The transition from high school to what comes next can be a pivotal and often challenging time for anyone. For individuals with ADHD, this period can bring a unique set of complexities due to executive function deficits, particularly in planning and prioritization. This guide delves into the myriad ways executive function coaching can provide targeted support during this critical life stage. Whether you’re exploring traditional educational paths or considering alternative post-secondary options, effective planning and prioritizing are key to a successful transition. Through expert insights, practical advice, and a range of resource tools, this guide aims to equip young adults with ADHD and their families with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions for a fulfilling future.

Two high school graduate with ADHD

As high school students prepare to step into the exciting world beyond graduation, navigating the next chapter can be overwhelming, especially for those with ADHD. Executive function planning is an essential skill that empowers individuals to supercharge their journey after high school. From college choices to career paths and various life decisions, unlocking the power of executive function planning sets students up for success as they venture into new opportunities.

Executive function serves as a personal life manager, aiding individuals in planning, organizing, and tackling tasks that life presents. Whether it’s navigating college applications, exploring potential careers, or planning gap year adventures, mastering executive function planning is key to staying on track and turning dreams into reality. Uncovering these strategies with an EF coach can boost executive function powers, enabling students to confidently embark on the next phase of their lives with enthusiasm and assurance.

With the power of executive function planning, individuals can overcome obstacles and seize opportunities. Knowing how to break down complex tasks into manageable steps and stay on top of deadlines, and stay organized and focused are essential skills no matter which path a student chooses after high school. As students unlock their inner executive function planner, they are poised to conquer the challenges and triumph in the journey beyond high school.Executive function planning plays a crucial role in the lives of individuals with ADHD. To harness the full potential of these essential cognitive skills, seeking the guidance of an ADHD coach can be transformative for ones executive functioning skills.

At Effective Effort Consulting, we understand the challenges faced by individuals with ADHD and are committed to helping them discover their strengths and build better executive function skills. During our years of coaching students through the transition of high school to college, technical schools, or independent lives, we’ve learned the value of helping families understand the nuances of planning and prioritization problems that can arise during this critical time.

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The Challenge of Planning and Prioritizing After High School:

High school may be challenging for some students, but often times, it creates enough predictability and consistency for students with ADHD to be able to navigate it without having to rely on things like planners, reminders, note taking strategies, prioritizing skills, or time management. After high school, that all changes.

Individuals with ADHD often struggle with planning and prioritization, leading to difficulty in managing time and tasks effectively because it is one of the most important executive functioning skills to have. They may find it challenging to break down complex projects into smaller, manageable steps, and struggle to prioritize tasks based on importance and deadlines.

The combination of the struggle involved with planning and prioritizing, coupled with the overwhelm of the decisions a student faces after high school, often causes a lot of overwhelm for kids with ADHD. Addressing these challenges and learning the skills of planning and prioritizing is essential, most especially after high school.

Often, we’ve seen that untreated planning deficits can manifest in challenging behaviors such as chronic lateness, forgetfulness, executive function disorder, and difficulties in meeting responsibilities at home, school, or work. The emotional and mental toll those can have on an adult is devastating. An adult ADHD coach can help identify and address these deficits to improve overall functioning and reduce stress.

What Can Coaches Do for People With ADHD After High School?

An ADHD coach is a professional trained to work with individuals with ADHD, supporting and empowering them to overcome challenges, set goals, and enhance their executive function planning through strengthening executive functioning skills. These coaches provide personalized strategies and tools to improve time management, organization, and decision-making. Through regular coaching sessions, individuals gain self-awareness and develop a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, ultimately leading to increased productivity and self-confidence.

How to Best Learn Planning and Prioritization Skills with an ADHD Coach:

For any student wanting to learn how to better plan and prioritize in order to make the necessary decisions about post secondary options, consider the following things before working with an ADHD coach;

  1. Make a List of Your Goals for Coaching: Before starting coaching sessions, it’s essential to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Whether it’s improving time management, organizing your workspace, or handling procrastination, setting specific goals will help you and your coach focus on the executive functioning skills you struggle with. Often companies will offer a trial coaching session, allowing you to get a feel for the fit with that particular coach.
  2. Ways to Evaluate A Child’s Planning Skills: For parents seeking coaching for their child, evaluating their planning skills ahead of time, informally, can provide valuable insights. Look for signs of disorganization, missed deadlines, and difficulties in completing homework or chores independently.
  3. How to Teach Planning: ADHD coaches employ various strategies to teach effective planning, such as breaking tasks into smaller steps, using visual aids like charts or planners, and creating routines to maintain consistency and structure. The most important aspect of the process is being open to try new things, staying teachable, and open to feedback.

For a soon to be, or recently graduated high school student, or young adults who are looking to improve these skills, the focus should be on making a successful transition into life after high school. Often, ADHD coaching is most effective when a coach addresses executive functioning challenges while working towards a meaningful goal, such as the post high school transition, often called transition planning.

What Is Transition Planning?

Transition planning is a very broad concept, that when done correctly, will look different for each person. There is no cookie cutter model to follow.  How transition planning is executed varies based on age, grade level, previous experiences, access and areas of interest – just to name a few. ADHD coaching can be instrumental in helping young adults successfully navigate this transition with as little stress as possible, by supporting their executive functioning challenges.

Transition planning is an effective way to support academic engagement, motivation and with connecting students to the big picture – the WHY of the school experience. Additionally, it prepares individuals for what is next, with the intention of removing stress and increasing confidence around this topic.

Many of the following strategies can be used during ADHD coaching, to help a student better gain planning skills, and prepare for life after high school;

Interest Inventories: 

Beginning any coaching relationship by exploring strengths, challenges and general areas of interest helps to frame the rest of the work surrounding transition plans. Interest inventories can be used with elementary, middle, high school and college students. A barrier to effective transition planning can be the inability to make decisions and that can be related to individuals not understanding who they are, how their interests relate to their future, how to organize this information and apply it to their lives. 

Here is a sample of inventories at different levels:  

Elementary: http://cvesidealab.weebly.com/uploads/2/9/5/1/295126/interest_inventory-elementary.pdf

Middle School:
https://www.chester.k12.sc.us/cms/lib/SC50000477/Centricity/Domain/46/Interest%20Survey%20for%20Middle%20School%20Students.pdf

High School:
https://richardstep.com/richardstep-strengths-weaknesses-aptitude-test/

Resource for students with an IEP https://www.witransition.com/ 

Results:

An individual with ADHD triumphantly standing on top of a bar chart displaying impressive results.

Evaluating the results of the inventories with the individual is an important step in the process. This way they are involved in each step of the process, can ask questions, offer feedback and be part of the goal setting process. This will also help to break down the information into manageable pieces so that this topic is not overwhelming and/or uncomfortable for the person to talk about. 

Connections:

After the results are evaluated and organized, the key will be to make the connection to their current situation and experience that can be used to plan for the future. One way to do this is through asking questions like: 

-Are you taking elective classes in your area of interest? 

– How do you use your strengths in school? 

– How will your strengths prepare you for going to the next grade level? 

– Do your challenges get in the way of what you want to do? 

– Are there any clubs you can join related to your interests and strengths? 

When identifying how to apply these concepts, a way to promote involvement from the individual is to offer options. Having choice is a powerful tool for developing “buy in” for the process and encouraging action. There could be unlimited options for where to start so the best thing we, support providers, can do is pair down the list and then offer choice. An example of this would be to say something like, “do you want to start with course selection or with looking at available clubs?” Both are working towards the same goal (school involvement) but allows the individual to pick the starting point they are most comfortable with. 

There are many different paths one can take after graduating from high school. The first step is deciding which aligns with the individual’s goals, strengths, interests and career choice. These points can be used as a guide, for both traditional and non-traditional journeys.  Let’s begin exploring a traditional post-secondary path by considering the following questions:

  • What size school do you want to attend? (small: under 5,000 students), medium: 5,000 – 15,000 students), or (large: over 15,000 students) 
  • What size classes do you learn best in:

small: 20 or fewer students

lecture hall: over 75 students 

  • What type of program are you looking for:
    • General education? 
    • Career specific training? 
    • Hands-on learning experience? 
    • Job placement opportunities? 
    • Certification based program? 
  • Location:
    • Think distance from hometown; city vs rural; access to the community; transportation options, etc.

A student’s answers to these transition planning questions don’t need to be set in stone, but it is important to know what the considerations are in order to move forward. Exploration and decision making begins with increasing awareness and knowledge about what options are out there!

Consider Traditional Paths as One of Many Possibilities: 

Most often, when considering a path after high school, the most traditional options will come to mind first. While those might be common for many people they may not be the best path for every child right away. Exploring a traditional path with an open mind, understanding it may not be the best path at the moment, is a great way to start.

When poor executive functioning skills prevent a person from being able to plan or prioritize naturally, it can be very helpful to lay out each option, describing the pros and cons of each one in a way that is neutral. An ADHD coach will do this, allowing the student to have a sense of autonomy. Regularly supporting executive functioning in this way helps ease them into the ability to make the decision that is right for them, then plan accordingly.

Weighing the options should be a process of listing as many factual options as possible, similar to the following lists;

Two individuals choosing which path to take.
  • Two -Year College: Community College
    • Obtain an associate’s degree
    • Use it to transfer to a four-year school
    • Offers a financially feasible option for completing general education requirements which may transfer to other schools
    • Use as a stepping stone to a larger school
    • Offers a way to “ease into” college life
    • Enroll in specialized programs that offer certifications for many different careers
    • Resource:  Community College
  • Four-Year College/University:
    • Obtain a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree 
    • May be able to transfer credits from community college if you choose to start there
    • Receive both general and program focused education based on chosen area of study 
    • Receive training for any career related certification exams
    • Resource:  Four Year College 
  • Trade Schools:
    • Obtain focused education in your chosen career interest
    • Hands-on learning opportunities
    • Is typically more cost effective than four-year college / university
    • Smaller class sizes
    • Resource: Trade Schools 
  • Apprenticeship Programs:
    • Receive on the job training from trained mentors 
    • Cost effective
    • Combination of hands-on experience and classroom learning
    • Learn specialized skills that are in high demand 
    • Resource: Apprenticeship Information 
  • Military:
Get a Free Screening Call with Dr. David Murphy

Consider Other Post-Secondary Options as Possibilities

Options that many people may not consider can have great value. An ADHD coach should be neutral to the path a client takes, knowing that the ultimate goal is to help the student move towards independence. The following options can also be laid out neutrally in a manner as follows;

A person deciding what option to take.
  • Specialized Programs:
    • Post-secondary programs for individuals with disabilities that provide life skills, education and employment support 
    • Includes college programs with a higher level of built in support. These could be used as a stepping stone between high school and college or be where the college degree is achieved. 
    • Programs can vary in the type of programming offered: day vs. resident, academic vs. career, etc. 
    • Parents should work with their child’s school team to see what is available in the home district and state 
  • Gap Year:
    • Ability to set your length of time ( a few months, a year, etc.)
    • Developed to give students a break from academics and provide opportunities to travel, work, and learn about themselves
    • Provides opportunities to work on skills that may have been lacking or difficult in high school before moving onto the next step. There are professionals who can help! 
    • Some programs enable enrolled individuals to make this a structured learning time in between high school and what comes next 
    • Important to create goals with corresponding timelines if planning to take a gap year . 
    • Resource: What is a gap year? 

Discover Which Post-Secondary Transition Planning Path Works for The Student

In short, there are many post-secondary transition planning options available for individuals regardless of their goals, ability levels or area of interest. ADHD coaches understand that more than one course of action can make the process less stressful – and even more enjoyable. The key is to look at the individual as a whole, including their strengths and weaknesses, to determine which path may offer the most positive experience. This is a journey that takes time and patience, requiring an open and flexible mind.

Executive function planning is a fundamental skill that anyone can learn from ADHD coaching that impacts every aspect of an individual’s life. For those with ADHD, developing and refining these executive functioning skills can be transformative in managing time, setting and achieving goals, and maintaining overall well-being. ADHD coaching from Effective Effort Consulting can offer personalized strategies, support, and guidance on this journey of growth and self-discovery. By seeking the assistance of an ADHD coach, individuals can unlock their potential, embrace their strengths, and thrive in a world that celebrates their unique abilities.