How to Not Have an Irresponsible, Helpless, and Failing ADHD College Student

College Students with ADHD    February 1, 2016

college students in a row cropped
When your child is a college bound senior, you want him to be prepared so when he enters college, he is part of the 50% that eventually graduates with a degree. You’ve spent years helping him with study skills, taught him right from wrong, and worked tirelessly to mold him into a capable, academic young adult. They are just about at the finish line…preparing to graduate from high school and go off to college…your job is just about done!

But wait…in all that prepping for college, what about some of the lesser known essential skills that students need once they head off for college? Skills like resiliency, self-advocacy, problem solving and resiliency. Being able to balance newfound independence with increased responsibilities. And basics like how or when to sleep, eat, shower, do laundry. Not having these key life skills can undermine any academic aptitude or test taking tactics and have students packing up their dorm room and books before the Thanksgiving break!

So, as a parent, how do you help support your ADHD college student in transitioning successfully to college without nagging or giving unwelcome advice? How do you continue to be part of their support system and provide guidance through these murky waters? The answer? Even before your son or daughter is transitioning to college, you transition to being their coach. A parent coach so to speak, who is supportive, motivating, empowering and definitely not nagging or judgmental. At this time in an ADHD student’s life, it’s time for parents to take a step back and land the helicopter so your student can take a step forward and take on responsibility for the academic AND life skills they will need at college. But how?

During the very limited months between high school senioritis and their first semester at college, it’s important for parents to take a back seat in a way that empowers their college bound student. This is the time for them to test the waters gradually, on their own, so they can develop the confidence in their own resourcefulness and succeed in this biggest transition yet in their (and your) lives.

To help your own transition from helpful parent to empowering parent coach, consider adding these ADHD coaching strategies to your parenting style:


  1. Replace caution with curiosity. You have done your job, taught your child how to stay safe and take care of himself, and now is the time to replace your words of caution with curiosity. For instance, rather than nagging your soon to be college freshman to stay on the lighted paths, make curfew or travel in pairs, ask them how they plan to stay safe on campus? What happens when you don’t make dorm curfew? Or, Who would be good to pair off with when it comes to socializing. Being curious, including and eliciting input and problem solving with your students has them more fully committed, remembering and following through and might even reassure you that they have actually been paying attention all these years.
  1. Advocate self-advocacy. This is the time to practice letting go as parents and letting your student grow in the experience of taking responsibility and learning to self-advocate. Increased self-awareness for how they learn prepares them to enter college ready to request accommodations if they need them. Taking on the job of scheduling and attending doctor’s appointments has them stepping up and owning their own health. Becoming comfortable with small steps such as these will have them ready to navigate the bigger self-advocacy issues such as creating their schedule with their counselor and setting ground rules with dorm mates.
  1. Replace “why” with “who, how, what, and when.” “Why” questions typically put anyone on the defensive, making us feel like we have to explain ourselves. Asking questions that do not start with “why”, helps your student explore their own solutions and practice their own problem solving skills. Rather than asking, “Why are you taking beginning basket weaving in your first semester?” ask, “how will basket weaving help you reach your goals?” Or, “what is it about basket weaving that is interesting to you?” Or “who might you be able to talk with to find out about options similar to basket weaving?” Or “I wonder, when is the best time in your curriculum to take basket weaving.” Removing “why” from your vocabulary removes defensiveness from theirs.
  1. Encourage action. Taking one small action step, as soon as possible, is a good answer when uncertainty, overwhelm or indecision seem about to takeover. The sooner your student can take even one small step of action, the more likely they are to use that momentum to solve whatever problem has come up. As a parent coach you can brainstorm small steps your student can take when they feel stuck. For instance “what is the outcome they want?” “What can they do today to take action” “What is one small step they can take today that would start to solve the dilemma?” “What information do they need to solve this problem,” or “who might be able to help them?” There are many ways your student will continue to need you to be involved, but that contribution is encouraging them to explore options that will move them forward, rather than you picking up the phone to call the college, dean, administration, etc.
  1. Know the rules, but let your student play the game. As your student’s parent coach, it is helpful if you are knowledgeable about some of the school’s policies, requirements, deadlines, administrative structure, etc. Your job is to enhance your student’s ability to be resourceful and perhaps point them to the place to find the information they need. For instance, if your student is unsure about registration dates, you might offer, “I noticed an academic calendar on the website, you might want to check it out.” Or perhaps they call in a panic having forgotten their key and are locked out of their dorm room (it happens). It’s fine to acknowledge the problem with “how inconvenient” and then to ask them, “Who might have another key to your room?” or “Who might know how to get your room unlocked?” Or “Where can you hangout until your roommate arrives?” Remember that you are trying to help your student to be independent, use their resources, be a problem solver and chances are high they are not the first nor last to encounter certain troublesome situations.
  1. Keep communication open: Keep the lines of communication open. Being available to answer questions and respond to requested advice or to teach a new skill is very different than enabling and doing it for our children. Challenge yourself by remaining nonjudgmental and available for your child if they have questions, remembering to encourage their independence, problem solving, resiliency and resourcefulness as they explore their own answers and help you stay out of the “nag” zone.

College is an amazing time for both students and parents. As the responsibilities and relationships are changing, both sides are growing in new ways. Your child is entering into one of the most exciting times of their lives. Supporting, empowering and encouraging your student, as a parent coach, allows for both of you to enjoy this journey.

I would love to hear about your experiences with your transition to college. Let me know what worked and what didn’t work for you below.

Also, if you are interested in finding out how an ADHD coach can support you and your student to make this a smooth process, email to set up a complimentary ADHD heading off to college session.

My Five New Year’s ADHD Revolutions

ADHD Awareness    January 6, 2016

new years resolutions adhd


When I sat down to write my New Year’s resolutions, I was instantly bored. But then I accidentally typed: “New Year’s Revolutions 2016.”  I saw the typo, started to correct it, then stopped. The clumsiness of my fingers had actually created a much better title; one that excited me. I really did want to write about my resolution to a few of the revolutions we need around ADHD in 2016.

Throughout the past year, in a time when information is only a click away, I continued to get calls from young and aged alike who had never heard of ADHD and had been suffering alone. I listened to “professionals” and non professionals argue about the validity of the diagnosis and if ADHD really exists, about the limited medical and therapeutic knowledge of our experts, and the craziness of how insurance companies are dictating our medical care. I heard stories about the ongoing misinformation, or at the very least out of context information, that continued to be published and shown in the media.

All of this is not OK with me. It keeps our ADHD community isolated, unempowered, uniformed, unsupported and ashamed for no reason. It puts doubt in the minds of those with and without ADHD and severely limits the innate gifts and contributions that are a result of ADHD. That’s why I want to write about five revolutions I am making this year and invite you to be part of this.

I looked it up. Revolutions are always for something rather than merely against something and involve taking action. It’s not enough to say “Yes!” to things like increased awareness, more ADHD education, and added ADHD support, without saying a loud, clear “No!” to ignorance, lack of resources, isolation. You have to be willing to back your convictions up with action.

I am not sure who first said this inspirational quote, “Today is not just another day; it is a new opportunity, another chance and a new beginning. Embrace it!”  but it is a sentiment that resonates true for not only the first day of this year, but everyday that follows.

So here’s my list of five necessary New Year’s revolutions, explained in terms of what they reject, what they aspire to and actions I pledge to take. I don’t need to launch any of them—they are all underway in some form or another. I only need to invest my resources of self, time and talents more deeply than I have to date:

  1. The revolution against a fear of “otherness,” and against those who feed this fear even if by their own ignorance.  I want to stand with those whose lives have been made more difficult by the ignorance, cruelty, and insensitivity of living with differences. When I hear someone say, “I don’t believe in ADHD” or “ADHD isn’t real” or “Doesn’t everyone have ADHD?” it is not OK with me that this misinformation is still perpetuated. I will now say, “I used to think that, too, but now I know different and your comments are personally hurtful to me and many of those I love struggling with the reality of ADHD.” I may not change anyone’s mind, in fact I may make some people angry, but I want to be a clear voice in my ADHD tribe whenever I get the chance.
  2. The revolution against the feelings of being “less than or broken” just because someone thinks differently, learns differently or behaves differently because of their ADHD. This revolution begins by embracing my own differences. To not allow myself to feel less than when I get distracted, forgetful or make mistakes. A willingness and determination to delight and enjoy my own uniqueness and those of others in my life and to acknowledge the many talents and strengths that far outweigh our “oopsies”.
  3. The revolution against criticisms of the medical system. Most of the problems we blame on poor medical care or accessibility for persons with ADHD start upstream. The inappropriate role that health insurance is now playing in deciding what is medically necessary in the treatment of ADHD. The medical schools, nursing schools and other professional therapeutic training programs that misrepresent the impact of ADHD on a person’s life by characteristically offering the bare minimum of ADHD information and its 24/7 impact on patients lives. I pledge to join with those who say, “Enough is enough! This craziness is devaluing the role of providers and persons living with ADHD, and we will all pay dearly in the end. Let’s not accept the current ‘norm.’ Let’s deal with the upstream problems so professionals take back their expert role and provide the best medical and therapeutic care available.”
  4. The revolution against media who misrepresent or mislead truthful scientific evidence about ADHD either intentionally or unintentionally. There’s a link between our understanding and compassion for persons with ADHD and how persons with ADHD are portrayed in the media. I cherish my first amendment right that gives me the privilege of free speech. It allows me to share my own views about ADHD on blogs such as this. However I am talking here about media people who have the ability to publish or promote accurate information about ADHD and seem to blatantly disregard the truth and scientific studies which mislead the public and keeps awareness and acceptance of persons with ADHD in the dark ages. I would never fathom not having the right to free speech, but perhaps as a community we need to rally together, use our freedom of speech to speak out when derogatory or misleading information is realized in the media.  The first amendment allows us freedom of speech, but when media posts opinions without disclosure, I think we, as an ADHD community, need to rally together to clarify the truth behind it.
  5. The revolution against the lack of resources or funds necessary to keep ADHD awareness moving forward. This last year has seen several of our international resource and support organizations, such as CHADD and ADDA, struggling financially to remain viable and continue to provide continuity of resources to the ADHD community. It’s unbelievable that these organizations struggle to provide such necessary services when it would cost each of us so little to donate our resources in time or energy to provide the foundational support to keep these thriving. What would it be like I wonder if every one of the 15 million persons with or impacted by ADHD were to give one hour of their time or one dollar of their wages to support the awareness of ADHD? I pledge to do my part and encourage others to do theirs.

Maybe it would be easier to keep to ourselves, to give in to the realities of tragedy, disaster and anger in the world, but I think we all can do more than we are, especially when we are joined together. To not only notice, but invest our voices, talents, time, energy and money to help make these changes.

So Happy New Year, everyone! As the clock struck midnight on December 31, and every night thereafter, let’s refocus our determination on our New Year’s revolutions that will result in positive changes in 2016.

Adult ADHD: Getting a Handle on the Holiday Havoc

ADHD Strategies    December 1, 2015

christmas cookies

I can’t help looking at my calendar during December and notice that familiar pressure as the holidays approach. A lot of the holidays are not very ADD-friendly. It seems there are more deadlines to be met, expectations to reach, and a lot more chaos to filter out. Even still, there are many things I truly enjoy about this time of year – the sparkly holiday decorations, the variety of food, the festive music and the overall positive mood people are in. The holidays really fit in with my spontaneous, live in the moment, out of the box thinking ADHD brain style.

Over the years I have had to learn to simplify my holidays in ways that work better for me, my family and my adult ADHD brain-style. I now give myself permission to do things differently. Getting a handle on the Christmastime chaos has made everything much more enjoyable which is why I want to share some of these strategies with you.

Know what is most important for you.

It might be giving just the right gifts, or spending time serving the needy, baking, decorating, religious traditions, time with family or hosting a holiday party. Choose three of your top “reasons for the season” and purposefully spend your time and energy focused and enjoying those. Let the others go.

While I was growing up, my mom baked dozens of holiday cookies and pastries. I remember the smells and colors and Tupperware needed to store these goodies. However, when my family was young I worked long hours as a nurse, and after several years of failed attempts, I realized there was no way I could do all that baking …nor did I really want to. Instead, we focused on making one type of cookie everyone enjoyed and could be “left for Santa.” I then looked forward to “cookie exchange holiday parties” in order to round out my cookie plate.

Continue traditions that are meaningful or create your own.

Growing up, my family attended midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I remember struggling to stay up until midnight, trying not to fall asleep during the service and everyone being a bit cranky. With my own four small children, our family settled on another Christmas Eve tradition. Instead of midnight mass, we drove around nearby neighborhoods enjoying the Christmas lights and decorations. The kids would get in their sleepwear, grab blankets for their laps and we would take along a thermos of hot chocolate. The added bonus? Usually when we pulled back into our own drive, everyone would be asleep allowing me to easily slip them into their beds.

Focus on what you do well.

I enjoy the holiday festivities, but I am not sure I am the best hostess during this season. With guests in my house I was distracted by making sure they were comfortable, having a good time and getting what they need. By New Year’s I was exhausted. The first year our family lived abroad I discovered that some of our best Christmases were spent traveling. During the holiday season people are usually quite friendly and everything is decorated in such beautiful fashion. And amazingly, some of the most popular vacation destinations are relatively unoccupied. One year at Christmas we went to Sea World and enjoyed the novelty as my kids literally could finish a ride and hop right back onto it over and over again!

Think “out of the box.”

I know many people really enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards. And for many years I could hardly wait to choose just the right holiday card and sit down to write my Christmas Newsletter, sharing all my family’s accomplishments. I still enjoy getting holiday cards from friends, relatives and colleagues, but one year life was especially chaotic during the early part of December and I didn’t get my cards in the mail….and surprisingly we all survived. That same year a friend of mine sent “Valentines” cards rather than Christmas cards. It was such a delight to get this card during a time of the year that also honored those we love when I was really able to enjoy what she had to share. I thought this was a fabulous idea! So don’t be surprised if you get a “Valentine’s Day card” from me this year instead.

Plan ahead…sometimes.

This tip is from someone with ADHD to someone with ADHD who will understand when I say that “planning ahead” does not always work. Sometimes using our “procrastination” may actually save time, money and even frustration in the long run. For years I planned ahead and bought gifts, wrapping or decorations on sale. Putting them away thinking it would save me money, time and energy by leaving me better prepared the following year. Instead I have learned that I love to shop around the holidays. I enjoy soaking in that slightly frenzied energy of the other shoppers and I am delighted at the creative decorations and singing along with the holiday music playing in the stores. Inevitably I find a wrapping paper that I prefer or a gift that I know would be a much better fit for someone than those I have stashed away. I still do “plan” with regards to the “big items” of Christmas – where we will have Christmas, who will be with us, etc. However, I also recognize that for me, a big part of this season is enjoying the spontaneity, sparkly decorations and anticipatory energy of this time of year and I wouldn’t want to miss those for the world!

What ways have you found that work with your ADHD to better enjoy the season? I would love to hear from you!

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