Prepare ADHD Kids for Independence, One Transition at a Time

Kricket Harrison

As an ADHD parent, you probably spend a lot of time and energy mastering the art of  ‘helping your ADHD child survive school.’ As parents, we do everything we can to help our children get through each school year, right? But then what?  Are they ready for the next step? 

What are you doing to help your child or teen master the skills necessary to transition out of elementary school, middle school, high school or college – and ultimately enter the workforce?  Are you empowering your child or teen to develop the necessary skills? 

The ultimate transition to life is about more than homework assignments and grades. It’s about personal management, overcoming obstacles and recovering from failures. How can you help your student manage each transition on the long journey to adulthood? Here are just a few skills that you might want to start working on, skills your teen will need to know.

  • If your child is young, don’t panic — use this list to help you focus on what he’ll need to know and create a plan of what you’ll want to work on.
  • If your child is a teen, maybe a Junior or Senior in high school — you’ll want to start working on these skills, NOW.

And just a note, mom and dad – you may need to work on these, too.

Basic ADHD skills for Teens:

Does your child understand his/her ADHD and any co-existing conditions?  Can she identify when her ADHD is getting in her way?  It is important for your ‘young adult’ to have an awareness of her challenges, as well as the strategies she uses to help her succeed.

Is your child Independent? Instead of jumping in to help your teen, start letting her struggle through her problems, starting NOW. Just like a coach in sports, it is your job as parents to guide and encourage from the sidelines. Trust that you have taught her the skills and let her decide when to use them. Ask questions that start with What. What are you thinking?  What do you notice?  What do you want to change?  What do you want to accomplish?  Our babies have grown up, and if we want them to live successful lives (and not move into the basement) then we have to let them play the game, full-out, their way, and learn as they go.  Yes, they will fail. Yes, they will get hurt along the way. And they will learn more about themselves than we could ever teach them.

Can your child manage his medication?  This is about the whole process, and it’s much more than just taking a patch or a pill. If your son goes off to college, can he find a doctor in the area (especially if out of state) to prescribe his medications? Can he discuss the effectiveness of those medications related to new life challenges and environments, such as a dorm or a workplace? Does your child know how to get his prescription filled?  This may seem simple, but it requires thought, planning, organization, time management and money.  The next time your student needs his prescription filled, let him do it. Go with him and guide him, but let him handle it.

Life Skills:

Can your ADHD child wake herself up in the morning and be on time?  If the answer is NO, then don’t wait to get on this one. If you are still waking up your high school junior or senior for school every morning, then you must stop NOW. Mastering the skill of waking up on time can take a while. Give your child ample time and opportunity to learn this skill.

Can your child manage money? As adults, we control our children’s impulse spending with limited allowances, credit card limits, or no credit cards at all.  When your son moves out, he must accept responsibility for his money, but he really doesn’t know how. Kids these days have rarely been into a bank or had to cash a check. They have grown up on debit/credit cards and auto-deposit. Teach your student basic banking skills. What happens if your son loses his debit card? Teach him how to notify the bank and get a replacement. 

Has your child ever used public transportation on her own? Will she feel safe? Does she know how to read the schedule and where to buy tickets?

Does your child do his own laundry? One of the hardest things for parents — ok, for mom’s — seems to be letting a child go to school in dirty or wrinkled clothes. When you take this position, the laundry becomes your issue, and not your child’s. Teach your child how to do laundry, sort darks from lights, choose warm or cold. It takes thought, planning, timing, and an understanding of what will shrink and what won’t. Start letting your child do his own laundry — better to learn at home than from a load of pink clothing at college.

Is your child comfortable communicating?  Can she communicate her academic accommodations in order to get the help she needs?  Will she?  Can he communicate with a professor regarding a grade?  Will he?  Today’s students text everything, and rarely have to speak—to anyone. My son won’t even call to order a pizza! Why should he? He can do it all online. So, get your child talking now. Get them to call you, rather than text. Get them to explain things. Our children need to get comfortable talking to adults, participating in conversations, and asking for what they need.

Skills take time to develop. They do not appear automatically when your child leaves home, so start the transition to adulthood now, and take it step by step. Not only will you be glad you did, but some day, your child might even thank you!  

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