiny parts of an assembly-line production process, dissociated from the final product of how they fit into the world.  In frustration, and lacking fundamental tools for examining and building a life, they face difficult choices. They either maintain the status quo and “assemble” themselves into soulless toil in industrial cubicles or they do something different and perhaps frightening. They embark on the road less taken, find some passion, develop a requisite set of skills, follow a mission, and grow themselves into an enlightened life of meaningful work.  Sounds easy enough, right?  In fact, at times it all seems so hard that they choose to do little, or nothing, or just drift deeper into a world of electronic and other addictions.

Considering the challenges any of these choices present, is it really any wonder that an alarming 30% of students who have ADHD drop out of college? That an ever-increasing number of adult children are living with their parents?  Or that those who stay in college are experiencing a shocking increase in the rate of depression?   These trends seem incongruous when we consider that college should be the very context in which young adults learn how to ready themselves to create a fulfilling life.

How often have you heard it said that “adolescents are dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood?”  Perhaps they kick and scream because they are poorly outfitted and justifiably afraid.  Maybe they appear to need dragging because they lack tools to navigate anything but a predictable journey.

In the absence of something better, we attempt to help launch students into adulthood by offering them the same bad advice we received.  Perhaps it time that we began to offer them something more innovative, creative, or at least functional.

Instead of telling them to do their best and try harder, what if we taught them how to motivate themselves to do the difficult work life requires?

Instead of telling them to follow their dreams, what if we taught them how to dream freely yet realistically, and most importantly, how to evaluate their dreams and bring them into reality?

Instead of telling them to trust their feelings or asking them how they feel, what if we taught them how feelings generate and how they can influence their own feelings to minimize anxiety and depression and maximize their capacity for happiness?

Instead of telling them to believe in themselves, what if we taught them how their beliefs form, how these beliefs then shape their lives and most importantly, how they can re-shape their less functional beliefs into a more accurate and fulfilling self concept?

… And taught them to remain balanced during this journey … And how to look back at and monitor themselves … And how to use their own self talk as their best inner guide ... And provided all of these tools for problem assessment and solution, and for the creation of skills to use during college and for the rest of their lives, all in a format integrated into the uniqueness of their personalities?

A tall order?  Yes, but isn’t that what life requires of us who are responsible for preparing them?

This book provides the tools necessary to answer life’s call in a good way.  It offers students a guide and a map of that undiscovered country, as well as a timely hand in navigating this precarious journey.  It provides the rest of us (parents, teachers, mentors, counselors, coaches) a new and effective model for understanding and guiding students at this important time in their lives.

There are many excellent books that help us to understand ADHD and offer tips, techniques, and methods for dealing with the problems this condition presents.  This book takes the next step by providing students with ADHD the tools to develop a broader view of themselves and their possibilities. It provides templates for developing and personalizing their own strategies and solutions for the problems and obstacles they will inevitably encounter on their journey.  It helps students create their own support system.  It provides them a fresh, new opportunity for building their lives.

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