For a student with mild ADHD, what are the pros and cons of disclosing ADHD in the college application?

I think there is another point entirely – why give your son the message that having ADHD is something to be hidden? That is a detriment to his future? Why not be who he is, and acknowledge the challenge?

Be careful that you are not his executive function. If he goes to college with no self management skills, and needs support from the school, you will then have to prove he requires it and then you will be explaining why it wasn’t severe enough to disclose but now you feel it is severe enough to ask for accomodations (which, quite frankly, rarely meet the needs of ADHD students)

My grown and flown son has ADHD. He did not develop executive function skills, he developed work-arounds and patience with his inability to schedule or remember appointments. (Just one example). I would mention the ADHD as simply another facet of your son’s life, not as an excuse for his grades. (B’s? B in college for an ADHD student is golden – he has nothing to “excuse” for his high school grades)

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Check out Forman’s gap year program. They call it “Ingenuity Year”. It is pretty pricey though.

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I mentioned Habitica and Freedom upthread, I also recommend giving him a timer cube. They set instantly and are easy to use for say just doing “20 minutes of SAT math” and then you take a break, get up run outside, go get a snack, whatever - and then set the cube for 20 minutes again to do another block. Or use the cube for just 5 minutes of picking stuff up off the floor. Little chunks of time are helpful.

I got my son set up with Habitica, and we initially set up his routines together - not with me assigning things to him, but asking him: ok, what do you think should go in the afternoon…ok, and what do you think after that…?

Every now and then if something seems to be becoming an issue I’ll ask him if he thinks if he should add it to Habitica, and when or how he might do that.

Things I end up saying a lot: and how do you think you might remember to do that? What’s your plan?

I don’t tell him what to do, but I prompt him to figure things out. Baby steps. Putting things into Habitica to train himself to write things down.

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Remember that college is more than going to classes and taking tests.

Laundry. Buying toothpaste. Remembering your ID, dorm key, not leaving your laptop unattended when you go get coffee. Taking your allergy meds or cleaning your contact lenses.

I see so many smart kids crash and burn in college and I can’t recall a case where the issue was intelligence or intellect. It’s the small stuff where the parents didn’t realize how much support they were providing ( or engaged in magical thinking that the roommate was going to take this on.) My freshman year roommate was clinically depressed and suicidal…did they really think that I could manage their kid for them?

Disclosure is not the question…the issue is can your son live independently? And if not, how do you all start that transition???

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My friend’s daughter is 2E. She was a very good student and had top grades because she also didn’t have to take some classes like PE and got extra time for everything including testing. In high school, it was all very controlled. They selected her college with academics in mind and went for a very demanding curriculum, based on her high gpa and test scores. My friend is a professional in the area, so knew all the accommodations to request (extra time, single room, laptop in the classroom). All was set up before college even began (and they’d eliminated some colleges that wouldn’t make the accommodations). This kid had spent all summer at sleep away camp for the 6 years before college so was used to ‘dorm’ living and taking care of herself (somewhat).

But as Blossom said, that’s not all there was to college. It was just too much for her to manage her medications, when to see a doctor, sleep, laundry, social life, when to say no to people, when to say yes. She wanted to be perfect like she had been in high school, but college is different. She was in a learning community for a dorm, but she needed so many accommodations (single room, time of meetings, meal times, timing of assignments) that she really didn’t fit in. The others in the LLC had to worry about themselves too and didn’t always have time to check up on her (she lived on a different floor). She could have done just the academic stuff or just the social stuff or just the ‘life’ stuff, but trying to do it all was too much for her.

The accommodations have to go both ways. The other students will help out, but they’ll want help sometimes too. They’ll want someone to run to the store for them to get something they forgot, or to borrow notes for a class they missed. They’ll want someone else to suggest social activities like going for pizza at least once in a while.

This student did much much better in school when she returned home and went to a local college. She handled the academics (and went back to a near perfect gpa) but didn’t have to struggle so much with the ‘just living’ part of her day. She actually did a lot of the cooking at home and had to take public transportation to school, but those were blocks of her day she could control and it was easier than living in a dorm (for her).

Just consider the whole picture. Academics, social life, dealing with laundry, dealing with noise and roommates (or neighbors), loneliness, sleep. College is a big adjustment.

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@Four_leaf_clover Lots of good advice here already. I am adding my perspective both as a parent of an ADHD child and as a college professor.

  1. My DS1 was diagnosed beginning of senior year in high school. Too late for school support. He did well with medications and weekly therapy, but GPA and course selections were baked in by end of junior year. Grades were A’s and B’s but mostly college prep courses, and middling SAT scores. He had a passion for CS but many of the “top” programs were out of reach. Choosing a college was about finding a place where he could thrive. We were fortunate to have a very respectable local choice where he was able to get admitted. He commuted the first year, becuase we had doubts about how well he could manage to live independently. I also know that the freshman year is tough for any student, regardless of the type of college they are attending. He did well the first year, and stayed in the dorm for sophomore year and afterwards (until Covid).

He had accommodations through the disability services. Everything has to be initiated by the student with regards to the professors. Forms have to be processed for each exam. He did get priority registration, which was helpful in choosing optimal times. He graduated and has a job in his field. He continues with meds and therapy.

  1. as a professor, I get many students who give me paperwork about accommodations. Some are diligent in following through. Others do not follow through with scheduling, don’t show up for classes etc., even after I email them . Other profs won’t even email them and simply hand out “F’s”. Also, a student’s disability is not disclosed to professors by the accessibility office. Many profs do not have an understanding of ADHD, and some even think it’s some kind of a made-up thing just to get extra time. I kid you not. As others have already pointed out, the level of support at a college for ADHD students is limited.

I would reiterate what @blossom asked - can your son live independently and manage these tasks on his own? Each kid is different and only you can know their level of readiness. Best of luck to your son. I am sure he will thrive with your guidance and support.

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Very good points. Like I said, we want him to take a gap year between high school and college. Hopefully this one year will give him more time to develop various skills. His high school is pretty demanding. We are supporting him to be ready for and get through his junior year, hopefully without too many issues. I also think it is probably better for him to go to college in our state or within driving distance.

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My previous job was very demanding. I pretty much was hands-off in his first two years of high school. His overall performance in 9th grade was quite good although he did complain about dislike of zoom classes. Back in 2020 and first half of 2021, there was no other option rather than virtual learning over zoom. Coming sophomore year, i had expected to see better performance since his school went back in person. However, the second half of sophomore year saw some issues with missing homework assignment and staying up very late to study for exam or finish english essay. I was concerned and got him tested. That’s when I learned he actually needs a lot of help with planning, calendaring, and reminders, when it comes to homework, especially big assignment. Now in the summer break, he need a lot of reminders to stay on task otherwise he could spend hours in a rabbit hole with youtube, social media, and texting with friends. One thing i was glad to see is that he spent a few weeks away at a summer camp in a college campus, which he thoroughly enjoyed the academics and social aspect of living in a dorm.

Anyway I have decided to reprioritize support to him over my previous demanding job, hoping to spend more time helping him develop his executive function skills or workaround skills so he is ready for living independently in college.

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There is no reliable test for ADHD. Was he diagnosed via a questionnaire? What kind of professional diagnosed him?

COVID caused a lot of distraction for many students. Have you considered he might also have some sort of screen/social media/phone addiction going on?

So with ADHD in our public school, students have 504 plans, If you add in other learning challenges, it could be an IEP. Private schools generally don’t accommodate as well, at least in the experience of people we know, some of whom switched to public schools. However, if he does decently he could be refused services. I wonder what testing he has had and what the results were?

I really feel that people overestimate what Offices of Disabilities can do. THey generally give the student letters to give the professors, which may or may not list accommodations and will not disclose the disability. It is up to the student to give these letters to the professor and, basically, negotiate. When problems arise it is often a dean, doctor or other professional involved who will advocate for the student with a professor, and some professors are more accommodating than others.

Back to you original question. ADHD is not relevant to admissions. Schools will not discriminate and many brilliant and accomplished people have ADHD. But there is no obligation to disclose before admission, and it should not be used to explain grades which, as others have said, sounds like making excuses.

If he is inspired to write an essay about it, fine. If it is done right it can be an interesting and likable essay. But in some ways I would hope he has better things to write about. He can also write about it briefly in the supplementary essay. My kid that about their type 1 diabetes. He does not need to disclose at all.

Are you sure a gap year it the best course? Have you looked at Landmark’s summer program or bridge program or whatever they can offer? They also will refer you to coaches.

I would encourage applying to whatever schools he likes that match his abilities. Reach, match and safety like everyone else.

Full disclosure I have a kid with ADHD but also bipolar 1, who went to college, left, worked, took community college classes, entered a degree completion progrram for adults and graduates at age 30 this December. Yay! It isn’t a tragedy. Not saying that will happen, but I think we parents can stop being so afraid. We can just help them follow their own choices. He will have to advocate for himself at school, but many schools do offer extensive supports, including weekly meetings for time management- and you can always hire a coach if you can afford it.

Oh-and yes, consider tuition refund insurance but check to see if your son’s diagnoses are covered.

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Thank you for your thorough response! Per his private high school suggestion, We hired a psychologist to complete a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation and his diagnosis is mild ADHD, predominantly inattentive type.

I have been disappointed by very limited support from his private school. We did discuss transferring to public school, but he is not willing to change school at the beginning of junior year. I understand it would be a tough transition. That’s why we are paying for support outside of his school. Regardless of which school he goes to, I feel we the parents need to do the heavy lifting the the daily support.

It’s understandable that he does not want to change schools. Since his grades are decent, chances are the public school wouldn’t help him that much.

We had several professionals, including a psychiatrist at an ADHD clinic at a top hospital, tell us that you cannot test for ADHD. Even the two neuropsychologists we used for extensive testing told us that the tests for ability to focus that they offer, occur in “contrived” or “artificial” circumstances that make focus look better than it is in real life.

Every professional of every type that we encountered used a questionnaire. Did your son’s neurpsych. use a questionnaire? It does not sound “mild” to me, honestly, unless addiction to screens/social media is a factor, or OCD, or some other challenge.

Has he seen a psychiatrist who is expert on ADHD? What medication is he on? If he just started, you may see progress, though for some meds it takes time to get the timing down.

I think you are very wise to hire outside support. That begins the transfer from parent(s) that will be needed for college.

Anyway, again, there is no need to disclose. There is also no need to hide the ADHD. It just isn’t relevant to admissions at all. Certainly the guidance counselor can explain the impact of COVID, which is not at all uncommon.

Again many brilliant, talented, accomplished people have ADHD. Disclosing once accepted is obviously necessary with the Office of Disabiiites, professors and so on.

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Hi would you mind posting info about the ADHD parent support groups you feel helpful? Or in the ADHD topic area? Thanks

These may help understand the differences between support services in HS vs college https://www.gtc.edu/sites/default/files/files/documents/DIFFERENCES%20BETWEEN%20HIGH%20SCHOOL%20AND%20COLLEGE%20DISABILITY%20SERVICES.pdf

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I see no benefit in disclosing. It’s not as if there was a change in his work that requires explanation. It’s not as if he had this issue and no longer will. Put differently, your DS -’ with ADHD - is likely the same kid who will be enrolling in college. He’ll mature and manage himself better, but this is unlikely to be behind him.

I’d use the space on the application to highlight what will make him a welcome addition to this community. He no doubt has interests and gifts that make him unique and interesting. Go there instead!

As for your DS, this is who he is and the person he needs to manage. We are all trying to do a better job in some aspect of our lives - this happens to be is. (I don’t say this to minimize the issue, but to put it in context. I also am the parent of a boy with ADHD – inattentive-- who had the ability to be a decent student much of the time.) So in that context, think about where and how he will thrive as a student and think about how the application support that.

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For our D19, who is also 2E (higher end of moderate ADHD, inattentive type) college turned out to be far better than high school in many ways.

However, a couple of things do help. First, the fact that she found the classes to be far more interesting and more enjoyable. Having friends to study with and do homework with also helped. So she could not really start doing things life engage in social media in the evening when all of her friends and her roommate (with whom she has a very close relationship) were not only studying or doing homework, but would be checking in with her, to make sure that she was on top of things. Having serious hardworking and smart friends is also helpful. Still, it was highly stressful until she was diagnosed and finally got the accommodations that she needed.

On the other hand, going virtual was hell for her, especially the classes that were asynchronous. Without interaction, she finds focusing on somebody talking to be excruciatingly difficult. She would rather read the material than watch a lecture.

BTW, her ADHD was only diagnosed in college, which is not at all uncommon for 2E kids who manage to compensate until they can’t. It also helped that her high school was very flexible and she had a very supportive counselor.

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Thanks for sharing!

It is really nice to see some good example of 2E kids doing well in college. We are in a similar situation. My son was able to compensate until virtual learning and large work load piles up. His teachers and I were not aware of any issues in elementary school or middle school since he was a top student of the class. We started to take notice when he stayed up really late or did not turn in homework, which is quite unusual for him. Even now his school is still assuring me he is doing well relatively speaking. It sounds like many kids are having similar issues.

I know with the proper support and training he should be able to do better and get more sleep. Think positive :slight_smile:

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@Four_leaf_clover , mine was also diagnosed in college. It definitely made several pieces fit into place!

Where I have seen it become apparent (beyond the disorganization often attributed to “boys”) is when material becomes difficult enough that it requires real work to master. Bright kids are used to catching on before they lose interest and attention When they don’t catch on quickly, they don’t really have what it takes to stick with it until they do.

This is definitely a skill your S should cultivate, whether it’s asking for help, figuring out how to backtrack to where he got lost, how to create bite size study modules, etc. It’s easy to see how a kid who’s relied on his quick study abilities to crash when the material doesn’t come easily.

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I’m kind of past the point of being involved anymore. Son goes to a school that specializes in ADHD and I tend to just focus on what he does there for now.

I do recommend anything by Sarah Ward of Cognitive Connections. She speaks everywhere, so if you ever get a chance to attend one of her workshops she is well worth your time. She tends to focus on things that you can implement immediately. I’m sure you can find her stuff online as well.

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Try phone notifications. Put everything on his Google calendar, everything. Then learn how to set reminders and notifications. Then he can go one by one and get them done. They can be set to also vibrate.

Regardless of his scores, college is much harder. Make sure the school he goes to has a good student support system.

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This ^^^. Some high schools just look at grades and assume all is well.