See also Obtaining Accommodations in College.
The college experience can be a challenging adventure for any student as he or she navigates through making new friends, achieving academic success, learning to live independently and planning the future. If you're living with ADHD, the additional responsibility of managing your condition and its symptoms—challenges with organization and time management, challenges with writing skills, difficulty focusing on goals and high frustration levels—can make this transition time seem overwhelming. Generally, schools that work well for students living with ADHD have small class sizes, classroom participation and dedicated faculty members.
However, students living with ADHD can be successful in any college as long as they have the right supports—from a network of friends to individualized accommodations and strategies.
He is 20 years old now. My husband was always an over achiever, but would start projects and never finish them. We would go camping and friends would call our campsite the “ADHD campsite” because it was so creative and organized. ADHD has really mostly been a positive thing in our lives. You're always hit with something from all angles, but it’s more fun than a boring life!
I became involved with NAMI Mercer, N.J., after my son was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder around fifth grade. Read more.
In high school, you may have been receiving services and accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law no longer applies in post-secondary education—this means no more individualized education programs (IEPs) or IEP teams.
Instead, as a college student living with ADHD, you are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Both of these laws require schools to provide you with reasonable accommodations if you disclose your disability. However, these laws do not specify a process for obtaining accommodations like IDEA does, so each college has its own procedures to obtain accommodations based on its interpretation of the laws. In college, you are responsible for learning these procedures, disclosing that you live with ADHD if you plan to request accommodations, requesting, obtaining and revising any accommodations you think are necessary each semester and monitoring your academic progress. There is no IEP team to do these things for you.
It is also important to understand federal privacy laws, including the Health Insurance and Portability Act (HIPAA) and Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA). These laws govern the information that is protected in your medical and educational records, who they can be shared with and when.
Historically, students covered under their parents’ insurance plan had to enroll in college fulltime to remain covered after age 18. Thus, those who had to take less than a full course load because of their disability, including ADHD, risked being removed from their parents’ insurance plan.
However, under the Health Care Reform law, effective September 26, 2010, young adults are now allowed to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26 years old, regardless of their student enrollment status and even if they no longer live with their parents or are not a dependent on a parent’s tax return. In the case of existing group health plans, this right does not apply if the young adult is offered insurance through their employer.
To learn more about your rights on campus, check out Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights.
The first step to succeeding in college is being prepared. The sooner you start preparing, the easier it will be to transition to college. This includes identifying the resources, services and supports that exist at your college and in the community that surrounds it. The more upfront research you do, the better equipped you will be to address any challenges that arise. Here are some action steps you can take to prepare yourself for the transition to college:
You may want to sign a HIPAA Release before going to college to let your parents remain involved with your medical care. If you have co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders that can impact your ability to make decisions about your health, financial or other personal matters, you may also want to consider assigning a Power of Attorney over some of your affairs and developing a Psychiatric Advance Directive (PAD) to share with others.
PAD is a legal document that allows you to give instructions for future mental health treatment or appoint someone you trust to make future decisions about your treatment. The document is used if you become unable to make or communicate decisions about your treatment. For more information, visit the National Resource Center on Psychiatric Advanced Directives.
It is your choice whether you want to disclose that you are living with ADHD to your college. Reasons you may want to disclose include:
The timing of your disclosure depends on when you need accommodations. But remember, you want to disclose before you have trouble in a class due to a lack of support. Here are five instances when it may be important to consider disclosure:
Generally, you should only disclose that you live with ADHD to those individuals who need to know because of the accommodation process. This usually includes disability resource center staff, your academic advisor or an admissions officer. You may be discouraged to disclose to faculty because of student confidentiality issues.
In terms of disclosing to others you will encounter in the college setting, including your peers, it is up to you and your own personal privacy boundaries about whether to disclose. You will want to determine for yourself the amount and type of information you want to share with others and you may wish to only share personal information with those you trust. Regardless of how, when or why you disclose that you are living with ADHD, always keep the conversation focused on your abilities, strengths and self-determination.Learn about obtaining accommodations in college.