Dear Dr. Wes & Kendra: I’m a college student. The past few semesters I’ve been getting by with close calls in academics. I was wondering if my childhood ADD might still be a problem and what I should do.
Kendra: As we transition from high school and into adulthood we hope all obstacles of the past will miraculously disappear. More often than not, even if said obstacles become less of a problem, they’re unlikely to vanish without some effort on our part.
Like those small group projects in which one person ends up doing the majority of the work, ADD won’t just go away after graduation. Conquering this lifelong problem isn’t easy, but it is possible. Here are some tips:
• Stay organized. Keep a planner in a checklist format. But don’t just let it sit in the bottom of your backpack or on the floor of your dorm room. Every time you’re about to catch a show on Netflix or go to movie night for your dorm, pick one thing from your checklist to get done first.
• Take breaks often. This tip is helpful for any college student and especially if you have ADD. Unlike in high school, you’re given far more time between classes to get homework done, so instead of rushing to get it all done before a social event, budget your time with breaks — about 10 minutes for every hour of studying. Or finish your homework for one class, go to the dining hall with friends, then continue with your next assignment.
• Keep a routine. If you schedule specific blocks of study time into your calendar, it will be easier to get things done. This way the clock regulates your transitions into new activities, not your ADD.
• Utilize technology. If a paper planner and sticky notes don’t work, use your iPhone. To avoid the risk of distraction, set it to airplane mode so you can access your calendar, lists or study apps without worrying about tweets or texts coming in.
• Seek educational accommodations. Contact Disability Services at your school to see what help you might receive. Laws for high school and college students are different, so don’t expect all the same accommodations will apply. The greatest difference will be learning to advocate for yourself. Often, professors will allow you extra time or a separate place to take exams. Additionally, some schools offer free tutoring or study skills training.
• Don’t beat yourself up. ADD may make college harder, but most students struggle in the move from high school to college, so allow yourself to falter once in a while.
Wes: I have a book coming out in January on this very topic. It’s called “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not: Successful Living With ADD.” Kendra hit some of my favorite points and gave me a couple of new ideas.
Let me add a couple of things about diagnosis and treatment that will help you put all of Kendra’s great advice to work. This isn’t a disorder you want to eyeball or guess at. I suggest getting it reconfirmed before you commit to it. That includes norm-reference testing, meaning your score isn’t just a series of checks. You’re compared with a sample group your age and gender.
Next, learn all there is to learn. That’s the point of my book: to offer inside information on how you think, feel, act, love and problem solve differently than non-ADD people.
Finally, you need to find a good prescriber. Meds for ADD aren’t like an antibiotic or vaccine or even antidepressants. You’re going to notice a difference you’ll have to live with it for a long time. That takes trial and error followed by a period of getting used what medication management is like. Most people with ADD have a love-hate relationship with their meds, but the majority do well if they follow these steps.
An hour before writing this, I was reminded once again that nothing is grander than watching a young person awaken from the befuddlement of ADD and the sense of failure that goes along with it, and walk into the light of a better tomorrow. Don’t hesitate to take that step.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.