Most parents of high schoolers with ADHD have concerns about sending their teen to college – and with good reason. Research shows that college students with ADHD are at higher risk for failing or withdrawing from their classes and are more likely to drop out of college than their classmates without ADHD. While academic accommodations (link to “Frequently Asked Questions about Academic Accommodations in College” post here) and programs designed specifically for students with ADHD (link to “5 Colleges with Enhanced Services” post here) can help increase the likelihood of college success, they may not provide enough support for students who are simply not ready to live independently on a college campus. For these students, a gap year may be worth considering.
Gap year programs are becoming increasingly popular across the United States. Some colleges even encourage a gap year for their prospective students since they may give teens time to mature, gain a broader perspective on the world, and hone in on what they want to achieve once they begin college. For students with ADHD, this can sound exactly like what they need.
In general, kids and teens with ADHD have delays in skills related to attention, organization, motivation, and social interactions that place them about 2-3 years behind their peers in these areas. In fact, there is substantial research evidence showing a “maturational lag” in brain development corresponding to these delays in skill development. So, it’s possible that having an additional year to mature before college may be very helpful. However, these same skill delays also make it more challenging to ensure that the gap year is productive for teens with ADHD. After all, the year is supposed to be used for developing skills and maturity, and not for sitting on the couch playing video games or watching YouTube. If you and your teen are considering a gap year, it’s essential that structure and supervision are built into the gap year plan.
Here are some tips for making the most out of a gap year for teens with ADHD.
Overall, taking a gap year after high school may provide a real boost for prospective college students with ADHD. Just make sure you and your teen work together to create a plan for a goal-oriented, productive year that will set them up for success when they are ready to start college the following fall.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.