Teens And College Students

A Message to Teens

First things first.  Having ADHD doesn't have to get in the way of you living a good life.  Countless teens with ADHD have grown up pursuing their passions, living happy and successful lives. The key is understanding how your life is impacted by having ADHD, and then taking charge of a plan that addresses your specific challenges.

Now that you are older, there are more demands on your time and higher expectations that you function independently.  This is true for your friends that don't have ADHD as well.  It can be overwhelming.  This is a time in your life when you start to map out your goals, plan accordingly, evaluate your progress and shift plans as necessary.  This requires a fairly high level of self-awareness, as well as some skills ( executive functions ) that enable you to prioritize, initiate, and follow through.  Maybe not your strongest suit.

Depending on the severity, ADHD is often experienced as an "inconvenience".   You may feel that it isolates you and makes you feel different and alone.  It's important that you understand that you are not responsible for having ADHD.  It's like other medical conditions that we have to manage.  However, this one is not visible to others.

Research has shown that kids with ADHD and learning disabilities report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and shame which results in lower levels of self - esteem.  If you feel these things, remember that you are not alone.  Talk to a parent, your doctor, a trusted adult, the guidance counselor at school....and solicit help and support.  You can't control the fact that you have ADHD, but you can control how you manage it.

A Message to the Parents of Teens

Typically, the majority of children do not outgrow ADHD when they reach adolescence.  The core symptoms required for a diagnosis - inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity remain the same, but for many teens, symptoms of hyperactivity may become more subtle.  What comes to the forefront are the executive function challenges.

The typical teenager has a lot to juggle and often finds it difficult to plan, organize, prioritize, manage time, and consider longer term consequences.  As you have read in other sections of this website, these executive functions are at the crux of the ADHD challenge.

Not only is there a challenge of initiating and prioritizing.  There is an emotional component that can be exacerbated by puberty, and the greater academic and social demands experienced at this age.  Many kids with ADHD are developmentally 3 - 5 years younger than their peers.  For this reason, you may witness in your teen lower frustration tolerance, increased risk tolerance, anger and impulsivity.  These are just a few of the complex range of emotions that surface at this age.  There is also shame attached to "being different", and lack of self-esteem from a lifetime of perceived failures.  To top it off, social cues may be hard to read which adds an additional layer of isolation, confusion and frustration.

If you do not have an official diagnosis at this point, it's important to move in that direction.  My section on Parents will help guide you through that.  It's important to rule out other causes of observed symptoms as well.  Most common co-occurring conditions could be Oppositional Defiance Disorder, (or Conduct Disorder), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, or substance abuse.  You could also be dealing with physical issues such as thyroid, poor eye coordination, or sleep deprivation.  Lastly, learning and communication problems often coincide with ADHD, but not inherently.  As you can see, there is a lot to rule out before you settle into a treatment program.

To counter some of the despair that you could be feeling at this point...there are some strategies that you can get started with at home.

  • Help your teen find areas of interest that enables them to feel successful and powerful.  When teens feel confident in one area of their life, these feelings can generalize to other areas as well.  It may be through volunteering, or teaching.  It could be through the arts, sports, drama, cooking, photography, sewing, or youth groups.  Explore all that your community has to offer and have your teen "sample" options until they discover some newfound passions.  The biggest challenge is to pry them away from their videos and phones long enough to capture their attention.

  • It's important to provide clear structure and communication at home.  Set boundaries and expectations.  Reward appropriate behavior with additional privileges and enforce consequences for inappropriate behavior.  This will enable your teen to learn from his/her mistakes and successes.  A main source of conflict is that teens with ADHD often require MORE supervision and help compared to their peers at this age.  But what they want is MORE
    independence and freedom.  It's a challenging time for parenting.  You may even seek the support of a professional.

  • Boost your teen's confidence.  Living with ADHD can be exhausting for you AND your teen.  It's important to take care of yourself and manage the stress that you feel.  With your own self-care in place, don't forget to emphasize your love and support for your teen.  Let them know that you are there to support them, you believe in them, and that you know that despite their difficulties, they can and will succeed.

Once you have a diagnosis, it's important to consider medication, accommodations at school, issues around driving, and a support team that will help your teen and your family.  If your Teen is close to graduating, read on to prepare yourself for the college years.

As a coach, I will talk to your teen about what it means to have ADHD.  We will work together on issues of time management and accountability.  I will help them become more organized academically.  We will explore their passions and strengths and they will learn to utilize these assets in the face of ADHD challenges.  We will discuss strategies for emotional regulation and most importantly, enable them to feel confident that they can have control over their world and their destiny.

A Message for College Students

Transitioning from high school to college may be one of the biggest challenges that you have faced thus far.  In high school, your life was probably very structured, leaving you few opportunities to make decisions about how to manage your time, or life in general.  It's likely that your needs were anticipated by your parents, teachers and coaches.  And it's possible that you have never had to advocate for yourself in the face of challenging situations.  This is a whole new world. The unstructured and independent environment of college puts the demand of academics in direct competition with interesting social opportunities.

The key to success comes from paying attention to who you are in the world.  Your strengths, work habits, internal clock, energetic rhythms, learning style and physical needs. Nobody knows your needs as well as you do.  Learn how to meet them and ask others to help you along that path.

There is much to consider in setting yourself up for a positive college experience.  You have the ability to succeed, IF you take yourself and your needs seriously enough to strategize good habits and routines, AND you create a support structure that will sustain you.  IF you don't take the time to research your prospective environment and become aware of your own strengths and challenges, you can still succeed. However, you may be working much harder than you have to.  My hope is to help you avoid that.

Strong Academic performance is easily hampered by the lack of executive functions. Executive Functions lie in the frontal cortex of the brain which is located directly behind your forehead, and it is from here that you are able to plan, organize, make good decisions and take action steps toward desired goals.  What is most important to know about yourself is that you are not broken, lazy, or crazy, but that you have executive function challenges:  Yes, ADHD will present you with challenges, but did you know that there are many positive personality traits shared by many with ADHD?

ADHD strengths easily employed by a college student:

  • Naturally spontaneous.
  • Strong desire to contribute.
  • Excellent brainstorming skills.
  • Incredible energy and enthusiasm.
  • Independent learners who prefer to learn in their own way.
  • Highly productive in areas where passion and strengths exist.
  • Bright, creative and energetic with enormous talents and aptitudes.
  • Capable of thinking quickly, drawing conclusions and juggling many ideas at once.

Common Challenges for the ADHD College Student:

  • Under-developed sense of time (poor time management).
  • Can’t start what is not fun and don’t want to stop what is fun.
  • Difficulty sustaining focus with tasks that are perceived as mundane/boring.
  • Tendency towards impulsivity; difficulty managing behavior, reactions, emotions and anger.
  • Challenged working memory - difficulty holding on to past successes and using that information to guide future actions.
  • Difficulty with self-awareness, often unaware of personal strengths as well as negative patterns of thoughts and behaviors.
  • Hyper focusing on activities of interest to the detriment of other tasks of equal or greater importance.

Here are just a few things that you can do that will help you move forward in this major transition. Start early - Before you even get to college, take on the tasks that you will need to do without support once you get to school:

Set an alarm and wake up on your own.
Fix a healthy breakfast with protein.
Start to do your own laundry.
Keep track of your schedule...Where do you have to be and when?
Open up a checking account and /or venmo account and start to use them.
Call to set up medical, dentist and hair appointments so that you get used to making calls.
Use a planner or a system of apps to organize your academics, obligations and social commitments.

  1. Seek Learning Center Support - If you have not yet chosen your school, the learning support center should be high on your priorities to research.  If you have chosen a school, the center should be your first stop on campus, as they can direct you to other resources, as well as inform you of the accommodations that may be available to you.  Here are some questions that will help you assess the quality of support that is accessible to you:
  • Is there a distinct student support services office?
  • How old is the program?
  • How many students with ADHD are registered with the learning center?
  • Does the director of Student Services have specialized training in ADHD?
  • Are there services developed especially for ADHD?
  • Are there academic advisors with a specialized background in ADHD provided for students that qualify?
  • Are there mentors available?
  • What are standard classroom accommodations?
  • Is there a faculty educational program to familiarize the faculty with the needs of students with ADHD?
  • Does the school help students identify faculty members who are particularly knowledgeable and sympathetic about ADHD?
  • Create your own support team - This will consist of counselors, therapists, coaches, deans and academic advisors, professors, teaching assistants, tutors, ADHD support groups, study groups, study buddies, and dorm personnel.  These people want you to succeed and are there to help you, but they won't know that you need help unless you ask for it!

  • Seek Accommodations - Every college is required by law to provide accommodations to students with ADHD or LD.  All campuses provide basic accommodations, (alterations in typical educational procedures), but some schools exceed what is required by law.  Once you know what college you are attending, contact the Learning Support Center to find out exactly what their requirements are in order to qualify for accommodations.  Leave yourself plenty of time, as often their requirements are complicated and difficult to obtain.  Most colleges require at the very least, a complete neuropsychological evaluation done within the last 3 years.  It's best to anticipate this one, as most neuropsychologists are booked up the closer you get to the beginning of the semester.

So how can a coach support your college experience?

A coach that believes in your success can help you stay accountable to yourself and the structure and strategies that you implement together.  This will minimize the possibility for overwhelm and maximize the probability of accomplishment, pride, and increased self-esteem.  Here are some areas that a coach can help you prevail!

  • Productivity
  • Task Initiation
  • Time Management
  • Social Boundaries
  • Play to your strengths
  • Implementing Accommodations
  • Help in gathering support team
  • Understanding your learning style
  • Maintaining routines and good habits
  • Routines supporting health and fitness


My professional training is through the ADD Coach Academy.  ADDCA is an ICF and PAAC certified coaching program dedicated exclusively to training ADHD coaches.  Working with me you will reach your most ambitious goals faster than you can alone.  I will help you gain clarity and focus. Through increased accountability, you will experience a boost of energy, renewed passion and inspiration to succeed.

If you're committed to creating a more fulfilling and meaningful life, I look forward to working with you. Contact me today for a FREE CONSULTATION.

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