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Is there a Silver Lining?

By: Jon Thomas, EdD, and Pamela Barton

Earlier in the onset of the pandemic, I found it much easier to look for “silver linings” to our viral cloud.

But time has dragged us forward from an acute to a chronic phase and a sort of exhaustion requires constant attention to staving off over-reacting to anything that smacks of disappointment.

So, as we look into the fall, college appears almost certain to be an online experience for the vast majority of students. And for that majority of young people looking hopefully forward to their first semester in college; it is a clear disappointment. So much so, that one in four are rethinking college this year. And with an anemic job market, their prospects for work in lieu of school are limited.

And for their part, colleges are having no picnic either. The extraordinary financial assault colleges experience now and will face moving forward causes many to wonder about issues of long-term solvency. And the tremendous pressure to minimize these solvency issues by reopening is balanced by the fear of the damage to student health and life (not to mention possible financial liability) of a premature reopening.

But let’s take a step back for a moment and see what silver lining might be lurking here.

Remember the high figures (as much as 40%) of ADHD folks who fail their first semester of college? The numbers have not gone down. And have likely gone up. What is there about this transition that makes it so hard?

Here are a few at the top of the list. Beginning college requires a young person to do many new things at one time. Like move to an unfamiliar place and learn to live without all the previous familiar supports. And learn a whole new approach and context to education. And create a whole new support and friend network. Alone.

Remember these are people with ADHD … who may be a bit behind in developing some of the skills of executive functioning, social emotional intelligence, and critical thinking required to successfully navigate this major like change. So, while young adults with ADHD may be developmentally delayed, there is no delay in the demands to successfully acquire new skills, accomplish challenging new tasks, and step through the threshold of home into the independence of adulthood. They are required to make adult decisions and take adult steps with a brain that is still in the process of becoming adult.

So, back to the silver lining.

As a result of the pandemic, first year college students suddenly have fewer of these great steps forward to take. In a way it serves to “flatten out the curve” of this dramatic demand. For example, online learning keeps them in the familiar space of home, near a current support network (albeit at social distance) and extra time to become familiar with this next stage of life and learning. And as the medium of online distance learning becomes the order of the day, greater innovation follows the increasing demand as educators find newer and better ways of teaching through this relatively constructed venue.

It’s almost like the benefits of a gap year with some college credit thrown in. Almost.

When seen as a silver lining, there is a clear win-win possibility here. And there is also an obvious set of challenges students will face as a result of remaining at home while reaching forward and taking a big next

step – remotely.

But what if we save that for a future article and just bask a moment in the joy of a silver lining. And anticipate the unexpected consequence of a lower failure rate for these first semester ADHD folks.

We are a uniquely integrated program of College Readiness & Success Training, Academic Coaching, Mental Health and Career Counseling for high school and college Students with ADHD.