Young patients worried about getting into college may feel increased stress and pressure to stay on top of school. In this Everyday Health article, Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD, suggests ways to get support now and in the future to help students succeed. 

5 Smart Ways to Help College-Bound Students With ADHD Succeed_Julian Lagoy, M.D._Mindpath Health

The start of college is an exciting time for many teens and young adults, but it’s also a major adjustment, especially for people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other neurodevelopmental conditions.

“As opposed to high school, university life usually requires a much greater degree of independence and self-reliance, something that individuals with ADHD may struggle with, both in their personal and academic lives,” says Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.

Students with ADHD should be encouraged to advocate for themselves by taking advantage of any academic accommodations and support services offered by their university for students diagnosed with the condition. The fact that these services are offered is proof that the student is not alone, note experts at the nonprofit organization Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

Accommodations are not a favor — they’re the law. ADHD, like other disabilities, is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which gives people with ADHD the right to receive reasonable accommodations in public spaces, including academic settings.

A first step, says Monica Blied, PhD, is to know before arriving on campus whether there are any deadlines you must meet to register for such accommodations.

An added benefit of checking with the school early, Dr. Lagoy notes, is that “students can reach out for secure support in advance, instead of reacting under pressure and perhaps not completing tasks or schoolwork.”

More ways to help ensure a successful transition to college

If you’re an incoming student with ADHD, spend some time in the months leading up to school identifying which supports would help you the most in the classroom and with college life overall.

Difficulties students with ADHD face — such as challenges keeping up with assigned readings or getting to class on time — vary from person to person, which is why creating a plan just for you is so helpful.

1. Create a healthy and productive daily schedule

One of the most important parts of your plan will be setting up a daily routine that reinforces healthy habits that will help you meet your long- and short-term goals, according to CHADD. Include:

  • A regular time for going to bed and waking up each day ensures you get eight hours of sleep.
  • The proper timing for taking any medications you may be using for ADHD or other health conditions.
  • Breaks from classes and studying to enjoy regular physical exercise.

2. Check with the campus disability services department

Call ahead to find out what the school’s disability services department offers, then base your requests on your needs and comfort level. Tip: Ask your current healthcare providers, including your therapist (if you have one), to help you identify which services would be best for you.

3. Choose your class schedule wisely

Many colleges allow students to design their own class schedules, which can be especially helpful for people with ADHD. For example, someone who has trouble focusing for long periods of time or who struggles with fidgeting may do better in classes that meet twice a week for an hour and a half than classes that meet once a week for three hours, Antonio N. Puente, PhD, explains.

Also, if possible, avoid back-to-back classes and instead choose ones with breaks in between. That eliminates the stress of rushing from class to class and gives you time to recharge your focus and concentration, Puente says.

4. Consider where and how to get the best medical treatment

Be sure to let your current doctor and other healthcare providers know when you are leaving for college and how long you will be away, so that you can schedule any necessary appointments during breaks and holidays. Talk to them about how best to manage your prescriptions (if you take medication) and avoid lapses in care.

5. If you’ll be drinking alcohol, plan to do so responsibly

Drinking alcohol is very common on college campuses, and the odds are that most students will encounter it at some point in their college experience. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 53% of all full-time college students ages 18 to 22 around the country reported drinking alcohol within the past month, and around 33% reported binge drinking — at least five drinks for men and four drinks for women in a single occasion.

For college students with ADHD, drinking too much can have especially harmful consequences. For one thing, having ADHD increases one’s risk of substance abuse, compared with the general population, according to CHADD. What’s more, alcohol may cause negative interactions with prescription medications taken to manage ADHD, such as stimulants like methylphenidate. A review published in BMC Psychiatry linked drinking alcohol while taking ADHD medication with a significant increase in medication side effects, and it found that people consumed more alcohol when taking ADHD medications.

Read the full Everyday Health article with sources.

Julian Lagoy, MD

San Jose, CA

Dr. Julian Lagoy is a board-certified psychiatrist. Dr. Lagoy’s research focuses on post-suicide attempt survival and provider attitudes toward LGBTQIA+ patients, which he has presented at the American Psychiatric Association national meeting and the World Psychiatric Association International Congress in Spirituality and Psychiatry. Dr. Lagoy has a passion for service and has participated in medical missions and service trips worldwide. ... Read Full Bio »

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