The School-to-Work Transition for Young Adults With ADHD

The school-to-work transition can take longer for young adults with ADHD, who don’t mature at the same pace as their peers. Here’s how parents can nudge without pushing.

The attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) that made Betsy Patterson’s high school years so miserable made her early adulthood a daily disaster. “My twenties was a period of going from job to job,” she says. “I was always getting fired or screwing up.”

Eventually things did get better for Betsy, a transformation she credits in part to having to care for her two young sons.  That sense of responsibility grew even greater when her second son was diagnosed with ADHD. Then in her mid-thirties, Betsy obtained her esthetician’s license and sent herself to massage school. Today, she’s busily employed, supporting her family, and finally content.” I found something I really love to do that I’m good at, she says. The part I love most is the daily contact with people.”

A Question of Maturity

Betsy’s story is typical of many young adults with ADHD. The maturation process is slower for young adults with ADHD and it’s not linear, says Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., Director of Chesapeake Psychological Services of Maryland and co-author of Understanding Girls With ADHD.

Parents can’t solve their adult children’s problems, but their actions can hurt or help. Comparing newly graduated young adults with ADHD to higher achieving peers and siblings hurts. Patience helps.

Parents really need to alter their expectations, says Nadeau. Parents are comparing their kids with ADHD to peers who are going to graduate school, doing internships, and getting high-paying jobs. I try to help parents understand that there are some things that people with ADHD are bad at and they always will be. They need support, not criticism.

At the same time, graduates with ADHD need to take more time. Don’t be in such a crazy hurry to settle down, says Nadeau, who advises recent graduates to spend a year or two living far from home on their own. She suggests they take menial jobs to support themselves temporarily before making a commitment to a significant career. They need to develop independent living skills first, says Nadeau, Paying the rent, registering the car, things like that. They can’t transition to self sufficiency and a demanding job successfully at the same time. And living far away gets parents out of the rescue mode.

Parents can expect their twenty-something kids with ADHD to move back home from time to time, and should not regard it as a disaster. Like Betsy, young adults with ADHD often need to regroup. There’s a lot of back and forth, from an apartment situation that doesn’t work out with a room mate, back to the parents’ home, back to an apartment, back home. You have to be willing to support them during this period but with clear limits.

In short, parents should nudge but not push, support but not coddle. The maturation process for people with ADHD proceeds in fits and starts. It’s a process, says Nadeau. You have to help them move toward self sufficiency. It’s not going to happen overnight.

Excerpted from “Grow Up Already! Why It Takes So Long to Mature” in ADDitude Magazine. Read the full article online for more details, including how to engage professional help such as career counselors or ADHD coaches.

Source: ADDitude Magazine | Grow Up Already! Why It Takes So Long to Mature, | Copyright © 1998 – 2022 WebMD LLC

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