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Monday, May 7, 2018

When it Comes to the College Transition, Sweat (some of) the Small Stuff

By: Jason McCormick, Psy. D.
Pediatric Neuropsychologist

As a neuropsychologist who specializes in working with adolescents and young adults, I have had many years of experience assessing students who are gearing up for the college transition. Having also the vantage point of working regularly with college students, I see up close what kinds of skills help students make a smooth landing and, conversely, what types of skill deficits throw a monkey wrench in this transition.

In assessing readiness for a four-year college, it is of course important to consider a student’s cognitive profile, academic functioning, executive functioning, and information processing skills. However, in addition to those important areas of functioning, it is also critical to consider a student’s degree of independence with life skills.

With multiple priorities in a student’s high school career, the development of independence with life skills is one area that often gets shuttled to the side. Among those skills are the abilities to self-regulate sleep schedules, set alarms to wake up without parental assistance, do laundry, and take prescribed medication consistently and with full independence (including monitoring when medicines are running low and taking care of prescription refills).

A common refrain when I bring up these issues to parents in testing feedback sessions is that those are skills that their student will be able to figure out when they get to college. Whether or not that is the case, the important question here is not just if a student has the cognitive and executive function capacities to figure out these tasks, but have they done those tasks enough that they are habits, thus allowing the student to follow through on them with automaticity.

Even under the best of circumstances, the college transition brings with it a number of stressors, including navigating roommate issues, branching out socially, managing academic demands, and making effective use of the large swaths of unscheduled time without the built-in oversight and structure of living at home.

Understanding that this is a major life transition, the more needed skills a student can master before that transition, the easier that transition will be. In this regard, I like to think about this topic in terms of conservation of energy. If, for instance, a student not only has the ability to do their own laundry, but the ability to take care of that chore on autopilot, they will be more likely to follow through on that (socially-important) task when they are stressed, fatigued, or under the weather.

Thus, while in many cases I endorse the adage, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” in this regard sweating the small stuff makes the bigger stuff more manageable.

About the Author 

A graduate of Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP), Dr. McCormick completed a two-year, postdoctoral neuropsychological training program at Children’s Evaluation Center following a one-year internship. He has been working in the service of children and adolescents for over ten years.

Dr. McCormick, a senior clinician at NESCA, sees children, adolescents and young adults with a variety of presenting issues, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), dyslexia and non-verbal learning disability. He has expertise in Asperger’s Disorder, a mild form of autism, and has volunteered at the Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE).

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