LD/ADHD High-Schooler Fears Graduating

Many young adults with a history of learning problems reach a crisis of confidence as they prepare to graduate from high school.
My high-school senior has put in much effort over the years to learn strategies and skills to help her cope and overcome LD and ADHD. Her dream and goal has been to graduate with a regular high-school diploma. She has worked hard to achieve this and has been an honor-roll student throughout high school.

We received her last report card and discovered that she is failing 3 subjects and has gone down 30 points in another. She admits that she's afraid of post-secondary life. We're afraid that she may sabotage herself as she's on the verge of accomplishing her dream. She's in counseling, so she's working with an outside professional. As parents, how can we motivate her to bring her grades up to passing so that she can graduate in June while helping her cope with her fears? It seems like a lot of pressure all at once for her to cope with. Any suggestions?

Many young adults who have struggled with a history of learning problems reach a crisis of confidence as they prepare to end the relatively secure life of high school and prepare for the transition into adulthood. This is true whether that transition implies attending college or entering the world of work.

Since 1990, both federal and state laws have mandated planning for students with LD who will be making this transition. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) clearly states that each student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) must include "a statement of the needed transition services . . . beginning no later than age sixteen and annually thereafter to the age of twenty-one. " Your daughter should be actively involved in setting her goals for post-secondary life. Has she been working with school support personnel to plan her transition? Her counselor should be able to help you through this challenging period.

Your daughter needs to have a realistic picture of the options she has for life after high school. Perhaps even more important, she needs to have a clear understanding of the kinds of supports that will still be available to her after school ends. Battling with unknowns is much more difficult than dealing with reality. There are two excellent resources for both you and your daughter during this period of transition. They are Betty Osman's book, Learning Disabilities and ADHD: A Family Guide to Living and Learning Together (look at the chapter "After High School" in particular) and Facing Learning Disabilities in the Adult Years by Joan Shapiro and Rebecca Rich.

In the meantime, however, I would sit down with your daughter and her counselor and try to identify the reasons her grades are slipping. She will need to approach her teachers and see what she specifically needs to do now to raise her grades. Is she failing to complete and hand in homework? Is she skipping class? Is she freezing up during tests or is she coming in unprepared? Perhaps with her counselor, she can role-play the way she can approach her teachers.

Once you have this information, you can develop a plan together for reviving the approaches to learning that have made her successful up to this point. Put in writing the challenges she is facing and her plan for overcoming them. This plan should be reviewed regularly to see how she is progressing and if modifications need to be made. She may need a tutor or homework helper to get her over this "hump." Your daughter is at a critical point in her transition to adulthood. She needs to know that you love her, support her, and will do what you can to help her through this period. However, the more she can do to advocate for herself, the stronger she will come out in the end.

For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.

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