Older adolescents often struggle to self-advocate when faced with new challenges. This challenge has its basis in brain biology – the frontal lobe (the thinking, planning and judgement center of the brain) is one of the slowest parts of the brain to develop (often not fully developed until age 25). Numerous studies have shown that hospitalizations and emergency room visits increase significantly for college students with diabetes or asthma. As a result, the transition to college is an ideal time for parents to collaborate with (as opposed to dictating to) their young adult students to advocate for their college needs.
Learning Style Issues: Many students with learning style issues (dyslexia, dyscalculia, and others) are on (or have been on) IEPs or 504 Plans throughout high school. While many people may not be aware of this, IEPs and 504 Plans remain available in college. Graduating seniors should meet with their high school guidance counsellors to discuss how to transition these services to college. Some guidance counsellors may actually call the college to discuss the student with the special education department. Incoming students may also wish to contact the college center for academic resources to help figure out what services may be available. Once colleges are informed of the services requests, they will often provide students a letter that can be distributed (discretely) to their professors on the first day of class explaining their required accommodations.
ADHD: Students with ADHD may also merit access to the services listed above (and, indeed, many will have a co-existing learning style issue). Additionally, stimulant medications have a high rate of misuse (and abuse) in colleges. We strongly recommend that you store any medications in a strong lock box. Remind your student that any selling or “borrowing” of medications is illegal (it is the same federal crime as selling cocaine) and can lead to school sanctions as well as imprisonment. Additionally, alcohol and marijuana use dull the effectiveness of medications and when used together can be very dangerous. Marijuana use inhibits learning in the brain for 3-5 days after use (so students who use this drug on a Friday night are still academically hindered and impaired as late as Tuesday or Wednesday). If students are having trouble in school, it is not safe to resort to taking higher doses of medication – we have seen toxic doses of stimulants causing hallucinations and hospitalizations. It is a good idea to find out at the beginning of school who you can turn to for help if you are struggling. The academic office is a good place to start.
Autism and Asperger’s: Many high schools have programs that help prepare students for transitioning to college by educating them on topics such as living with a roommate and how to manage money. For many high functioning autistic students, it may be helpful to start out in a community college and commute from home prior to making the full move to living on campus. Likewise, living in a single dorm room may be isolating. Often young adults with Asperger’s socialize through their passions – some colleges recognize this and create dorm situations where students have the same major.
Depression and Anxiety: If you have anxiety or depression (or even a recent history of it), it is a good idea to speak with your therapist before heading off to college. It is important to set up an emergency plan in case of escalating anxiety or depression once you are at school. Many therapists will agree to provide a few sessions of video chatting for the first few weeks of school to help with this big adjustment. If you suspect you may need more support for your depression or anxiety, do not wait until the last few weeks before leaving for college to seek help as therapy and/or medication take some time to begin working.
Food Allergies: If you have significant food allergies, it is important to meet with your food service director to learn what policies are in place. This is a good idea both to prevent and manage food allergy reactions and also to possibly help devise a meal plan. We have had patients who have been taken by ambulance from college cafeterias due to life-threatening reactions. A good resource for college students is: www.foodallergy.org/resources/college-students.
The start of college is an exciting time for all students. Parents can help their kids thrive by encouraging them to self-advocate and find out what resources may be available to help during this transition.
Happy Holidays from All of Us at Westwood-Mansfield Pediatrics