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ADHD and College: Advice for Parents

Your child is getting more independent, but you're still on the support team

Mary Rooney, PhD

As a parent you have undoubtedly done a great deal to help your child with ADHD stay organized, stay on time, and stay on task. You’ve also been an advocate for your child and made sure they’ve had access to academic services, classroom accommodations, and psychological treatment. So when it’s time to send your child off to college, it shouldn’t surprise you that your job isn’t over yet. While college students are primarily responsible for managing their own ADHD, parents remain important members of their support team. Here are some tips to keep you and your child on track.

Plan to be involved

As your child becomes increasingly responsible for managing their own ADHD, it will be important for you to have a plan for the ways in which you will continue to provide support. This plan should be developed collaboratively, with your child. Ask how involved they would like you to be. How do they think you can be most helpful? Respect their opinions, consider their point of view, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Your plan should also outline how they are going to keep you in the loop about their academic progress and mental health.

Have access to academic records

College students with ADHD don’t recognize that their grades are slipping before it’s too late. Others realize they are struggling, but feel as though they can’t do anything about it. As a parent you can help by monitoring your child’s grades throughout the semester, and by talking to them as soon as you notice signs of trouble. Colleges typically post grades online shortly after exams or assignments are completed. Students automatically have access to this information, but parents do not. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), academic records are only available to parents if the student provides written consent for disclosure, or parents provide evidence that the student is a dependent on their most recent tax return. To learn about college-specific procedures for gaining access to student records, search for “FERPA” on the college’s website, or call the college registrar’s office.

Help your child get ADHD support services

Helping your child identify and access academic support services on campus is one of the most helpful things you can do as a parent. College students with ADHD qualify for academic accommodations under federal law, but they don’t get them automatically. It is the student’s responsibility to inform the college of their ADHD diagnosis and submit documentation (requirements vary by school). Together with your child, contact the campus disability support services office. Have your child make a list of available services and determine which services or accommodations they would benefit from. Make sure they also gather the necessary documentation. A guide to obtaining college accommodations is available on NAMI’s website.

Talk about alcohol

Underage drinking is common on the majority of college campuses. Unfortunately, alcohol use appears to lead to more negative consequences for students with ADHD than for students without the disorder. Consequences can range from relationship problems and academic difficulties to risky sexual behavior and physical injury. Talk to your child about the risks of alcohol use and encourage them not to drink. This is a serious topic that warrants a serious conversation. Refrain from sharing alcohol-related stories about your own college days unless they convey a clear message about a lesson that was learned the hard way.

Talk about money

The inattention and impulsivity that are part of ADHD can interfere with money management. Make sure you and your child have a clear plan in place for how money will be handled. If impulsive spending is a concern, help your child by keeping the bulk of their spending money in a savings account. On a monthly basis, transfer a predetermined amount into their personal checking account.