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ADHD and College Prep: The Last Frontier?

ADHD and College Prep: The Last Frontier?

By Mir Kamin

My year-long slide into Operation Launch My-Not-So-Baby Bird From The Nest continues apace. I mean, sure, normal parents of seniors are probably not spending a lot of time thinking about this in November (at least, they likely do not have the closet full of dorm items I’ve already acquired…), but no one has ever accused me of being normal. Slowly, my Facebook feed is showing signs of The Next Chapter, as friends are beginning to announce their seniors’ college acceptances and future plans. In a couple of months, it will be completely inescapable.

[Sidebar: My kids and I have a deal, and that deal includes a sworn oath that Mom (me) will never brag about them on Facebook. Also my senior is very close-to-the-vest with Big News, anyway, so I am enjoying the sharing I see in my feed and keeping my end of the bargain wherein I don’t share anything that’s not mine to share. I am currently negotiating for one caps-locked status update when the time is right, but that permission may never be granted. I’ll have to be okay with that, if so.]

We are moving forward at an acceptable pace. I’m making sure that those things I consider to be Essential Life Skills or at least Don’t Get Laughed At In Your Dorm skills are imparted and practiced. She can do laundry and cook and clean up after herself (for the most part) and get herself up in the morning and drive. Our continuing argument about whether or not leggings are pants (they are not, child, go put on some pants or listen to me wonder aloud why you’re only half-dressed) has mostly become a joke and a non-issue. After years of turmoil, she is managing her life not just admirably, but mostly with ease. It’s amazing.

But. But. No matter the routines we put in place, no matter whether I remain silent or cajole, no matter whether it’s a lazy weekend or a rushed weekday, a point of worry remains, for me.

I’m not going to get into a debate with anyone about medication, here. I’m not. You’re welcome to your feelings. What I will say, with complete conviction, is that medication changed my family’s and my child’s life—drastically, and for the better. And while I have long lauded the (proper, monitored) use of antidepressants for those of us whose brain chemistry needs some help, I was unprepared for the huge life shift my child’s ADHD diagnosis and subsequent medication usage would bring to the table. Like many girls with ADHD, my daughter doesn’t “look” like she has ADHD. Her hyperactivity and distractibility all happens inside her head, while on the outside she appears to be… fine. A little silly, a little slow, maybe a little scattered, sure, but fine. She knows what the medication does for her. She loves what the medication does for her. She’s not one of those people who feels that the medication is somehow dulling her or making her into someone different; if asked, she’ll be the first to tell you that it helps her focus and feel more like herself. She has no beef with her medication.

On the other hand, when unmedicated, it can be hard for her to… remember to take her medication. (Every fellow parent of an ADHD kid is nodding along, here. Solidarity, my brothers and sisters!) Every Sunday, we fill the pill cases for the week and leave them on the end of the kitchen counter, right by the door. Every morning, the kids eat their breakfasts and take their pills before they leave; every night, they take their evening meds last thing before they go upstairs to bed. At least, that’s the ideal. My son is highly routine-driven and it’s very, very rare that he misses his meds or even needs reminding. (He’s also not dealing with the level of distractibility his sister battles, to be fair.) My daughter, on the other hand, gets reminded multiple times, and if I don’t check, sometimes she’s on her way out the door without having taken her pills.

“What’s the plan for medication when she’s away at college?” Well hey, that’s a great question. The plan is that she’ll handle her meds herself and figure out a routine that works. The reality is that it’s a near-certainty she’ll find herself sitting in an early class—likely more than once—wondering why she can’t seem to get her head on straight, and she’ll realize she missed her meds. I’m not going to be there to nag her. She’s going to have to figure it out, one way or another.

We have time. And yet we don’t have nearly as much time as it feels like we need. So I bite my tongue, for the most part, when she’s pinging around the house in the morning and hasn’t taken her pills yet. In a fit of silliness that was actually genius, she ordered herself this cross stitch kit and has been working on it here and there, promising to finish it before she leaves and hang it right by the door of her dorm room. We both know she’ll acclimate to it and stop seeing it, but whatever. I like the intention.

In so many ways, she’s more than ready, capable beyond what I’d dared hope for her, and yet… this could be her Achilles heel. And there’s not a thing I can do about it other than assume she will figure it out.

Senior year is one giant, slow-motion trust fall. (And just to be clear, not for her, but for me.) And then next year I think it’ll feel like repeated falls, fast, over and over. I’ll just be over here working on the trust part (and maybe breathing into a paper bag, just a little).

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Jodie

    November 17, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Out of curiosity, what are the strategies you’ve employed (other than having them in the same place) to help her remember?  We’re getting close to medication and I want to start thinking ahead in how to help my daughter build some self sufficiency skills in the future.

    • Mir Kamin

      November 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

      1) Pill cases sit in the same location all the time.
      2) No electronics until pills have been taken. (Problem with this: Sometimes she honestly forgets.)
      3) Phone alarms. (Problem with this: Sometimes she turns off the reminder thinking she’ll go take her pills in a minute and forgets.)
      4) Checklists. (More for when she was younger.)
      5) ??? (I’ll let you know when we figure it out!)

  • Whoops, it’s okay | Woulda Coulda Shoulda

    November 17, 2015 at 11:17 am

    […] In the meantime, life marches on, and as we continue preparing the other kid for college (hey, at least she can tell us when she’s sick, so she has that going for her), I made sure that even though things are going really well in Chickieville, I still have something to worry about. I’m great like that. Fellow parents of ADHD kids, you’ll want to check out my post at Alpha Mom today. […]

  • Tricia

    November 17, 2015 at 11:40 am

    We keep the pill case in front of his seat at the table…BUT we have just started the rule of take pills before you eat. He’s to sit down, take pills, then eat.

    Frankly, I’m crazy bad about taking pills…it’s a wonder he gets it at the 90% he does…but frankly, his issue is he doesn’t realize he is unmedicated to then try all the other coping skills he’s developed. He can cope without meds…he just can’t figure out when to use those skills without meds!!

  • Erika

    November 17, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    My kids are still young, but frankly what I worry most about college and meds is: how are my kids going to keep their meds from being stolen. ADHD meds are worth a lot on the black market. Do I send them with a safe??? Good grief…

    • Mir Kamin

      November 17, 2015 at 1:59 pm

      This is an excellent point and I don’t have a good answer. 🙁

      • Ani

        November 17, 2015 at 2:24 pm

        We switched to a much-less abusable drug (Vyvanse) partly for this reason, I work in a university and regularly hear about students popping ADHD pills from friends, esp Adderall and Ritalin and its cousins. Flip side, Vyvanse doesn’t work as well for him.

    • Kim too

      November 17, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      And from what my young cousin tells me, harder to get.  He has yet to find a physician in his college town that will treat him (he’s my cousin, so I don’t know the whole story – but his mom denied there was an issue and he had himself diagnosed at 18.)  He says the docs just accuse him of wanting the stimulants.
      So again, I’m not there, I don’t know what or how hard he’s tried, but I think it would be worth having a plan in place before your college kid is own their own.  My cousin is going to drive a couple of hours to see my neurologist to see if he can get treatment again, and he may end up doing that once a month.

      • Mir Kamin

        November 17, 2015 at 2:23 pm

        I’ve heard nightmare stories like this, although I think if you have a good paper trail for earlier treatment and a letter from your hometown treating doctor, it’s a little easier. (Clearly not an option for your cousin, Kim, but for those kids who were diagnosed earlier.)

        So, um, remember, I’m not allowed to share news that’s not mine, or brag in any way, so let’s just say that hypothetically we are for no particular reason assuming that the kid will be able to stay with her current prescribing doc, as she only has to be seen once every three months and (probably! hypothetically!) she’ll be close enough to home to make that work. 😉

  • Wendy

    November 17, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    I am a 54-year-old grandmother.  I was finally diagnosed with ADHD when I was in my forties and, like Chickie, my life was completely changed with the addition of medication.  I still have days I wonder about “what if” I could have been diagnosed when I was in school, but not as much as I used to.)  And yet?  I would forget my medication probably at least one day a week.  I was very fortunate to have a manager to suggested that I keep a couple of days worth of meds in my purse/computer bag/somewhere you won’t lose it, Wendy!  Now, I have an alarm on my phone and I take them immediately on waking–they’re right next to my bed, with my glass of water ALWAYS.  The only time I missed was when I spent the night somewhere and forgot them (and I don’t have the two doses in my bag anymore!)

  • Karen R

    November 17, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Once she leaves for college and is allowed to carry meds with her, she can keep a set (or two, or three) in her bag. So if she realizes that she forgot to take them, she will have them with her. Before DH retired, he always kept a set of vitamins/meds in his briefcase. If I noticed that his pill minder still contained some or all of his morning dose, I could call/text and and would take them at work. When he returned home, he would refill the spares from the ones he forgot to take. 

    The other thing is training herself to not turn off the alarm until after she has actually taken her meds. One of the things with ADD is confusing thinking/planning to do something with actually having done it. So, verify, and then turn off the alarm. Snooze is really good for this, assuming that the next alarm goes off before the snoozer leaves home.

    DD (Why, yes, ADD does run rampant in my family. Why do you ask?) had to crash and burn her first semester to realize the value of taking her meds and using the offered support. Fortunately, she was at a school that provided excellent support for learning differences, and was given what she needed to get back on track and be successful. I hope Chickie can avoid that particular step.

    Good luck!

    • Mir Kamin

      November 17, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Great suggestions, Karen, thank you!! I think maybe this summer we’ll start doing meds-by-the-clock here at home and see if that works for her.

  • heidi

    November 17, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    Ok, this may not be helpful at all but what if it is tied with something she does remember to do each day? I’m thinking something like brushing her teeth. Just a thought. It was something I had to do for myself so I understand the struggle.

  • erin

    November 17, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Second the carrying a set or two in her bag (or in her car, but keep those in a properly labeled bottle – in case of getting pulled over)

  • Melissa

    November 17, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    As far as the fear of med theft, Amazon has a ton of locking pill cabinets/bags/boxes, combination-lock pill bottle tops, and pill dispensers with countdowns and alarms. We used a locking box and attached it to the bedframe with a laptop cable. As for remembering to take them, there are a bunch of alarm apps that also have a delayed screen you have to interact with to ACTUALLY turn off the alarm (I use mine for lunchtime meds because I am usually reading and distracted 😉

  • Jennifer

    November 17, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    My worry is my teens who have attempted suicide. We keep all medication in the house under lock and key and only give out one days dose at a time. What do I do when they leave home. (Hoping the hive mind has some advice )

    • Mir Kamin

      November 18, 2015 at 7:43 am

      We keep all medicine under lock and key except the weekly sorters, and I am working on deep breathing and the understanding that if she’s ready to go away to college and be an adult, I have to let her handle her own meds. (And let’s be honest: you can overdose on Tylenol.) I know it’s scary. I don’t have a good answer.

  • Lauren

    November 18, 2015 at 1:30 am

    My pills, for a very long time, were in a plastic sorter velcroed to my front door, plus an emergency dose tucked in my wallet. But the door plan might not work for Chickie if she has roommates and wants a bit more privacy?

  • js

    November 18, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Your daughter and mine, though different in age, share lots of similarities with learning challenges. Reading these posts has been so very helpful. My daughter and I have benefitted from the conversations they have opened up. Thank you.

  • Pem

    November 18, 2015 at 11:07 am

    I know you guys were joking about the cross stitch, but…I ended up writing myself a note with pretty much the exact same thing and taping it up above my key hook. And many mornings on my way out the door as I grab my keys I go “oh! Not yet!” And dash back into the kitchen for them. I had originally tried setting an alarm on my phone but I would also turn it off and forget.

    I think what keeps the note from being background noise is first that I wrote my name in big bold letters across the top–“PEM, did you take your meds?”, and second that by putting it by my keys, it’s in a spot where I do an action (getting my keys) where I have to both look with my eyes and move my hands, at a time when there isn’t any other tasks to distract me. It’s only a problem on the rare mornings I don’t need to leave the apartment.

    this note system was fine when I lived alone; this year I have a roommate, so I rewrote it in my non-English language (I’m bilingual) because I didn’t want her friends (who hadn’t met me) to feel uncomfortable walking into our home, even though I’m very comfortable with talking about mental illness and medication.

  • Meg

    November 19, 2015 at 12:01 am

    I’m an adult with ADHD and struggle remember to take my pills, still every day. What works for me (and what hasn’t):

    Carrying backup pills in my bag/purse does NOT work for me, becasue I often really can’t remember if I did or did not take my pills this morning, so I often wind up skipping instead of double dosing. What did/does work: in college my birth control pills lived next to the alarm clock (and are small enough to dry swallow), so I took one daily as soon as I was awake enough to turn off my alarm, since they were the first thing I saw every day.
    As an adult, I found that I almost always forgot to take meds before leaving the house, so instead my current prescriptions are living in my purse and /or work bag, with backups in the medicine cabinet instead of vice versa.

    -Have something to check off/do to remind me to take my pills. For me, that isn’t just a phone alarm that I can cancel or snooze, but rather a task that I physically check off. I’ve also had success with writing “M T W T F S S” on a pill bottle with a sharpie and then crossing it off each day as I took it. Having other things in the app to check off as well helps too, as it becomes an all day habit. For instance I used an app to track homework assignments (back in the day on a Palm Pilot before they were called apps, becasue I’m old like that), so I was able to add “am meds” and “pm meds” as an “assignment” to an app i checked multiple times a day.

    -Redundant alarms. In addition to my 7 am “take your meds” task alarm, I have an 8:45 “did you actually take your meds today?” alarm.

    -Have you addressed how you will make sure she schedules appointments with enough time to get the next prescription, and then fills and picks up her prescriptions before they run out? Can she get the 3 months of medications mail ordered to her, or is she taking the type that can only be picked up 30 days at a time? For me, I need alarms for prescription refills as well, and I do not allow myself to leave the doctor without my next appointment (preferably next 2 or 3 appointments) scheduled and in my Google Calendar – because I know I’ll never remember to make the phone call to schedule it in time.

    Last, when the time comes, as it does for many college women, encourage her to highly consider an IUD over BCP unless she has established a good routine of taking her other meds daily and getting her prescriptions refilled on time. Because let’s just say I learned my lesson on getting that prescription refilled on time the hard way. She also needs to have an honest conversation with her therapist about extra risks of combining alcohol with her meds, and how to cope with feeling like “everyone else” is drinking.

    • Mir Kamin

      November 19, 2015 at 8:07 am

      This is all really helpful, Meg, thank you!!

  • Heather

    November 19, 2015 at 10:00 am

    I’m trying to prepare my sophomore now, but as you know, it can be something as simple as going back to put a belt on that will make them forget to take the pill. I asked him one day, “what are you going to do when you are gone?”. He said, “I’m never leaving home.” Well, I couldn’t argue with that!!

  • Catherine

    November 21, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    Kudos to you for being proactive and acknowledging that she will have to do it alone. Your answer is not that you will call her each day to make sure she has taken her meds. At the end of the day, it’s her body; it’s her life. More and more parents are so use to hovering that this is not an easy distinction, even among parents of college kids. If she doesn’t take her meds, she will reap the consequences. Hopefully you’ve let her feel failure at this point and given her psychological coping skills for that. Best of luck to her and your family!

  • Kristal

    November 25, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    I always struggled with remembering to take meds. What finally worked in college is silly, but I got a fish and the pills sat next to the fish tank. Somehow I could always remember to feed the silly thing even though I’d struggled to remember the medicine I’d taken for years.

  • Lisa

    December 13, 2015 at 12:39 am

    I was going to say the phone alarm trick. Used that when I was one the pill. You do have to take it then, not just tell yourself you’ll do it in a sec…