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Jonathan Mooney on Goal Setting and Motivation in Teens With LD or AD/HD

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By Jonathan Mooney , Kristin Stanberry

Did setting structured, traditional goals, such as a creating a 5-year plan, ever work for you?

I don't think 5-year plans are effective for many people. A big turn in my life was going to Loyola Marymount University. I got through high school by being a jock, by focusing on sports. But in college I knew I had to make it academically as well. So I set my own goal to transfer to a "Top 10" university within one year. I started by focusing on that goal and worked backwards to outline the steps required to reach that goal. I'd need to make good grades, apply for an internship, and research and apply to top universities. But the motivation and the specific goal had to come from within me. If another adult had forced me to set that goal, it would have turned me off.

So I encourage students with learning differences to set their own goals and be realistic and organized about reaching it. It also helps to be flexible and understand that the journey may not take you along a straight path. You may need to adjust your goal as you move along. I recommend using goals as guiding principles, not rigid rules.

What advice would you give students with learning disabilities who are researching colleges and universities? What should they look for in a school?

  1. First and foremost, find schools you care about. Start making a list. I don't believe in choosing a school for its learning support program. Instead, search for schools that have the right "vibes" and academic programs you feel passionate about.
  2. Next, look at that list of schools and determine which of them have well-run, accessible learning support programs.
  3. At the same time, evaluate the academic culture of the school. For example, Brown University spent less money on learning support, but it's academic culture values self-directed learning, independent study, and diversity. That allowed me to thrive. I also tell students to look for schools that integrate the concept of LD into diversity.
  4. Find out what the curriculum requirements are at each school. Some may be too strict or rigid for you. For instance, if I had been required to take Latin in college, I'm pretty sure I would have failed it!
  5. Go beyond the learning support center and do a reality check by talking to faculty in the departments you're interested in. Talk to other students, too. Remember that learning support centers will often give you a sales pitch. They're there to follow the letter of the law, not the spirit of the ADA, which is to integrate learning disabilities into the college culture.

A word to parents about college: Adults should accept that not all kids - including those who are self-aware - will choose to go to college. Some will opt for trade school or other non-collegiate venues. As long as this choice is based on self-awareness and not the fear of failure, it may be the best choice.

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and AD/HD, which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.

 


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/24/2012:
"This article was good to read and now I also share it with some of the adolescents I am currently treating. I do remembering told as a kid I would not be able to do much as I to had LD/ADHD. Do also remembering same kind of information being told to me in high school. Hey, try something else as school is not for you. I did not believe them as I did know myself well and my abilities and problem areas. Some which still at times catch up with me. However, I can say I also got through it. I am now a counseling psychologist and treat children with all types of issues. The ones who I see who some of the doctors have sent to me as they have ADHD/LD . Well, I love to work with them and do love to see the progress they make in sessions and in there school and home life. It is slow but it is sure. So learning and understanding yourself has a course that is different in each. Have a good day. "
11/24/2009:
"JUST SAYING HELLO JONATHAN, I'M LISTENING TO SHORT BUS, I RELATE. HAD CAR ACCIDENT IN 2006, HEAD TRAUMA, TBI. I HAD MR.STARKY IN SCHOOL. I'M STAYING BACK IN GM WITH MOM & DAD, LOOKING FORWARD TO MOVING OUT! WHEN DID YOU LIVE IN GM? I APPRECIATE WHAT I'VE HEARD, I WILL TELL THE OTHERS THAT UNDERSTAND AT THE TBI GROUP ABOUT THE SHORT BUS. THANK YOU, MARK"
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