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How to Adult: 6 Rules for Embracing Independence with ADHD

May 22, 2024

The safety and comfort of your childhood home is behind you. That’s exciting, and maybe even scary, as you chart your own course in emerging adulthood.

One of the greatest gifts, and challenges, of this life stage is the freedom to explore and choose — in personal and professional realms. This is liberating, but if you’re a young adult with executive functioning deficits, dealing with housing, roommates, work, and relationship issues can be stressful.

Advice for Young Adults with ADHD

Follow these six rules for transitioning to independent living:

1. Pay your bills on time. Set up bill-pay reminders or automatic payments. Use a budget app to track how you spend money. Shop with cash only to limit impulsive purchases. Understand credit card terms and the importance of a good credit score. If you need help making a budget, ask experienced friends, your parents, or other caring adults.

2. Show up when you are expected. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need (or even plan to arrive early). Use analog clocks, watches, and timers to manage time effectively. Use calendars to remind yourself of events and responsibilities.

3. Set routines. Create habits and schedules to support your health. Exercise regularly to improve ADHD symptoms, memory, and mood; eat a balanced diet; and stick to a regular sleep schedule.

[Get This Free Download: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule]

4. Notice your emotional triggers. Whether it’s a stomach knot or sweaty palms, pay attention to signals that indicate strong emotions before they escalate. In a calm moment, make a list of soothing activities to help you reset. Breathing techniques, stepping outside, or going to the bathroom to splash water on your face are a few ideas.

5. Learn to communicate effectively. Conflict happens. In tense conversations with friends, housemates, and colleagues, it’s important to communicate without blame and to listen without judgment. When your housemates are up until 2 a.m. on a work night, drinking and gaming loudly in the living room, rushing out of your bedroom to yell at them won’t help. You could ask them nicely to lower the volume or ask for a meeting the next day to express your frustrations using this formula: “I feel __________ when you __________ because __________ .” The goal is to reach a good compromise.

6. Be smart about dating. After you’ve connected with someone (online, at a party, or elsewhere), meet them at a public place you already know. Tell friends where you are going and with whom. Despite your ADHD go-with-the-flow impulses, don’t go home with them or bring them to your home right away. Give yourself time to evaluate this person, and let your friends meet them, too.

Advice for Parents of Young Adults

When decision-making moves from parents to adult children, the road turns rocky in new ways. The dilemma for many parents of young people with ADHD is this: When should I express my concerns about their choices or risky behaviors?

Parental authority and influence decrease dramatically as our children age. By the time they reach their 20s, a parent can only say and do so much. Then it’s time to let go.

[Read: ADHD Independence-Building Strategies for Parents]

Here are a few ideas to help parents foster connection and independence:

  • Listen with genuine curiosity. Acknowledge what you hear. Before you respond, reflect on what you are going to say. Are you about to tell them what to do? If so, how can you reframe your suggestion as a question?
  • Pick your battles. Agree on your role in giving reminders, for example, and the circumstances under which you will say nothing. Separate your anxiety from theirs. Wait 24 hours to process an upsetting issue so everybody cools down enough to have a conversation.
  • Trust your kids. What did you want most from your parents? I wanted my parents to stop asking questions about how I was going to use my college degree and to trust the process of my explorations. Your kids will figure it out, ultimately, just as you did.

Watch for Warning Signs

You want to respect your adult child’s space, but you also want to be able to identify concerning behaviors or situations when they appear. Here are red flags that may signal trouble ahead:

  • Substance use: Young adults with ADHD face an increased risk for substance abuse. Promptly address any signs of substance misuse, such as appearing impaired, experiencing problems meeting obligations at work or at school, or withdrawing from important activities.
  • Anxiety at work: Watch for signs of workplace stress, and help your child brainstorm coping mechanisms. Maintain open communication about your young adult’s occupational challenges, including job stability and performance.
  • Career planning: Is your college student exploring suitable career paths with access to accommodations? Ask about exploratory conversations with educators and career counselors.
  • ADHD treatment: Do missed appointments or lost items suggest that your child is not consistently managing their ADHD medication? Encourage them to maintain steady treatment and secure support through therapy and academic or occupational accommodations.

Embracing Independence with ADHD: Next Steps

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