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High School is Tough when you have ADHD, but you can make it easier...

Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.

High School years are some of the toughest years you'll go through if you have ADHD! Surprised to hear this? Probably not! If you're a High School student you already know how tough it can be. Just think about it -

  • What if you had 6 or 7 different part time jobs, and each of your bosses gave you work assignments without knowing or caring how much work the other bosses had already given you?

  • What if those six or seven different jobs were difficult? What if they each required lots of reading, writing, and memorizing? What if most of them were not very interesting to you?

  • What if you had to start work really early in the morning, and had to work overtime almost every night, so that you never really got enough sleep?

  • What if all of these part-time jobs required you to sit at a desk and listen to lectures or do paperwork?

  • What if you had to take notes and remember what each boss said every day and keep up with your overtime work assignments from each boss every day?

  • What if there were no real breaks during the day and you had to almost run from one job to the next?

  • What if you never had your own desk and had to bring all of the papers and supplies you needed from one job to the next all day long?

  • What if your bosses were always angry if you didn't get your overtime work done or forgot to bring something you needed for the job?

  • What if your worksite was noisy and distracting?

  • What if your only break during the workday was a half hour lunch break and the food was lousy?

  • What if you couldn't choose jobs that you were interested in or work that you were good at?

  • What if you had to do this for four years?

Think how hard that would be! Would you apply for those jobs? How long do you think you'd last in a work situation like that? Well, you're in it and it lasts four years - it's called High School!

Sounds pretty tough, doesn't it? But the picture doesn't have to be all bad.

Things that can make High School better when you have ADHD:

Look for "ADD-friendly" teachers. An ADD-friendly teacher is:

  • Excited about a subject, and works in creative ways to get you excited too

  • Flexible, and tries to work with you instead of rigidly sticking to "the rules"

  • Encourages rather than giving you a lecture when you're having difficulties

  • Understanding and knows that ADHD can cause forgetfulness, even when you're trying really hard to remember.

  • Organized and clear about what is required in the course

  • Fun and interesting, and seems to enjoy the class

Try to stay away from "ADD-toxic" teachers, teachers that

  • Don't "believe in" ADHD, and refuse to help you with problems related to ADHD.

  • Show little interest in his/her students

  • Are rigid and inflexible

  • Are boring or non-creative

  • Are disorganized

  • Can't be bothered to help you individually

  • Motivate their students through shame and criticism rather than praise and encouragement.

Develop an ADD-friendly class schedule, one with:

  • ADD-friendly teachers

  • Classes that are interesting to you

  • A schedule that puts your hardest classes in the middle of the day - not first period when you're still sleepy, or last period when you're exhausted.

Work hard to fill your schedule with ADD-friendly teachers and with courses that interest you. Individual teacher, section and course selection is a common accommodation for students with ADHD in college, and SHOULD be a common accommodation in High School. Work closely with your academic advisor and have your parent, tutor, or other professional help you lobby to get a more ADD-friendly schedule. Try not to take your most difficult classes at times of day when you are tired or less able to concentrate - and try to mix up your hardest classes with classes that give you a break.

Become qualified under a "504 plan," then ask for ADD (ADHD) accommodations such as:

  • Extended time on tests

  • Tests administered in a quiet, non-distracting room

  • Class notes (if you have difficulty listening and taking notes at the same time)

  • Customized class schedule

Get help in getting organized.

Some enlightened High Schools offer help to students with ADHD to learn how to plan and manage their time, how to keep up with homework assignments, and how to keep their backpack, locker and notebooks in order. If your school doesn't offer this kind of help, though, you can get help from a tutor or coach that specializes in working with students with ADHD.

Think ahead to college.

High School can be a harder time for many students with ADHD than college will be! Many colleges offer more supports and accommodations for students with ADHD than High Schools do. Be sure to choose your college wisely - one that offers enough structure and support, and one that doesn't provide too many distractions.

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