It Isn't Easy For College Students With ADHD
Gifted college students with ADHD have a special place in my heart, because I was once the same. It isn’t easy.
Here are three common themes for college students with ADHD.
- Autonomy and a non-regimented class schedule expose the need for planning skills and self-discipline that were not developed (and perhaps not needed) in high school.
- The absence of daily parental guidance is a significant loss that is not replaced in any form, which leaves the student at an acute loss — especially in the first and second year.
- ADHD with anxiety or depression (which commonly co-occur with ADHD) is a constant source of internal conflict. ADHD says “go, go, go!” while anxiety or depression say “hide, hide, hide!” In college, there is ample room a student to run toward non-academic distractions and to hide from classes and schoolwork.
When I was a student, nobody knew what “ADHD” was, so nobody knew how to help me. Now that we are wiser I’d be honored to coach students whose wiring and circumstances in the 2020s are at least a little like mine were in the early 1980s.
My Goals For Your Student, My Client
Our primary goal for coaching is the student’s well-being: Health and Joy, both of which rely on peace of mind. With a focus on ADHD challenges, we work within any or all of the following major areas:
- Schoolwork: What is required? What is optional? What are you achieving or not achieving? How can you achieve what you want and need to?
- Self-Management: How do you manage your time, energy, and emotions? How can you be your own best advocate?
What skills do you most need to develop and exercise? What habits do you need to build? How do you create self-accountability?
- Self-Knowledge: What are your strengths, weaknesses, likes, mysteries, and near-term goals? How do you balance “playing to your strengths” vs. “shoring up weaknesses”?
- Place-in-the-World: What does it mean to have ADHD, anxiety and/or depression? How have people with ADHD, anxiety, and/or depression learned to live well? Everybody’s peculiar in one way or another–it’s nice to know how our pieces can fit with everybody else’s.
Tools and Techniques
We work with tools including (but not limited to) the following:
- Goal-setting and priority-setting
- Breaking down projects into logical, do-able pieces
- Timeline planning
- Schedule planning
- Analog tools (e.g., planning cards, signage)
- Digital tools (e.g., Trello, smart watches)
- Distraction management
- Self-talk and visualization
- Tools borrowed from cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Self-observation and self-analysis, particularly around motivation, action, energy, and mood
- Work-space organization
- “Gamification” and challenges with rewards or penalties
Coaching Plan: Elements and Structure
Coaching typically includes:
- Weekly sessions (~45 minutes by phone or Zoom) focused on weekly observations, ADHD management techniques, goal-setting, and goal-tracking
- Weekly texts or emails in between sessions, to help stay on track with the week’s plans
Additional tools may include:
- Shared online workspaces for logging goals, tasks, progress, and notes (e.g., Google Calendar, Google Docs, Trello)
- Multiple texts or emails each week
Collaboration tasks may include:
- Finding accountability partners at school
- Updates to parents (in person, by phone, and/or written)
- Reports to share with therapist(s), doctor(s) and/or school counselor(s)
Attitude and Approach
- The coach respects the student as a human with dignity, strength, and autonomy. The coach treats the student as a fledgling adult.
- Our work and plans are primarily driven by the student, with input from other advisors (which may include parents), and help from the coach.
- The student does the student’s work. The coach instructs, encourages, and assists but does not do the student’s job.
- We recognize that we can do almost anything, but that we cannot do everything.
- The coach challenges but does not nag.
- Along with good will, we add good humor! We laugh at ourselves and our circumstances while we improve ourselves and our circumstances.
- We tell personal stories about ourselves and people we know, so that we share the full wisdom of ourselves and our community.
- We understand that life can be Joyful and Beautiful without being perfect.
Monthly Fees and Feedback
Fees range from $600 to $900 per month.
Unfortunately, health insurance polices do not cover coaching.
Each month, parents and coach can do a brief evaluation of the student’s progress and tune the plan for the coming month.
Coaching: A Partner to Therapy, Medicine, and Parents
How do therapy and coaching compare?
There is some overlap between therapy and coaching, but the two are distinct. In general, therapy places more emphasis on the student’s emotional wiring and the ways that emotions and perception influence daily life. Coaching places more emphasis on the student’s daily actions, as influenced by both thinking and emotions.
How do therapy, medicine, and coaching work together?
Where possible, the therapist, doctor(s) and coach should collaborate, sharing insights that may increase their odds for success (e.g., the student’s motivations, how their energy changes over the course of each day, etc.). Collaboration helps the coach avoid known hazards like emotional triggers or areas of deep resistance. The coach can offer observations like how the student seems to respond to changes in medication.
The coach defers to doctors and therapists with regard to hazard avoidance and plans they have made with the student.
Working with Parents
Good coaching incorporates both collaboration and confidentiality. If parents are involved in the coaching process, the student, parent(s), and coach will agree on which parts of our coach-student conversation can be shared with the parents, and which parts will remain confidential.