Mind The Gap – Dealing with Transitions in Education


Recently, I was asked to give a ten minute talk on transitions in education, and their impact on students with ADHD. Specifically, I was asked to address the transition from Primary school to high school, and from school to the tertiary education system. Both are huge topics. I promised to write about it here for those who weren’t able to attend. Here’s what I said in 10 minutes:

The first thing to remember is that any transition is challenging for anybody with ADHD. For example walking into the family home after a day at the office, awake to asleep, asleep to awake and out the door by  a certain time. These situations require re-focusing strategies and are full of  distractions.

The bigger the transition, the bigger the challenge, the wider the gap. For example, having your first baby, changing jobs, moving house – these require re-focusing AND new skillsets. Not to mention the emotions that come into play and complicate matters considerably.

In the education arena there are challenging transitions each day – the transition from one activity to the next in the classroom – from the playground to the classroom – from one classroom and teacher to the next. Then there are the big transitions mentioned above – primary to high school, and school to uni, college or TAFE. How can you help you child to negotiate these?

  1. Teach about your child first and ADHD second. Do not allow ADHD to define them. And remember that everybody’s ADHD is unique, depending on their co-existing condition, personality, etc. Help you child find and focus on his or her strengths –   they could take the VIA Strengths & Virtues quiz at:  www.authentichappiness.org
  2. Help your child learn how he or she processes information, as opposed to pigeon-holing them into a particular learning style. Processing styles are situational, so what works in the classroom need not necessarily be effective at home. Try everything when you are studying – fidget – talk – sing – listen – write.
  3. Teach you child to Pause and Plan – Russell Barkley’s work has shown that people with ADHD have impairments in the Executive Functions of their brains. ADHD is not about not Knowing – it’s about not doing what you know you should do at that point of performance. The ability to pause will help to create better choices for them.
  4. Take the load off Working Memory. Make time and plans visible. Develop routines and practise them until they are automatic.
  5. Work the system – if fidgeting helps you, find a way to fidget discreetly in the classroom. If planning an essay stops you in your tracks, allow the essay to flow freely – and write the plan afterwards.

Moving to High School:

  1. Don’t expect the worst. Many students thrive
  2. Get the timetable early if possible. Visit the school alone with your child and rehearse. Find their classrooms,  locker, the bathrooms and cafeteria. Rehearse any public transport together – and then have your child rehearse it alone.
  3. If necessary, get your child to wear the new uniform before school starts. Some children are very sensitive to fabrics against their skin
  4. Talk to the teachers & ask them to talk to you. Be a team member – not an adversary. Don’t assume they will receive any info about your child if you don’t give it to them.
  5. Establish homework routine immediately and only allow electronics as a reward.

Moving to Uni or TAFE

  1. This coincides with a Transition to adult medical services. When you are less involved with your child’s treatment, create a village of adults your child trusts.
  2. Help your child to negotiate the red tape that accompanies the start of the academic year and set up their student account
  3. Register as a student with a disability. Ensure that they are able to provide the counsellors with  the best info possible – Do encourage your child to speak to lecturers and tutors.
  4. Take advantage of the flexible learning opportunities in the tertiary system. Lectures are often recorded, enabling students to listen to them later in a distraction-free environment.
  5. Expect overwhelm and do not give up when it hits.