Getting a Diagnosis for ADHD in College

Parent Q&A

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  • My son is having challenges at college with focusing with the result that he is behind and very unprepared for final exams.  The stress of these situations make him go through periods of extreme self-loathing.  This isn't a new issue and he wants to get evaluated for ADHD.  While we aren't opposed to this idea we feel that improvements will be made if he replaces bad habits with good ones.  For example putting any his phone etc.  for extended periods of time.  We've observed that he read complete books until middle school which is when he got a phone.  Now he can't read a book.  So we are seeking assistance in the form of a Berkeley based therapist/other type of counsellor who is mindful that adjusting habits can play a great role in affecting other areas of our lives.   Thanks for any assistance you can offer. 

    Your son has exhibited symptoms of a common documented medical neurological disorder over a long period of time, resulting in serious negative impacts to his life, self-esteem and potential for graduating from college and you don't want him to be evaluated for it even after all these years because he *can't* (no matter how much he wants to) control his impulsivity, which is a key marker of that same brain disorder (ADHD)?  Knowing whether he has neurological condition that *affects his ability to form habits* would be key to know before you seek help, so that you know the correct form of help to seek.  You say this has been going on since at least middle school, and now he is in college.  Did you know that kids with ADHD are reprimanded at school (in front of peers) and and home on the order of 100s of times a day more, which negatively affects their ability to see themselves as likely to succeed?  Kids with untreated ADHD are far more likely to, as they grow up, drop out of college, lose their jobs, establish relationships, because their impulsivity is neurologically-driven, and not a matter of willpower.  If he has ADHD, his inability to do the things you are telling him to do to "replace bad habits" is not his fault but rather the way his brain chemistry operates, much like the way a diabetic's insulin production is different than someone without diabetes.  While regulating sugar is helpful for diabetes, it is not the whole fix.  Please help your son obtain a complete evaluation so that he knows what he is dealing with and can evaluate all of his options.

    -been there

    Are you opposed to medication? It’s helped our son get to know himself even if 10-12 yrs later he’s still pretty disorganized about schoolwork.

    He was diagnosed with ADHD in 4th grade. He’s been taking medication he says he’ll take for the rest of his life. we’ve tried to influence his habits, hired 2 professional counselors (for a couple of months each) & several graduate students over the years and NONE of us have made a significant impact on his lack of organization, preparation, etc.- his grades suffer (B’s, an A or 2 & often a C). At 17 & a junior we’ve noticed he’s beginning to get up very early to do HW cuz he recognizes he can’t work at the end of day. That’s a HUGE insight (only taken 10 years lol)

    I am so sad for your son.  You have a kid who has been struggling at least since middle school, and who exhibits "self-loathing", in your words, as a result. Kids whith ADHD are regularly reprimanded in front of their peers by teachers and parents 100s of times more than others, resulting a massive damage to self-esteem.  The ability to change habits, while difficult for anyone, is monumentally different for people with ADHD and in the absence of anything else, these kids blame themselves for something they want to change but can't.  That, among other brain chemistry differences, is the reason to find out if ADHD or some other neurological and biological difference is what is causing your son's challenges.  You can't fix something when you don't know what the problem is.  Your son wants to change but he has to be trying to fix the right thing for it to work.  If you were tired and weak all the time, would you let your doctor figure out if it was mono or anemia, or forego a medical analysis and go to a trainer who would push you to work harder and get over it?  Finding out what the issue is doesn't commit your son to any particular course of action (I'm assuming you are afraid of and against ADHD meds which is why you are afraid of him being diagnosed); instead, it gives him the tools to understand how his brain works and adjust accordingly.  Meds might work for him, or they might not.  At some point he will be old enough to find these things out on his own - do you want him to blame you for preventing him from getting the help he needs?  Please allow your son to be evaluated as soon as possible.  There is no magic bullet for long-term issues like these, but rather a medley of medical and psychological interventions.  I wish your son the empathy and compassion and love he deserves.   

    My experience with an ADHD child:  the neuropsychologist was able to tell him that (1) he was highly intelligent;  (2) he wasn't lazy.  She said if he went to graduate school, he would be able to focus on one thing for long periods of time and would do great.  Also that he was depressed.  The psychiatrist told us ADHD is biology issue.  He prescribed a medicine that is working on both executive function as well as depression.  All so helpful to him and me.

    Your son would probably benefit from an ADHD evaluation. I'd be curious to hear what medications have been successful for others, since there are so many and there's a difference between stimulant and non-stimulant ones.

    My son is in his second year of college and would have dropped out after his first year if not for the pandemic. I'm heavily involved in organizing his schedule, assignments and am even helping him complete those, plus he has tutors as well. He was diagnosed with ADHD while in middle school, but Kaiser didn't recommend medication back then for various reasons and said that it's likely he'll outgrow it on his own. Now, I'm thinking they were wrong and his ADHD is going strong and needs treatment, likely with medication. Sounds like your son's situation may be similar.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


College son thinks he may have ADD

Dec 2009

My 19-year-old son came home from his second year of college to say that he experimented twice with Adderol, which made him feel ''normal'' and able to prioritize and focus -- for instance, able to outline and plan a paper, instead of panicky writing down multiple related thoughts, whatever came to mind, and trying to connect it up later. Now he wants to get officially diagnosed as ADHD for a mild prescription to improve his concentration. He's setting up the medical appointment. I'd just like to know if this sounds weird to others, and what I should do.

No professional ever previously said he should be tested for ADD or ADHD. His temperament is spontaneous and a little careless, though he can work hard. He's always been energetic, spirited, physical, verbal, easily bored (even bored with video games!), with a short attention span, but he did very well in HS and college. He loves people and has great guy friends, but has only short term girlfriends. He also smokes pot and drinks alcohol, I hope moderately (maybe an addictive personality-- maybe self-medicating-- maybe a typical frat boy). Any thoughts? Wondering mother

My child, a sophomore in College, was recently diagnosed with ADD. It is while in college that a student realizes that his/her learning skills are different from others: doing work at the last minute, having ''too many thoughts'' that prevent focusing, inability to organize work, and related anxiety. Have your child tested. If he is benefiting from Adderall in the way he says he does, he might very well have ADD. Parent of an adult ADD

It's a common misconception that people who have AD/HD don't do well in school. In fact, many do, but at a heavy price. AD/HD makes it harder and more stressful to do many things, including academic endeavors. It's a great idea that your son wants to get a professional evaluation instead of self-medicating or ''borrowing'' medication from others. If it turns out that his suspicions about himself are correct and he gets good treatment, he will have a much easier time living up to his full potential and he stands a good chance of having many fewer problems in his life. There is a new book by Russell Barkley called Adult ADHD, What the Science Says, which is the bible of research on this condition in adults. Check it out of the library if you want to know how it turns out for adults with the condition. It sounds like your son's life has been working pretty well so far -- but life gets more complicated as people get older and the toll taken by AD/HD can be harsh. Education is the first, and one of the most important, steps you can take to be helpful to your son. There are lots of readable books about adult ADHD! You can find them through the website of Good luck! Linda

ADD Diagnosis for college student

Oct 2001

Can anyone who has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD as an adult give me some idea of what kind of professional you approached to arrive at the diagnosis? and what kind of help was recommemded? drugs, strategies, etc. I have checked all the web sites, heck I wrote one for my young child who has ADHD, inattentive type. I need help for a young adult now who just feels unable to concentrate for long periods of time and just feels she doesn't get it the way others do because she somehow misses key info. She skated through BHS, now college is proving a serious challenge and she sees the difference close-up (dorm living) between what she can do and what the other kids seem capable of.

While I was in therapy it became apparent to my therapist and me that my husband has ADD. It took time, but he finally went to a psychiatrist (Dr. Wm. Dickman, (415) 922-9492 in SF). After meeting with both of us three times and filling out questionaires, he was diagnosed with ADD and given medication. We met a number of times since then to adjust the medication. This can be a long, frustrating process. Dr. Dickman suggested other therapy. We finally started marriage conseling about a month ago. I hope this leads to my husband getting individual therapy with emphasis on ADD, but he hasn't agreed to this yet. Most professionals I've talked to about this suggests that you need the combination of medication and therapy. In some ways it's not only phsychotherapy, but occupational therapy helping him cope with the consequences of the physical disorder in handling his day-to-day tasks. I know one brave woman who is coping with just behavioral changes and no medication, but I don't know how she manages. Again it is a long, hard process. We have been working on it for almost a year now. We've come a long way, but have a long way to go. I wish you luck. If you want to talk, please contact the moderator and I am happy to talk with you directly.

My husband was diagnosed with ADHD about 2 years ago (he's 48 now). As with the young adult you mentioned, he went through life feeling like he didn't get the whole picture. He was diagnosed by Dr. David O'Grady in Walnut Creek (phone number is 925-256-9696). O'Grady is a Ph. D. (psychologist or psychotherapist, I'm not sure) so he can diagnose and make recommendations, but he can't prescribe meds (you'll need to go to your primary care physician for that). I do think that he has a good approach to how to deal with ADHD and better organize your life. His wife, Dr. Susan O'Grady is also a counselor and specializes in ADHD. They have offices together.

My husband has been on medication since he was diagnosed and says they help him focus somewhat better (meds don't work for everyone). He also has seen a counselor, in conjunction with his medication. I think combining counseling and medication has the greatest impact on ADHD, or so I've read, but it is a personal decision the individual must be comfortable with.

As I understand ADHD, a consistent daily routine is the best approach for stabilizing the symptoms. Any change in lifestyle makes daily tasks more difficult. I'm guessing your friend is a freshman, which in itself is enough to make you feel like you don't get it! We also have a daughter in college (sophmore), so I know the experience can be very overwhelming. Please tell her she's not alone! If your friend would like to talk more, she's welcome to call or email me. Sue

Last year, I was diagnosed with a significant weakness in the area of auditory processing, as well as other strengths and weaknesses determined by a series of varied assessment tests. I was referred by the Disabled Student's Services office at UC Berkeley to Reach for Learning, on Marin Ave in Albany. The testing agency's phone number is 510-524-6455, speak with Corinne Gustafson, M.Ed., CET. Following the testing series, Ms. Gustafson provided me with a report that included; specific information on the evaluation, general educational suggestions and strategies, and other recommendations. Good luck to the young adult you write about. Ana

Learning differences and ADHD are different creatures. However, the Schwab Foundation has bunches of resources and ideas for adults with learning differences. You can reach them at the 1660 South Amphlett Blvd. Suite 200,San Mateo, CA 94402,+1 (800) 471-9545. Maybe she can gain some learning and organizational skills that will help her handle all the material she has to process and learn. It can be done! Dori