Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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Tips for Parents of "Special Needs" College-Bound Teens

Graduating from high school and planning for life afterwards is an exciting AND challenging time for older teens and their parents. For adolescents with psychiatric diagnoses, it is especially important to plan ahead for a successful "launch” from high school to a university. All universities are different. It is important to investigate the mental health services and other supports available at each university you are considering.

Some topics to investigate and consider include:
  • Availability of student advocacy groups and outreach services to support students with special needs
  • Can the psychiatric condition be successfully managed on campus, or will additional community resources be required?  Consider ease of access to off-campus providers
  • How are medical and counseling services paid for? Does a student fee cover everything or is your insurance accepted? 
  • The availability of a Counseling Center, Student Health Services, and off-campus mental health resources

Before applying to a university, it is helpful for adolescents and their moms and dads to talk with their physician about the following:
  • Developing realistic expectations and plans about academic workload
  • Educational accommodations that can and should continue in college
  • Organizational skills needed to balance work and social life
  • Treatment needs and additional support after high school

When choosing a university, think about the following: 
  • Distance from home
  • Ease of access to specialized treatment
  • Educational environment (e.g., classroom, online, or a combination)
  • Housing options (e.g., dorms, off-campus living, commuting from home)
  • Local friends and family
  • Total number of students and class size

In order to live independently, college-bound adolescents will need a range of life skills, including:
  • Running errands (e.g., grocery, gasoline)
  • Doing chores (e.g., laundry, cooking, and cleaning)
  • Navigating public transportation and knowing how to get around new areas
  • Money management (e.g., using ATM’s, credit and debit cards, checkbook, online banking)
  • Healthy nutrition and exercise
  • Handling increased social freedom and pressures (e.g., drugs and alcohol, dating and sex)
  • Good sleep habits

Universities have more work with less structure. College-bound adolescents need to develop effective study skills such as:
  • Accepting responsibility and consequences for actions (e.g., missing a deadline) and learning how to plan for contingencies
  • Attending educational planning meetings (e.g., 504 plan, IEP, etc.) 
  • Balancing educational and recreational computer use
  • Completing homework, essays, and projects without reminders or involvement from mom or dad, professors, or tutors
  • Knowing schedules for classes
  • Organizing study materials

Moms and dads should encourage independence in healthcare management. Gradually phase in responsibility for: 
  • Knowing and talking about their health history
  • Scheduling, canceling, and keeping medical appointments
  • Storing and keeping medications safely
  • Tracking need for and ordering medication refills

There is more than just one route to a college degree. Other choices include "gap year" programs, part-time work and school, or a community college. Graduating from high school is a momentous occasion. Developing independent life skills and learning to manage mental health issues will help ensure a successful transition.

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