Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Getting the Academic Support Teens and College Students Need

New research shows many teens with ADHD are not receiving adequate support.

Source: Stock photo ID:932274694

In the past few weeks, an important study about kids with ADHD and school was released. It looked at whether students ages 4-17 were receiving adequate supports at school. The resounding finding was shocking: Fewer than 43% of students with ADHD had an IEP (individualized educational plan) and fewer than 14% had a 504 accommodation plan. Even more distressing, one in five students with ADHD did not receive any services despite experiencing significant academic and social challenges. Overall, middle and high school students were less likely to receive services than younger children. These trends were seen most often for kids from non-English speaking or low-income families. This research also has important implications for college students.

School-based interventions improve academic performance and social relationships. For high school students with ADHD who already run a higher risk for underachievement and dropping out than neurotypical kids, having support services can make all the difference. This recent study also showed that whatever services kids receive in elementary school are often discontinued as they mature. It’s a sad irony I’ve seen too many times: when kids with ADHD have useful scaffolding and are doing better, the services are later withdrawn because of their success. Instead, these interventions need to remain in place to help with the increasing executive functioning demands for independence in middle and high school. When students receive appropriate levels of support during these years, it makes the transition to college or trade school more successful.

For high school and college students who have a diagnosis of ADHD but have never received psychological testing, I highly recommend that you get this because these assessments will identify your cognitive strengths and challenges. Knowing this information will help create an educational plan that fits your specific profile. You can get these assessments through your school or have your school help you arrange it.

Source: Stock photo ID:917901148

College students with ADHD, who have to navigate learning support systems on their own and show the initiative to use them, there’s a tendency to muddle through on independently rather than ask for help. Today, most colleges provide executive functioning, ADHD and writing assistance and tutors. But, it can be embarrassing for people who need these services to ask for help. Sometimes, the support they receive isn't what they expected or they don't find it very useful. Too often, college students wait until they're in dire straits before reaching out.

If you are the parent of a college student with ADHD or a student with ADHD, take the time to talk about academic support. If you're receiving services and they're helpful, fantastic! If you're not receiving services or the ones you're getting aren't that useful, discuss what changes you would like to see. Brainstorm next steps and make a plan for following up. This doesn't have to be an opportunity for parental over-involvement. Rather, work together to problem solve and find effective solutions. Sometimes it can be beneficial for parents to make inquiries to what's available and leave the follow through and setting up appointments to the kids. Make an action plan for checking in that doesn't feel intrusive but lets everyone know what's happening.

Source: Stock photo ID:1047532888

If you are the parent of a high school student, you’ll likely to be involved in securing appropriate services or advocating for better ones. Start by meeting with their guidance counselor or the learning specialist at the high school to discuss what’s being provided and how to obtain more effective interventions. You may want to talk with an educational advocate to assist you in navigating the school’s bureaucracy and making sure your child’s education rights are being met. Seeking a consultation with an outside psychologist who specializes in ADHD and co-occurring learning challenges can also be useful.

Source: Stock photo ID:962192150


DuPaul, G. J., Chronis-Tuscano, A., Danielson, M. L., & Visser, S. N. Predictors of Receipt of School Services in a National Sample of Youth With ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders (Dec. 2018)

More from Sharon Saline Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today