High School Junior with ADHD, Low GPA

Hello.  My daughter was a straight-A student until 9th grade. In 10th grade, she got Bs and even got a C in an AP class. She was diagnosed with ADHD in the middle of 10th grade, and I thought the combination of having many higher-grade classes (e.f. APs, honors, and also higher-level math) must have been very challenging for her. She got tutors and a psychiatrist and started taking medicine. Some things improved, but overall, she ended up with a few Bs, This year, she got mostly on-level classes, and a lower course load. Now that the semester is almost over, she has a C and a B in the AP classes, She did not submit homework/projects on time and missed grades, and she also did poorly in the assessments. She refused to try for a 504 plan, because she was not comfortable talking to the teachers (I don't blame her teachers were mean). I now feel that apart from the ADHD issue, she is also not applying herself or working intentionally to take advantage of all the support or studying enough or practicing enough with an intention of doing well in school.

I know ADHD causes motivation issues; but I am getting super-worried about where this could end up.  I discovered this very old thread here about college worries and thought I would post here and hear your views.  I am definitely worried about college prospects, but I am also worried about whether she will not be able to gather herself even in college. I won't be there to help and support - she needs to get it herself.  She certainly is smart, has impressive extracurriculars and has a great/popular personality. It seems studying is her main challenge, and it probably creates a downward spiral.  She also does not take meds regularly, and although she has a tutor/coach who helps with organizing; probably she needs better coaching. 

Does anyone have a similar experience with a kid with ADHD? When did the kid turn around? I read that ADHD kids are developmentally 2-3 years behind - did you experience that yourself in your kid?  E.g. they started showing maturity later in life?


Parent Replies

Parents, please Sign in to post a review on this page.

I am sorry your daughter is going through this and struggling. I want to point out that you don’t need to “go for a 504 plan” and your daughter doesn’t have to be involved if she is uncomfortable. She has a right to a 504 plan because she has an ADHD diagnosis. You as her parent simply need to request one in writing and the school must call a meeting to draft a 504 plan. A great resource is DRDF. They were extremely helpful for our family. They can tell you your rights and give you examples of accommodations for ADHD such as longer time for assignments, quiet spaces for test taking, notes provided, chunking tests, etc. You are the parent and it’s your responsibility to make sure the school is providing appropriate accommodations under the law. 

I know in my own experience, without ADHD, that the high school pressure and competition really got me down after a while, my grades and motivation were much worse than your daughter's. What helped me was to do a complete reset - taking regular classes (no AP or honors) my senior year. I got straight As without stress and it was a real confidence booster that helped me learn to manage my time better; I carried this new skill into college and life. I was such an unmotivated student while trying to keep up the high-level, that I almost didn't get into a 4-year college at all. Thankfully my SATs got me into a CSU, and after doing well there, applied to a UC. There is no reason every child needs to be on this high-level fast-track. Please don't be "super worried," let your child enjoy school without the pressure, help her learn life skills, such as following instructions for assignments and turning in the assignments on time, and getting enough sleep, and being a kind person, that will be useful in college.

A 504 plan is the baseline instrument to help her get what she needs in both high school and college. Depending on where she was assessed, they would have made recommendations like reduced course load, or extended time on tests. Helping her practice asking for what she needs now will be beneficial in asking for what she needs in college. Also, AP classes are designed to be more or less college level both in terms of workload, and in terms of the assessments. I would be more concerned that she isn't doing well on the assessments (less than 75%) than losing points for not turning work in because the AP classroom tests are tied to the AP tests at the end of the course.  If she knows the material she may need extra time on tests because of the ADHD. You might want to help her get further evaluation, either through the school district or through the UC Psych department. We had a very good experience with UC, several times because the tests were very thorough, and the grad students were very aware of the skills that mattered for competitive colleges. (Our kid had one evaluation through the school district, but they were very focused on students who were 2 years behind, and eligible for IEPs, so ignored significant learning differences.) My other thought was that if your daughter is struggling with the more complex work of junior year, community college might be a good transition between high school and a four year college.


I am a psychologist who works with children who have ADHD and their families, and I also have a senior in high school who has ADHD, so I have personal experience supporting a child with ADHD.  It's a challenging situation, and it's good that your daughter has a diagnosis now because intervention is important. It's not uncommon for the diagnosis to come later for girls since their ADHD often looks different than boys. It's also sounds like your daughter was able to do well in elementary school and middle school--sometimes bright students who don't also have learning difficulties are able to get by in earlier grades.  

It's important to know that ADHD affects executive functioning: this means organization, planning, following through, remembering, persisting when something is hard.  It also affects motivation--particularly for things that are hard or that are not of intrinsic interest to the person with ADHD.  It's also the case that ADHD is often situational and the ability to do any of these things or to be motivated to do any of these things can vary from day to day or situation to situation.  So someone with ADHD may be able to focus intensely on something that is highly interesting to them, but that doesn't mean that they are not trying hard if they can't focus on a different task.  A lot of this is not under their control.  What looks like not trying, not caring, or not persisting is part of the ADHD--it is not willful and often not something that the person with ADHD can fix without help. 

It sounds like your daughter could benefit from more support with all the executive functioning tasks, and it also sounds like maybe she could benefit from working with a psychologist who could help her understand ADHD and what it means. Often kids and teens with ADHD get the message that if they just tried harder they would be able to be successful--it's important that they know that they can be successful, but that they may need more environmental support than other people.  Having a 504 plan is important if school is not going well.  Many teens also need help in talking with teachers, and if teachers are non-supportive, they may need an external advocate--often this is a parent, but could also be a psychologist or coach who knows your daughter well.  If she has a 504, then she'll have the right to some of the supports that it sounds like she needs at school---reminders, ability to re-take tests, additional time, preferential seating, etc... (each person needs different kinds of accommodations).  

If college is what she will do after high school, then she will likely need much more support in going through the application process than some of her peers. In college, she may need extra support--all colleges have services for students with documented disabilities (and ADHD counts as that). Since your daughter's diagnosis is relatively new, she may still need your help or a professional's help in how to ask for help and navigate this.  You're right that students with ADHD are about 1/3 behind in terms of their executive functioning skills (and often their social skills). So these skills will improve in the next few years, and sometimes a gap year is a good idea to give time for more maturity. But ADHD doesn't every go away, so she will need on-going strategies to use as an adult.    

My son (now 20) had--and has-- a lot of the same ADHD challenges. He has the inattentive type. He'd often forget to turn in homework, so even if we made sure he was actually *doing* it, it didn't make a difference as it was often marked 'late' and points taken off. He started medication in middle school, and did get a 504, and what that meant in practice was more time to complete tests and certain assignments--which he definitely needed, so that part was good. Burned out by the pandemic high school experience, he took a gap year and worked, which gave him the resolve to try college. He really wanted to be around people his own age, so he applied to and was accepted at a CSU. Both semesters he'd start off fine, but things would go downhill rapidly about 5 weeks in and he fell into old patterns of avoidance. So now he's back home and going to community college, and the fall semester is almost over so we'll see what his grades look like, but I'm totally hands-off at this point--he's an adult, and the motivation has to come from him. But from what I've seen, he is much more motivated as an almost-21 year old than he was at 17/18/19, so incremental progress is definitely happening. Modern technology and the ubiquity of "always available" cell phone culture is a HUGE boulder to navigate for kids with ADHD. You mention your daughter is popular, so it's possible she's distracted by all the pings and updates she gets from friends, and feeling that she needs to reply within seconds to stay 'in the loop'. Tech has turned our kids into Pavlov's dogs!  If you haven't already, have her start doing her evening homework in a 'public' part of the home--kitchen table, for instance--and have her mute her phone and put it in a different room. It'll be tough; kids are so accustomed to the dopamine hit of constant updates, she may suffer a bit, but it *will* help in the long run, especially with tasks that require care and concentration. I also suggest turning off the home internet, say from 11pm to 7am. That can help enforce a reasonable bedtime. Buy her an old fashioned alarm clock, one that she has to get out of bed to turn off, and have her stow her phone somewhere other than her bedroom after 11pm. And if you aren't already, model good habits re: cell phone use--not at dinner time, and on weekday evenings read a book do a craft or housework, something that isn't on a screen. They really do sniff out parental hypocrisy in these matters. 

A note about high school teachers and 504s: for the most part, they were wonderful and willing to abide by my son's accomodations. But there were a few who were cynical about it; I think because it seems like half the students have one now, and it's a lot to keep up with, especially if you're a public high school teacher with up to 150 students cycling in and out of your classroom on a daily basis. Be sure to have an attitude of gratitude when approaching those teachers (and all teachers, really--I know they are getting super burned out by the 'I want to speak to your manager' attitudes a lot parents have today) should you pursue a 504 for your daughter. I recommend you do, by the way, because it helps lay the groundwork for college, and sort of jumpstarts the process there (getting accomodations in college is tougher if there is no precedent of the student having them). 

Hi, I have a kid w/ ADHD, too. He was diagnosed in grade school (many girls aren't diagnosed till later - they often don't have the stereotypical "bouncing off the walls" type of ADHD). He is also a junior--at Berkeley High. He struggled his first two years, but this year he's doing quite well - he stopped taking medication his freshman year, but what I think has made the difference is 1) a tutor for math (looks like you have that covered and 2) an executive functioning coach. I used to worry more about college, but this year is the first year I am worrying less.

I think that 1) you should really try for a 504 - she can get accommodations to turn things in late. But that can snowball, so watch out.

2) You should look into executive coaching - not sure what type of tutor helps you w/ organizing, but a dedicated executive functioning coach is the best. My son has 2 half hour sessions each week. It's pricey but it is not only keeping him on track w/ assignments, but it's also teaching him how to do that best for the way his mind works. And if my husband and I were trying to work with him, there'd be a lot of tension. Having a new person do it is great!  Until this year we used https://www.efspecialists.com - you may find others, and some have sliding scales.

Another thing is to realize that in high school you are expected to be good at EVERYTHING. It's a little bit bonkers, really. In college, you have more choice. Some people flourish once they aren't stuck taking math every year.  

And in terms of college, she could take a gap year, go to community college, or go to college a few years from now. It's MUCH more normal to do that than it used to be. I used to be really attached to the idea of a 4-year college experience (well, I still am because that's what I had), but I am realizing I need to let that go.

Good luck to you and your kid!

My advice (for what it’s worth) is to back-off on your expectations for high-grades. My daugher was also a straight A student until 9th grade and scored in the 99 percentile in standardized tests. Once in a large high school environment, the ADHD really started manifesting and the grades tanked and mental health concerns were prominent. She was officially diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety in 10th grade. She ended up not doing any AP classes and lowered her stress levels by switching to a small, less competitive more holistic schooling environment. She worked part time while in high school in a job chosen by her in lieu of extra-curriculars. She’s now in her third year of college, and got into every college she applied to (with zero AP classes and around a B average). It will all work out and sometimes parental pressure to keep up with the “norm” adds to the problem. 

Our daughter has ADHD, diagnosed at the end of first grade. She's now a freshman at SF State. My suggestions are based on our experiences.

First, if you haven't done so, consider getting your kid a thorough neuropsych evaluation. We got ours at the UC Berkeley psych clinic. We learned that our kid has issues other than ADHD that require their own management strategies.

Similarly, make sure she doesn't have any vision or hearing problems you're missing. Without actually realizing it, I masked severe nearsightedness for years, partly by having memorized my doctor's eye chart – I could barely make out the top line or two. Fortunately my 6th grade teacher insisted I go to an ophthalmologist.

Try to find out why your daughter takes meds irregularly. Stimulant medication (what we use) produces a flattened affect that our otherwise bubbly kid dislikes. As a result, she takes her meds during the school week only. If side effects are the problem, it may be worthwhile experimenting with other medications.

Your daughter may benefit from executive-function coaching. A coach can help her develop ways of keeping on track that folks without ADHD don't need as much. A coach may be able to help with technological aids like Smart Pens. Our kid has set up a series of phone alarms to remind her of things she needs to do, and keeps a planner. She's gotten a lot of tips from the How To ADHD YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/HowtoADHD/videos).

Consider applying a rewards system. Yes, it means bribing your kid, but it works--other than meds, it's the most successful means of managing ADHD. If it teaches your daughter to reward herself for accomplishing unpleasant tasks, so much the better. The rewards don't have to be much, it's the fact of them that counts. We gave our daughter a fancy bead in exchange for certain tasks, and she could exchange 10 beads for an ice-cream cones or a sparkler. An older kid needs more mature rewards, but the principle holds even for adults.

You should really really push her getting a 504 plan. Set up a reward if needed. Our very shy daughter learned how to advocate for herself successfully, even gave a school presentation on ADHD in 8th grade. Self-advocacy is an important life lesson, as she faces a lifetime of having to communicate her needs. In addition, your kid will benefit from having a 504 in place for college, for access to services and technological aids, preferential course registration, extended deadlines etc.

It's important for your daughter to identify what she loves, and what she doesn't. Folks with ADHD need work they enjoy, even if it's not as lucrative as other career choices might be.

Finally, you may need to look at your own expectations. Are you personally disappointed by your child's performance? Your kid may be getting discouraged, and it won't help if she feels she's letting you down. Smart as she is, she may benefit from backing off academically and taking a light load in college. She may benefit from your staying available to support her in college, for example, by taking a couple of years of community college and later transferring, or going to a nearby school like SFSU or SJSU so she can come home on weekends. She needs to become independent, but what works for her career-wise may not be fancy.


High school  teacher here. You have gotten a lot of great advice about supports and executive function. I just want to add that AP classes are college level and incredibly  challenging. I teach one and a B is a good grade, especially given the GPA bump that all students get for taking them.  (A B counts as an A in the GPA) All of them have a heavy workload. Taking two in one year is a heavy load, and can not  be classified in any way as a light schedule. 
Covid seemed to confuse expectations about what a good grade is. An A in an AP class is an exceptional grade and a B is solid. 
If your child has As and Bs with this load, it seems very solid. However you know your kid and if  you are worried about your child’s stress and happiness with this load (very important) then reconsidering the value of. them taking advanced classes can help, in addition to what you are considering, which is a 504 plan. 
Many  students who feel overwhelmed by honors  and AP classes have another option-  summer classes at community college. Colleges like to see this on a high school transcript  just as much as they like to see honors and AP (I teach a college readiness class as well)

additudemag.com was very helpful to our family.   My 21-year-old son has ADHD.  He is graduating from UCLA this year, but it was a challenging 10 years before then, including bad grades/incomplete grades, alternative school, community college (DVC).  We did a neuropsych eval, which was helpful in that the practitioner told our son he wasn't dumb and he was lazy.  He does things like make actual lists now that helps him succeed.  I remember talking to his high school English teacher when my son had 17 missing 5-minute end of class writings.  Not easy, but it is good you are seeking help and support.