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Easing the Transition to College for Students with ADHD

By Keiana Smith-McDowell, NAMI Communications Intern

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Transitioning from high school to college can be both mentally and emotionally challenging for young adults with ADHD. College students with ADHD face many obstacles in new college environments including distractions, increased course loads, and new friends and educators.

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is a neuro-behavioral development disorder of impaired executive functions that significantly affects self-control, behavior, cognition, and learning.

ADHD affects an estimated 10 percent of young adults and at least 25 percent of college students with disabilities are diagnosed with ADHD.

According to the study “The Learning/Study Strategies of College Students with ADHD,” students with ADHD are often found to be of average to above average intelligence. However, more recent studies suggest that college students with ADHD experience less academic success and greater psychological and emotional difficulties than other students.

Preliminary research also suggests that more than half of the students treated for ADHD in colleges were diagnosed on campus. Young adults who do not show the hyperactive element in their childhood sometimes slip through the diagnosis net because they learn coping techniques at an early age. Those coping techniques often times don’t work well in college.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, students with ADHD are entitled to receive educational support services, and according to the 2006 study ADHD in College Students [PDF], more students are seeking these services.

There are increasing numbers of programs and services outside of the university setting that encourage students who are otherwise apprehensive to attend college, such as the Shire Scholarship program.

“Applying for scholarships is great motivation,” says Carol Caruso, member of the NAMI Board of Directors and Executive Director of NAMI PA Montgomery County. “It’s more challenging for kids with ADHD to do well in college, and a lot of scholarships that are offered aren’t geared towards kids with ADHD, so not only is the financial incentive great, but it makes them feel good.”

The Shire Scholarship program recognizes and supports students in the U.S. and Canada who are living with ADHD and wish to pursue higher education.

Since the start of the program in 2011, Shire has awarded 75 students nationally with scholarships. The Shire ADHD Scholarship offers a one-time $2,000 award as well as a prepaid year of ADHD coaching services.

The weekly ADHD coaching services which are intended to assist the scholarship recipients with the transition to higher education are provided by the Edge Foundation. In addition to weekly coaching sessions with the Edge Foundation, ADHD coaches offer support to students via e-mail and phone to help students meet their academic goals.

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, students reported that ADHD coaching helped them become more self-regulated, which led to positive academic experiences and outcomes. Students described ADHD coaching as a unique service that helped them develop more productive beliefs, experience more positive feelings, and engage in more self-regulated behaviors.

“We receive hundreds of applications,” says Caruso. “Everyone who applies for the scholarship can’t win, and it’s not always about the best resume. I look for people who are involved, someone who may be facing tremendous struggles and they fight despite their obstacle. Over the years we see it’s not always the student with straight A’s, sometimes it’s for families who are not financially stable in spite of the disability.”

Caruso says each year she’s really impressed with the range of abilities and skills the applicants present.

“This is the third year I’ve been a judge for the scholarship program, and I’m so happy to be apart of it,” says Caruso. “Helping to ease the transition to college makes this all worthwhile.”

Copyright Date: 03/22/2013

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