Justice and ADHD - Quality advice based on experience

Engaging College

As someone who has worked in Further Education for several years, working with and for students with ADHD and learning differences, I would say the most important thing a parent or guardian can do is ensure they get in touch with a college before their son or daughter starts a course of study there.  Colleges hold open nights, open days and invite in to college prospective students to view their courses and facilities.  Make use of these events and make a bee line for the student learning support department where there will be people delighted to speak to you and make that first contact.

 You and your son / daughter have an opportunity to get to know the team and individuals in a college’s student learning support department who will be responsible for providing any support for them during their time at the college and it is important to discuss together both the options available and the strategies that best work for your son / daughter. Different colleges will have different names and titles, you need to find out who is responsible for support for students with ADHD at the college your son / daughter wishes to attend and what their job title is.  The move to college is often a daunting transition for any 16 year old, not least one with ADHD.  Finding their way around, new routine, a different timetable, different starting and finishing times, perhaps a longer college day than they have been used to at school, especially if you take into account travelling times, can all seem like huge problems until they are talked through with someone.    The college may offer a short bridging course, a couple of structured half days in late June, early July when the college is quiet and year 11 is finishing, to come in and ‘try out’ coming on college buses, meet some of the staff and have a look at how to get around the campus.  This is useful and can allay any fears a prospective student has and is a useful lead up to the usual new student days held in mid July.

Once you have a name of someone to talk to from the colleges learning support department do either ring, e-mail or make an appointment to go in and speak to them about what you think will be problem areas for your son / daughter – after all you know them best – and discuss any support that they have had at school either in or out of class as well as any examination concessions that were granted for GCSE or other examinations.  These may need re-assessing at college and the learning support department will have to make arrangements for this. Together you can decide what will be the best option for them to be helped, guided and supported at college both in classes, out of class study periods and on trips and residentials.   If something has worked well at school, let the learning support department know what it was and how it worked and together discuss the options of it working in the college environment.   Support at college is often much more discreet than that at school with support given on structured note taking, help with organisation, time management and out of class study to go over assignment work.

Do keep learning support informed of any medication the student is taking and any changes that may be made to this.  Often they will be contacted by your son / daughter’s hyperkinesis nurse if a reduction or cessation of medication is being contemplated and the NHS will ask for ‘Connors Teacher Rating Scale Short Version (CTRS-R:S) 1 forms to be completed by subject tutors to see if any difference in behaviour is observed in a test period without the medication.

Keep up a dialogue with the relevant person in the college’s learning support department.  They will always be pleased to hear from you and will welcome information that can help them.  Remember they are the key person that will communicate information to all the other tutors that your son / daughter will have contact with.  Any information that you can pass on that could explain a change in or reason for behaviour would be dealt with sensitively and positively.  For example if a student was acting out of character because at home a close relative was seriously ill, and college imposed discipline as they were unaware of the external circumstances and just saw the behaviour it would be unfair, whereas if the college and tutors, through liaison with the home and relevant person in learning support had an overall view a better judgment could be made.

If there is something you are not happy about, then say so, and arrange to come in and speak to all the tutors involved about it.  With good liaison between yourself and the relevant person in learning support this can be a positive rather than a negative experience for all involved; allowing you to say what is not happening as far as learning or behaviour needs being met in and out of the class  and suggesting strategies that could be used.  With your example your son / daughter will be more likely to follow and nurture a positive relationship with the learning support department too and this can only benefit them during their course of study.

The worst thing you can do is pretend your son / daughter’s ADHD does not exist or think that informing the college about it will be a hindrance to them.  Even if they have had no structured help in school in their later years; even if they are at the point where the clinic are talking about signing them off and no longer wanting to see them; even if you think you don’t need to because there isn’t going to be a ‘problem’ -  still have that dialogue with the college.  The step up to another level of study and the transition to college can take a period of adjustment and the learning support department can help by overseeing this and ensuring that all students are able to reach their full potential. It could stop the later referral to the learning support department and the student then defending themselves by crying “It’s not me, it’s my ADHD!”

 Christina Smythe


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