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Should Your Child with ADHD Live on Campus in College?

parenting kids with adhd

Adjusting to college can be challenging for any child. If your child has ADHD, it may seem downright impossible. One important factor - where your child will live - must be considered when thinking about college, which we'll discuss here.

ADHD Students & College

As soon as your child with ADHD started high school, you both probably started thinking about college, including prospective schools, GPA requirements, and the need for testing tutors. Now that your child has sent off his or her applications, you have more questions. If your child has ADHD, one of those questions is most likely: Should he or she live on campus? The answer to that question is more complicated than a simple 'yes' or 'no'.

On-Campus Living: Factors

Most students headed to college have three main living options: a campus dorm room, an off-campus apartment, or home. With each of these, there are many factors to consider.

Keep in mind that while you might consider the college living situation to be full of options, the college in question may feel differently. Some colleges require all first-year students to live on campus; if that's the case, your main goal will be preparing your child for success.

Services & Social Opportunities

Pros associated with living on campus include dining and residency services and social opportunities. Your child will have a roommate and access to resident directors and assistants. Even if the roommate isn't his or her BFF, your child will have the chance to befriend other students in the dorm. Additionally, he or she will be more likely to learn about clubs and recreational activities or other ways to meet people while living on campus.

While the freedom of apartment living may appeal to your child, consider the lack of services and structure. No resident assistant will pop in and ask how your child is doing, or notice if he or she is sleeping irregularly and missing class. Also, the freedom of apartment living might not be the best option, as structure is incredibly important for ADHD students. In an article for USA Today, ADHD college graduate Jeni Bridges notes that too little structure in her first year of college was not good for her.

class

Proximity

When discussing proximity, you might immediately think that the term just applies to classes. Sure, it's important to be close to classes, as there's less of an excuse not to attend. However, consider all of the other student services that your child has access to on campus. Academic support and tutoring, accommodations for ADHD, and the library are probably much closer to the dorm than to an apartment or your own home, which may mean they are better utilized.

The proximity of others - specifically roommates - and a lack of privacy while your child with ADHD studies may be a concern; however, most campuses provide access to alternatives. Freshman Blake Taylor at UC Berkeley quickly realized that he would have to find a quiet place to study and, through trial and error, found one that worked perfectly for him and his class schedule, which he adjusted to maximize his studying potential.

library

By comparison, a lack of roommates in an apartment doesn't make it the ideal study environment. Your child might get off-track by watching television or using social media, while a library is synonymous with studying.

Blake notes how living on campus helped him make friends and experience a sense of community, which is important for ADHD students. Living off campus, either in an apartment or at home, means students are further away from peers and activities. This could leave them feeling isolated and without many friends. Community is one factor listed in this Study.com article about the benefits of living on campus.

Cost

You might look at the cost of on-campus college housing and think: 'My child can live in an apartment for that price!' It's possible that you're right. However, there are other factors to consider, such as the cost of utilities, internet access, and food. Sure you'll have to pay for a college meal plan, but your child can save time by eating prepared meals in the dining hall, rather than cooking for themselves. If your child lives in an apartment or at home, he or she may have to pay to park on campus if there isn't a public transportation option. All of these extras add up quickly.

dining

Additionally, consider the psychological cost of these options. Will you be worried about your child living in an apartment with no resident assistant to check in on him or her? Will you drive each other insane if your child lives at home? Or are you too worried about on-campus living situations to care?

Grades & Retention Rates

Regardless of the pros and cons associated with choosing where your child should live while in college, consider the simple statistics. In general, students who live on campus have higher grades and higher retention rates than students who live off-campus, as seen in an article from Kent State University. Many of the factors discussed here, such as on-campus services and structured supports, are the reasons why.

Preparing Your Child to Live On Campus

When your child is in middle and high school, it isn't too difficult to stay in touch with teachers, help plan for large projects, and swoop in to speak with the administration when your child has a problem. That just won't be the case when your child heads off to college. In fact, federal regulations (known as FERPA) prevent a college from speaking with you about your child unless he or she has given the college consent. Once you and your child have decided where he or she will be living, there are tools you'll need to discuss and implement, whether your child lives on campus or in an apartment.

Foster Independence

One of the main adjustments your child with ADHD will have to make as he or she transitions from high school to college will be your absence. You won't be there to act as a morning alarm clock, do laundry, provide medication reminders, or plan weekly study times. It's a good idea to start having your child do these things in high school. This will not only help him or her become more independent but also ease the transition to college.

Dr. Theresa Maitland wrote an article for ADDitude mag about two ADHD college students and their adjustment to college that highlights the different approaches taken by parents that either prepared their children for success, or didn't. Dr. Edward Hallowell also recommends starting to withdraw daily assistance early on during the senior year of high school to prepare your child for the transition.

laundry

Seek Out Accommodations

Unlike the K-12 environment, students must seek disability accommodations in college; they won't come to them. Before your child leaves for college, get a name and number for its office of disability services or support so your child will know whom to contact. He or she should do this immediately in order to receive appropriate accommodations as soon as classes begin. Make sure your child's college forms and paperwork are up to date and include the ADHD diagnosis, so he or she will get the support needed to be successful.

In addition, look up academic support and tutoring resources and make sure your child knows where they are located. Unfortunately, some students often don't seek help until they are already struggling. If your child meets with someone early in the semester about good study habits, he or she may be more willing to go back if trouble arises. Identifying local resources is one way parents can help guide their ADHD high school graduates, according to Dr. Mark Bertin for PsychologyToday.

struggling

Consider a Bridge or Camp Program

In addition to cutting back on providing daily assistance for your child, consider a camp or bridge program to help him or her get ready for college. These programs are likely to be fairly short, from a few days to a few weeks, and not include the pressure of taking classes and studying. However, participants still need to learn how to wake themselves up, do laundry, and take their medication, either directly or from the program's nurse. This situation can show your child what he or she does well and what areas still need some practice before moving into a dorm or an apartment.

Final Thoughts

There are many benefits to having your child with ADHD live on campus, including proximity to services, supports, and social opportunities; statistics show that students who live on campus do better academically. ADHD students can excel in college if given the right tools so, regardless of where your child lives in college, prepare him or her beforehand to ensure a smooth transition to independent living and studying.

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
March 2017

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