As soon as a teenager enters into their last year of high school, you can bet they start counting down the days until they head off to university. They will finally get to move out of their parents’ house! They will get to meet new people! They can finally be adults! And then they graduate from high school and the reality starts to dawn on them… “Wait, I have to move out of my parents’ house? I have to meet new people? I have to be an adult?!”
For those with ADD/ADHD, university and college can be even more stressful when many of their coping mechanisms are suddenly stripped away as they are on their own for the first time. The first few months of school can be especially difficult, but here are a few suggestions that might help you develop new systems and coping mechanisms for this exciting and unfamiliar environment.
Being Away from Home for the First Time
When most kids leave home for the first time in their lives, they suddenly have to deal with things like dirty clothes on the floor, a disaster zone in their kitchen, and the dreaded freshman fifteen. When kids with ADD/ADHD leave home, they may have to deal with managing their condition by themselves for the first time. In the rush of university life, this can lead to medications being missed, coping mechanisms being forgotten, and extremes of behavior becoming more pronounced.
The best way to make sure that you never forget to take your medication (if you do take something) is to set an alarm on your phone to remind you. Then set another alarm for fifteen minutes later to remind you again, just in case you instinctively turn the first alarm off. Make sure that you set the alarms for a time when you won’t be in class. Early morning or lunch are two very popular times.
Although alcohol and other controlled recreational substances may have been available when you were in high school, odds are they will be beyond plentiful in university. There are many, many, MANY freshmen university students who overindulge during parties, with their grades and educational success suffering as a result.
Many of those suffering from ADD/ADHD often use recreational substances as a coping mechanism, which, more often than not, makes matters far worse. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself in university, but you should try to be hyper aware of how these recreational substances affect you and monitor and ration their use.
Sadly, high schools rarely prepare kids for the realities of university or college. The workload tends to build up quickly, both in terms of amount and difficulty, leaving many kids feeling overwhelmed. For someone with ADD/ADHD, this mountain of work can feel completely insurmountable, but there are methods that can help you manage and get through.
First, make sure that your school knows that you have ADD/ADHD. Many schools offer specialized programs that can help ADD/ADHD students deal with the workload to release some of the pressure. If you require a specialized learning plan, talk to your professor for guidance at the beginning of the term. Don’t wait until later when you are already overwhelmed.
Next, you want to schedule within an inch of your life. It can be easy enough to lose track of time under normal circumstances. During times of panic, it can seem infinitely worse. Thankfully, post-secondary schools are usually better organized than most high schools when it comes to giving you important dates. On the very first day of your classes, make sure that you get a schedule from the professor with every important date listed, such as project due dates and exams. Then make sure you put these dates into your calendar, with lots of reminders built in. This will help give your school year a structure that you can refer to whenever you feel a little lost about how much time you have left to do what.
Making friends can be a difficult prospect for those with ADD/ADHD. You might feel like you talk too much, or like you don’t have anything in common with others, or you just might be too nervous to introduce yourself.
Well, let me let you in on a little secret about college… Everybody is scared. Everyone is terrified that they won’t make any friends, that they will hate their roommate, that they will be a social outcast. Even the ones that seem like social butterflies are secretly nervous as heck. So, don’t worry about your nerves because you are in good company!
Thankfully, post-secondary schools usually have a frosh week prior to classes starting. They are usually made up of icebreakers and activities designed to allow freshmen to get to know each other in low-pressure, and often very silly, social situations. Take advantage of frosh week by doing all of the activities and meeting as many people as you can. This can be exhausting, but also can be a lot of fun.
For many people, post-secondary school can one of the best times of their life. They make lifelong friends, get started on their chosen career, and begin to become their own person away from their parents. Just because you suffer from ADD/ADHD doesn’t mean that you should be denied this incredible experience. Creating new ways of dealing with your condition while trying to balance both the workload and social side of school can be difficult, but believe me, you can do it. If you need a little help, I would be happy to help guide you through with ADD/ADHD coaching, teaching you time management and focusing skills that will give you a major leg up to both survive and thrive at university!