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It's checkup season for college kids

Written by: Dr. Sue Hubbard, The Kid's Dr.
Aug. 22, 2011

Many new college students will be managing health issues on their own for the first time. (Supplied)


These days, I'm seeing a lot of adolescent patients as they get ready for their first year at college or university. I've realized for a long time how important this visit is, as there are so many topics that should be covered before a child leaves for school. Make sure you book your soon-to-be freshman for a checkup before departure. This is an especially important visit if your child has ADHD.

When I was a younger doctor, it was thought that a child would "outgrow" ADHD. Over the last 20 years, doctors, psychologists, neuropsychologists and all of the other specialties that have studied ADHD now understand that this problem doesn't just fade away. But a new post-secondary student will be managing his/her own ADHD, often far from home. A plan is the key to success.

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Since most first year students are older than 18, I like to make sure both parents and child know that when need be, I will now be talking to the student rather than Mom and Dad. I've usually spent some time during the high school years "weaning" parents away from managing all of their child's medication issues, organizational details, etc., in preparation, so self-management is not an entirely new concept.

A soon-to-be university freshman is a better source for information, too, especially if the conversation involves trying to change or tweak medications. And first-person information is always better than playing the "telephone game," where the story may change a bit.

Other important areas to discuss before college:

Medication changes: Many students accustomed to taking a long-acting stimulant will have an entirely different class schedule. No more 8-hour days in a classroom, followed by evening homework, so it's good to discuss and plan for using more short-acting stimulants, which allows some flexibility. Know that it may take a few weeks into the semester to figure out the best combination of long-acting and short-acting meds, and plan on staying in touch either via email or voice mail when necessary to adjust medication dosages.

Medication use with alcohol: Although I know many students are underage, few campuses are completely free of alcohol. Alcohol and stimulants don't mix well. Stimulants also don't mix well with other illegal substances. Caffeine and stimulants can be problematic, too. This is a very important conversation!

Medication abuse: The stimulant drugs used for the treatment of ADHD have the potential for abuse. Typically, this is not a problem for students holding a prescription, but for friends, roommates and others who might want to take or steal the medications. I warn my patients that they should hide and lock up their medications, and never allow other people to use their meds. I also let them know that I record when and how much medication I prescribe, so repeated requests for refills because "I lost my medicine" or "someone broke into my room and stole it" won't be allowed.

School resources: Almost every school I know of has a program or programs to help students with ADHD. It may be a study skills program for entering students, or a counsellor who can help with accommodations within the classroom. I recommend taking a copy of any testing information, documentation, etc. (if not already provided) to orientation and meeting with the appropriate people before the semester begins. These services are often underutilized and being proactive is important.

By planning ahead, the young adult can have a successful transition to college and manage their ADHD.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is a well-known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at www.kidsdr.com.

(c) 2011, KIDSDR.COM DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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