Thursday, September 19, 2013

College: What does it look like for the ADHD student?

This map of the top colleges and universities in the United States is the typical expectation of post-secondary education for most American students. But what happens when a student has learning or executive functioning disabilities that prevents them from attending these top colleges? Where can they go and receive support, tutoring, counseling, or classes about living skills? What happens when they are ready to move out, but not ready to be out in the world?

I am just starting out on this college counseling journey, wading through opportunities, and looking at different ideas and support for potential college students. Then, I started to look carefully at my own students who come into my school with a significant disadvantage before they even begin to LOOK at what college means. Due to their ADHD or learning disabilities, social or emotional disabilities, or even psychological issues, parents just want their children to graduate high school and college isn't even on the radar.

But something happens at our school....when there are smaller classrooms, teachers who understand their struggles and seek to work with their deficiencies instead of becoming annoyed, and a chance for them to succeed and then, they actually start to feel successful. All of a sudden, their grades go up, they begin to make their way out of the fog of "Can't" and into a situation where college - and dare I say - a FOUR year college instead of just a community college -  is actually within reach. 

However, the parents are still stuck in survival mode, where they are the motivator, the demander, the threat. When I approach them about potential college plans, they always say, "Oh no no no - I don't think s/he is quite ready for such a challenge and I would prefer s/he just stay at home and complete a couple classes toward an AA degree." I get it- I honestly do! I realize what it is like to parent a kid, deal with the daily issues, defiance, lack of motivation, even struggles with addictions or partying. 

I don't know their history with the student who I see try every day in my classroom. I am not at home with them during the knock down drag out fights but I can see amazing growth in just a few months. I see them start to participate, feel good about an "A" grade, and see them unfold themselves into mutually beneficial and positive relationships with their peers. I see their eyes light up when I talk to them about potential college plans and go through their "Getting Ready For College Worksheets." 

I am trying to increase their self-concept about what they are capable of and that doesn't mean putting out of reach college or universities that are popular but are not a great fit for them. This means doing the research to find programs that will support their writing assignments, social programs that help kids who need a push to increase their social skills, a psychiatric program that is available for students who need additional psychiatric care. 

That is my job and it isn't just about helping my students get into the top universities, it is about helping them get into and attend the RIGHT university. I hope that when my 7 year old and 2 year get old enough for a college counselor, that they will not be drawn by the glittery lights of the Big Universities but will find something that speaks to them and says, "You will fit in here, this is the place to start your adulthood." 

I hope that your kids or students do as well...
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