ADHD in College Students

ADHD in College Students

by William Schroeder & Scott Allen

Attending college is an entire new level for every young adult. Subject matter becomes more dense, hours invested in studying dramatically increase, and tests and homework become more challenging. Along with this, many young adults are now on their own, so they have to manage work, school, and personal affairs simultaneously. All of this can seem like attempting to organize chaos, which can lead to stress, depression, and anxiety, especially for individuals with ADHD. If you are or know a recent high school graduate or an upcoming one who has ADHD, you may be wondering how to navigate the college admissions process and how to select a university that will be comfortable and have an adequate amount of resources and support. In this blog post, Just Mind therapists William Schroeder and Scott Allen answer some of the questions regarding applying and selecting a college with ADHD and ADHD in college students.

1) Advice for Students With ADHD Who Are Beginning the College Application Process:

We suggest taking a broad look at the needs and desires of the individual. Finding an environment that will be supportive of their growth and will inspire them is crucial. If they needed a lot of structure in high school, then it makes sense they might also need that in college. Identifying schools with good support programs might be vital. Loyola University in New Orleans has a program called the Student Success Center, which is an excellent example of this. They provide various levels of coaching, tutoring, and career support. Other schools have programs that are more focused on disability services like the SALT (Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques) Center at the University of Arizona. This program is even more intensive for those who need it. Each of these programs offers varying levels of support (executive function, peer support, advocacy, etc.) but identifying those which you or your child would most benefit from is essential.

We also suggest that you think about things like:

  • What is the size or layout of the college?  Taking “the leap” from high school to college is a big step for any student.  First-year classes at larger universities tend to be massive and can be overwhelming for individuals with ADHD, as it is more challenging to access the layers of support they had in high school.  Is the campus easy to navigate? Are support personnel easy to identify and access? Would they benefit from a smaller classroom size and more direct teacher time?
  • Could a gap year benefit them so they can work, mature, and take community-college classes to better their chances in college (and their acceptance rates and scholarship opportunities).
  • How is the academic calendar setup? Some kids might like a quarter system with short but intense classes. Others may prefer a semester as it’s longer and slower. We have even had individuals opt for programs like Colorado College’s Block Plan, which allows kids to take one class at a time.
  • Evaluate the environments of learning, support services, academic departments, and the general culture to see if it’s a good environment for you or your child and if they all are supportive of ADHD.
  • Are you worried about dividing work and play time? If so, be wary of party schools. Work  to find ways to balance competing priorities. This is a personal disclosure here; I (William) went to Millsaps College, and it was just the small school environment my parents thought would help me. From growing up in New Orleans, I was bored out of my mind, as most kids were at home on the weekends, and the school had minimal support services. I transferred to Loyola in New Orleans and found the exact balance that I needed between fun and a supportive environment.
  • Another important consideration is the distance of the school from home.  Is your young adult ready for dorm or apartment life? Have they had prior experiences of separating from your family for trips or sleepovers?  If not, it might be worthwhile to consider a college close to home and to work up to moving away in gradual steps if the young adult wishes to go to a particular program or college.   
  • The reality of the situation is that adjusting to college can be both positive and challenging for students with ADHD.  On the positive end, there is greater access to peers with similar interests, coursework/majors can be high-interest subjects, there is greater flexibility in scheduling (which is great for people who are “owls” rather than “larks”), and there is greater freedom on the part of the student.  On the more challenging side, there is a ton of more unstructured time, which can be problematic for students with ADHD, as time management is a typical struggle in the population. Students may need to add layers of structure with jobs or scheduled studied times in order to help “stay in the game.”  The out-of-class course demands are also much higher in college than in high school. There are more long-term projects and papers, requiring students to complete more work on their own. Research papers and projects tend to be executive-functioning challenges, as they require so many skills (e.g., planning, organization, time management, etc.) to get from start to finish.  Students with ADHD who soared through high school may struggle for the first time in college. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of obtaining outside assistance (e.g., tutors, coaches, etc.) to help early when students struggle with the executive-functioning challenges of college.

2) Should students address or disclose their ADHD in their college application? Or is this something they should address with the university after being accepted?

We wouldn’t say there is a uniform way of addressing this as we have seen it done both ways. Personally, our vote is for disclosing any disability and making it an open part of the criteria for evaluation. This helps you to see the full spectrum of services a school may have to offer. That said, as long as you have your evaluations and documentation ready for the university, you can also do it after being accepted. We’ve had a parent describe disability disclosure as an “insurance policy.”  In many ways it can be preventative in nature and it opens the discussion for the types of accommodations and supports that the school can offer.  Keep in mind that it is unlawful for any school or program to reject a potential student based on a disability. Where we often see the most resistance is from students who fear the stigma or label associated with a disability.  Many times, this fear can be eased by stating that disability status can not be made public to other students and even if accommodations are offered by a university/program, they don’t have to be used by the student.

3) What campus resources should students with ADHD look for when selecting a university and why?

We would reiterate some of what we said above and add more depth to it. See if schools have disability advisors that can help them to get their accommodations in place with teachers and if your child is allowed to schedule early with them. It helps to have an advisor who understands difficulties in time management, organization, scheduling, and other areas. Ask if they charge additional fees for tutoring and support. Find out what support services are available to students with ADHD—extra time, tests in a solitary environment, tests with assistive devices that read text aloud, is coaching included, etc. Most, if not all, schools will have a disability office, but there will likely be differences in the types of supports provided and how they are offered.  It is important to ask specific questions relevant to your young adult on the front end. For example, if you know that your young adult struggles with taking notes (and you have an assessment report to support that), ask what the school can do to help your young adult fully access the curriculum (e.g., audiotaping lectures, note sharing, instructors providing slides to students, etc.).  No question is a bad question!

4) How important is a university’s community and resource center for students with ADHD?

It depends on the individual. Some kids need a full spectrum of support, while  others may benefit from one or two helpful items alone, such as smaller classroom size and an accessible teacher. That said, we do think it helps to have a coach who can check in on the identified areas of need, see how things are progressing, and re-evaluate support measures as the semester progresses. Let me (William) give an example. When I went to Loyola, they had a class on how to organize and structure yourself for learning. This class was incredibly helpful to me as it went through a lot of areas of structure and organization I would never have thought of on my own. I met once a week with a coach to check in and see how things were going. She was a bit of a blind spot detector for me, and it helped me to see what worked, what was a challenge, and what I could do differently. She was instrumental in my success. It reminds me of the importance of finding a program that helps students who have difficulty planning ahead (oftentimes they go in when in crisis), that can help with academic issues, and that have centers staffed with trained professionals (tutors and otherwise) that understand learning disorders.

5) What are ways a university can support students with ADHD while they are completing their degree?

Most of what we said above would hold true for this as well. As therapists who specialize in ADHD, we would add that they should work to understand what motivates someone with ADHD and what their pain and shame centers are. The more you know that, the more you will understand what gets them stuck and how to get them unstuck. Well connected support mechanisms between coaching, advising, and mentors can help to identify these areas and keep them on the right track. For each person, we like to believe there is a recipe for success. Sometimes it takes time to identify all the right ingredients. Heck, even recognizing the wrong elements helps to make progress. We think the most important thing to remember is that every individual with ADHD is different.  One profile or list of supports does not help every student. It is great for the student to have a “point person” who can assist the student with not just the academic demands, but also issues with socialization and executive functioning. If the student cannot find a “point person” (or people) on campus, it still may be possible to access these supports in the community.

We hope that this post was informative for you and will help you (if you are a student with ADHD preparing to attend college) or your child (if you are a parent of a student with ADHD who is preparing to attend college) and make the entire process of applying to college and selecting a school much easier.  If you would like more ADHD resources, you can read more about it on our ADHD counseling and Aspergers counseling pages. Additionally, if you are seeking more help in the management of ADHD, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment. We have several therapists that specialize in treating individuals with ADHD. For more blog posts on ADHD, you can also read What ADHD Looks like in College, ADHD and Time Management, and Simple ADHD Treatment Strategies.  

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How to Connect with Your Teenager

How to Connect with Your Teenager

Yes, the teenage years are collectively a cringe-worthy and uniquely challenging time for many parents. How vividly do you remember the chaos and stress that you bestowed upon your own parents many years ago? It is a point in your child’s life that can be fulfilling, as they are developing their own interests, trying new hobbies, making new friends, and slowly learning how to become an adult. However, it is also a point when the paradigm shifts and your child will want to become more independent and try to make their own decisions. They will ask for more freedoms, your car keys, if they can spend more time with friends, and about dating, which means, uh-oh, sexual activity. Teenagers, as we all remember so well, are also newly exposed to a plethora of different stressors from school and their peers and there are many biological changes occurring within their bodies that they do not understand, which can result in them being temperamental. The important thing to remember during this time is that you should connect with your child before you correct them because they need you. The teenage years are critical molding years and connecting with them is vital, as it will make these turbulent times easier for you both. Below are some pieces of advice on how to connect with your teen.

  • Keep an Open Door Policy – As mentioned above, once a child becomes a teenager and enters high school, they are exposed to a monumental amount of new stressors: grades, preparing for college, bullies, rejection, rumors, working, peer pressure; the list goes on and on. Your child may not fully understand how to deal with many of these issues, so it is important that you, the parent, be an open source of guidance and comfort that they can come to when they need help or someone to talk to. This will help you and your teen develop a healthy, trustworthy, and open relationship and stronger emotional bond.
  • Show Them Love – Despite the fact that many teenagers think they are “cool”, grown up, and independent, they still want love and affection. You can easily display this to your teen by regularly saying “I love you,” giving them hugs and kisses, surprising them with their favorite snack or breakfast, greeting them when they come home, and saying “goodbye” when they leave. Simple gestures will show them how much you care about them and are always appreciated.
  • Take an Interest in Their Interests – Even you may not like the kinds of activities that your teen does, it is important to support your child’s interests and get involved with them. If your child is into sports, you can offer to play with them outside or watch a game together. Do they like art? You can take some time to paint with them or even take a pottery course together. This will be a perfect way to strengthen your emotional bond and spend time together. Hey, you may also develop some new interests of your own.
  • Talk to Them – This one is simple and straightforward. Ask how their day at school was, how they are feeling, do they need help with anything, how their friends are doing, etc. A good way to keep this consistent is to have dinner as a family every night. That will always serve as an ample opportunity to talk with your teen about their day or anything else. On days that you are both super busy, still try to converse with them, whether it be during a car ride or even on the phone. This is a great way to connect on a daily basis and show that you have an interest in their lives.
  • Develop Rituals – Taking part in traditions as a family can be a great way to have fun, create lasting memories, and bond. Rituals can involve biweekly trips to see a new movie, dining out at your favorite restaurant on the weekends, taking them shopping when they receive good grades, going on a yearly vacation together, and anything unique that your family can think of and that everyone enjoys. Pick something unique and remember to stick with it.
  • Do Work Together – Ew. Chores. One of the dreaded parts of weekends or breaks for both parents and their children, but, unfortunately, they need to get done. Instead of commanding your teen to perform all of the cleaning or mowing by themselves, offer to help them with it, making the experience more tolerable and quicker for everybody. You can also make it more enjoyable by playing music or listening to a podcast together. This can also serve as a good opportunity to teach them new things and life skills for when they finally reach adulthood and move out. Two examples of this are: cooking together and teaching them how to change the oil in a car.
  • Be Affirming – During these years, many teenagers are always judging their self-worth and seeking affirmation from their peers, teachers, and others around them. It is important to remember that they are also mostly seeking affirmation from YOU, their parents. They want to know: Are you proud of them? Are they doing a good job? Are they pretty? Smart? Capable? Saying affirming things to your teen can have an amazing effect on their lives. And, if you are in a situation when you do not want to embarrass them, as sometimes teens get embarrassed when you say these things in front of their friends, send them a text or leave them a note for later reading.

We at Just Mind hope that this article will help you build a relationship with your teenager. If you are interested in other blog posts related to teens, you can read Five Ideas for Supporting Teens in a Tough Moment. If you feel that you need additional help regarding your teen, you can read about teen counseling or contact us to make a counseling appointment. We have several counselors that work with teens and parents that can help you. Even if we are not the right fit, we are tied to an expansive network of counselors and will help you find the right match.

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How to Control Your Anger

How to Control Your Anger

Anger: everybody knows the feeling. It is the feeling of white, hot rage that causes your blood pressure to skyrocket and makes you feel like you are about to boil over. Anger is one of the most basic emotions, along with sadness, fear, happiness, and others. It is a useful emotion which serves a protective purpose by preparing us to fight when our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. It can also serve as a mechanism to mobilize us to complete a goal or make changes in our personal lives and communities when we feel that things are not up to snuff. However, too much anger can be detrimental to our health and can hurt, or even destroy, relationships with our loved ones. If you feel that anger controls and dominates your life and you have trouble handling it, below we have some helpful tips on how to control your anger.

  • Develop and Practice Relaxation Techniques – When you feel that you are about to lose your temper, put relaxation skills to the test. These may be individual for everyone, so find something that works for you. Some examples of relaxation techniques are: deep breathing exercises, mentally or verbally reciting calming phrases, imagining pleasant and relaxing scenarios, journaling, progressive muscle relaxation, and doing yoga poses. If none of these seem appealing, you can explore and find what helps you cool your temper down.
  • Monitor Your Thoughts and Speak Carefully – It is easy to say something hurtful or destructive when you are angry, which you will probably regret once the feeling subsides. Before you say anything, take some time to collect your thoughts and allow other individuals who are involved to do the same. This is a good practice as saying something hurtful to someone else or someone saying something hurtful to you can result in even more anger, which can spiral out of control into an anger storm.
  • Use Humor  – Using humor can help lighten the situation and relieve pressure. You can use humor to identify and face what is making you upset and even calm you down, as a good laugh will usually help with that. Remember to keep it playful and light, as using put-down jokes, sarcasm, mimicking, or other negative humor can cause more hurt.
  • Exercise – Any type of physical activity, whether it be lifting weights, running, power walking, yoga, and others can help reduce the stress which causes us to become angry and upset. If you feel tensions rising, go exercise!
  • Use “I” Statements and Avoid “You” Statements – Use “I” statements, such as “I feel…”, “I think…”, rather than “You” statements, such as “You did…”, “You are…”. These are good and useful for avoiding criticism, placing blame, and taking ownership of the problem. Remember, when doing this, be respectful. Using “I” statements as a chance to be mean usually does not work and can continue to escalate the situation. A good example is saying “I’m upset because you did take out the trash when I asked you” rather than “You never do anything.”
  • Temporarily Remove Yourself From the Situation – Take a moment to calm down with a method of your choice and then return to the situation once you are thinking clearly and some of the tension has diffused. Once you return, you can tend to the situation by allowing everyone to state their feelings and concerns, which can ultimately help identify possible solutions to the problem and solve it without corrosive and destructive behavior.
  • Take Mental Breaks – It is a good idea to take breaks during stressful points of the day to help you wind down and relieve pressure. This will prevent and reduce the amount of stress that builds up inside of you, which will help you be prepared for emotionally hazardous situations. Coming home from a long, stressful day of work where you did not take any mental breaks is an excellent primer for anger about insignificant events that can be solved calmly, without the use of anger.
  • Come Up With Solutions – Rather than focusing on your anger and what is making you mad, thus amplifying and intensifying your anger, focus on coming up with solutions to the problem.  Using anger in most situations will not prove useful, won’t fix the problem, and make things worse. Try shifting your attention from anger to solution. You can also come up with solutions to common events in the future that cause your temperature to flare so you can either be prepared or avoid them all together.
  • Forgive Yourself and Others – We are human, we all make mistakes. Forgiving yourself for being angry and others who either intentionally or unintentionally made you angry can prevent you from harboring bitterness, anger, and resentment. Holding onto these feelings for an extended period of time can make you volatile and keep you angry when you see and interact with that individual, resulting in a never-ending anger loop. When you forgive and ultimately get over this anger, you can come back to the situation and resolve it.
  • Seek Professional Help – If all else fails and anger is still getting the best of you, seek out professional help. There are many trained therapists which can help you learn how to manage and control your anger. Therapy will help you identify triggers, explore underlying mechanisms for what is behind your anger, look at past issues, and teach your relaxation techniques. If you are a loved one need help with anger, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment or read about personal growth counseling. If we are not a good fit for you, we will help you find a good match, as we are tied to a very large network of mental health professionals in the Austin area.

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Tips for Coming Out

Tips for Coming Out

By Kyla Winlow, LCSW

Coming out is a journey. I definitely experienced the rainbows and joys of living my truth by coming out. But there were also some cloudy days and stormy weather along that path. Here are some tips I have picked through my journey:

  • First, I want to take away the pressure of needing a name or label for this part of you. You don’t need to identify as gay, lesbian, queer, pan, bi, asexual, heteroflexible, homoflexible, or any other term. Sexuality exists beyond labels for it. You can decide what language to use or not use—maybe coming out is introducing your partner as your partner with no need/desire to label it.
  • Have support! Maybe you have a close friend or family member who you know will accept this part of you with open arms, or you might find support via an online community. You need to know that you are not alone and that someone has your back.
  • Before coming out, consider if you are dependent on anyone who you are going to come out to, such as family members, a spouse/partner, or a boss. Coming out could impact your finances, employment, health insurance, housing, or tuition. If coming out might affect these parts of your life, create a backup plan.
  • Be prepared for an array of reactions. Just as our sexuality is a journey for us, it can be a process for our loved ones, as well. Sometimes, a friend or family member grieves the loss of what they expected our lives to look like. Though this can be painful for us, this is not about us—this is about them and their process. Unfortunately, people may respond worse than needing time to grieve. Some of us will lose family, friends, or communities. One of the scariest reactions can be violence—we cannot ignore the statistics of hate crimes against the LGBTQIA community.
  • Consider safety. Does this situation feel safe? I’m talking about that gut feeling in your stomach. Listen to that vibe or those hairs that are standing up on the back of your neck. It might not be the time to hold your partner’s hand as you walk down the street in a place that does not feel safe. THIS IS YOUR CHOICE. You get to decide in what situations you want to share this piece of you and in what circumstances you think that it is best that you don’t.
  • If it’s not just a matter of your safety; if you don’t know if you want to be outed or seen as different, I’d encourage you to consider the other side of this coin. Imagine if you saw more queer people showing each other affection when you were younger. How might that have felt for you? I think it would have helped me feel less alone and different. Unknowingly, you may be offering support to someone who needs it by outing yourself or by letting yourself be seen.

In closing, coming out is as unique as our individuality. People often ask me if their experience or journey is typical, and the answer is yes! Whether you came out when you were a young child, if you came out later in life, or if you are still contemplating the decision to come out, you are normal. That was and is your journey. Honor it because it brought you to where you are today.

If you liked this post and want additional advice on coming out, you can read Tips On Coming Out at Work.  If you or a loved one need any assistance with this process, you can check out our fantastic LGBT therapists, read more about LGBT counseling, or contact us to make a counseling appointment.

Need some more resources? Looking for ways to connect with the LGBTQ community? Check out some of these links:

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