Sleepy Students at Risk for College Failure

Attention in College Students | The Being Well CenterWhen we think about ADD/ADHD in a college student, we can easily imagine how impulsivity, distractibility, short attention span, problems with following through with directions, poor organizational skills, weak task/time management and procrastination, can wreak havoc on her success.

What may not come to mind, however, is one of the most common attentional weaknesses that contribute to college failure – low arousal level.

So what is Low Arousal level anyway?

Well, at a very basic level, we must maintain a certain level of alertness in order to pay attention and regulate our behavior.  Arousal level refers to how awake and alert we are at any point in time.  

Based upon our clinical experience with thousands of patients, we have found that many individuals with ADD/ADHD have a low arousal level; they are not alert and sufficiently awake to pay optimal attention.

This statement can be confusing to some people who presume that because some individuals with ADD/ADHD are “hyperactive” that they are hyperaroused when, in reality, the opposite is probably true!

The Low Arousal Student Profile

A student with low arousal level can demonstrate a wide range of behaviors.  She may become fatigued during mundane activities (like listening to lecture or completing a 60-page reading assignment), yawn excessively, have a glazed look in her eyes, or actually fall asleep at her desk.

Commonly, ADD/ADHD students blame these behaviors on the task, the subject matter or the professor . . . “too boring.”

Can Low Arousal Look Like Hyperactivity?

On the other hand, some ADD/ADHD students who are under-aroused demonstrate “hyperactivity” ranging from leg bouncing, wiggling in the chair, fidgeting, aimlessly playing with materials, and stretching or actually getting out of their seat and wandering around.

Our clinical experience suggests that these “hyperactive behaviors” are actually unconscious attempts by the ADD/ADHD student to self-stimulate herself in order to increase or sustain her arousal in a learning (or should we say “boring”) situation.

Underlying Conditions Can Magnify Low Arousal

Other conditions or co-morbidities can magnify an ADD/ADHD student’s struggle with alertness or arousal including sleep deprivation, obstructive sleep apnea, iron deficiency anemia, poor nutritional habits (like skipping meals, pigging out, or self medicating with carbohydrates), depression and certain temperamental extremes (such as low frustration tolerance or short persistence) to name a few.  All of these conditions are very common in students with ADD/ADHD.  Sometimes these conditions even mimic ADD/ADHD in students who don’t have the diagnosis.

Medication Can Fix Low Arousal

Commonly, low arousal can signal the possible need for medication treatment in a student with ADD/ADHD.

In those students already taking medication, it can indicate the need to refine the dosage level (generally it means there is a need for more) or dosage regimen (adding medication dosage(s) to provide all-day coverage into the evening when most students study and read those “boring” text books!)

Healthy Daily Routines Can Fix Low Arousal

At the very least, the tendency toward low arousal suggests the need to establish and maintain healthy daily routines for sleeping, eating, exercise and relaxation.

It should be obvious that unmanaged low arousal can be a major risk factor for college failure.  Dealing with it means getting a comprehensive evaluation to determine all the possible contributors and then developing a targeted, individual treatment plan to address each contributing factor.  That’s what we do at the BWC!  Contact us today so we can help your child “wake up” and start experiencing the success he or she is capable of!

If any of this resonated with you, take the next step to pinpoint if Low Arousal is throwing roadblocks in your path to college success.  Click here to download our Confidence@College success screeners for a quick, easy, and free quiz.

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Why Problems with Writing Spell Problems at College

Why Problems with Writing Spell Problems at College | The Being Well Center

The second part in our series looking at The Whole You to identify risk factors for college success.

Depending upon the student’s major, the average college student writes about 15 papers a year.  This doesn’t count journal entries, logs, and other short written assignments professors use to ensure completion of readings or to track progress on major group projects.  And, don’t forget those mid-term or final exam Bluebooks with their “Compare and Contrast . . . “, “Apply the theory of . . .”, or “Give a contemporary example of . . . and elaborate” essays!

It is unclear how it has happened but we do know that it is multifactorial…our kids are not learning how to write!

Problem: Kids Don’t Know the Writing Process

Few of the students who enter our Confidence@College Program have been taught (or retained) a systematic process to apply when completing written assignments like: “brainstorm, outline, write a rough draft, edit, and complete a final copy.”  More commonly, they sit down at the computer at the 11th hour and just begin typing away and insist that it works for them until they flunk their third college essay.

(After the first one, they blame the professor; after the second one, they say they did not have enough time; by the third, the reality of their weakness sets in.)

Problem: Kids Don’t Feel Independent or Empowered to Write

image via Flickr, CollegeDegrees360

image via Flickr, CollegeDegrees360

Too often, we find that many students have become overly dependent upon teachers, tutors, parents, or fellow students to help them generate ideas, and then plan, organize, research, structure and complete a paper.

In fact, many parents admit to us that they have actually written some of their child’s papers in high school, obsessively edited them, or “put the finishing touches on them” at the keyboard while their child slept on the couch.  Hardly ways to prepare for the rigors of college!

This is a huge problem as being able to write a coherent, well-organized paper is a prerequisite to success at college.

Problem: Strong Temperaments Get in the Way

Weakness in this area becomes magnified when students also have temperamental extremes and attentional weaknesses which can contribute to poor time/task management, procrastination, low frustration tolerance, poor stress management, poor self-monitoring (not learning from mistakes) and weak self-advocacy skills that interfere with asking for and taking advantage of help.

Problem: Poor Writing is a Slippery Slope toward Life Struggles

Often, problems at writing papers is a stepping off point for kids getting behind the 8-ball at college.  It has a cascading effect impacting their ability to cope with and manage the whole college experience.

Some difficulty in learning how to be a good writer is to be expected; but in the end, mastery of this skill can be a key to success in life after college:  filling out job applications, composing emails and letters, developing proposals, submitting bids, completing sales reports, developing marketing materials, and answering a customer’s complaints are all places where strong writing skills are necessary in the workplace.

Employers tell us that poor writing skills are common in new hires and are a major barrier to effectively collaborating with co-workers and being considered for advancement opportunities.

Solution: Find a College Success Program

Confidence@College | The Being Well Center

Confidence@College | A College Success Support Program from The Being Well Center

If your child has rough edges in his/her writing skills, reach out to our Confidence@College Program to identify the contributors and come up with a plan to remediate, refine, and produce high quality written products.

Solution: Identify (and Address) Risk Areas Early in College Career

To accomplish this, take a few minutes to answer a quick Confidence@College “Is My Kid Ready for College?” checklist to see if there are aspects of your child’s TRANSACT Profile that place him/her at risk for college failure.   The checklist is free to use and share and has helped so many parents pinpoint areas of concern to address before and during college.  Knowing the potential problems can turn your child onto the path of success!  Check out the “Is My Kid Ready for College?” checklist now!

We also urge you to contact us and set up a Discovery Session at The Being Well Center so we can start moving things along a path to success.

How Confidence@College Can Help You!

Early Diagnosis of ADD/ADHD

add in school children | the being well center

Can ADD be diagnosed before a child enters school?

Yes, but it is often difficult. The reason is that some of the behaviors that are red flags or indicators of ADD can be normal in the preschool-age child. This means that interpretation of behavior and test results is complicated. Interestingly enough, however, experienced preschool teachers can be amazingly accurate in identifying the child with ADD. They have the advantages of making observations over time and being in a position to compare a given child’s behavior to that of his peer group. This makes it possible to identify the child with ADD whose behavior is consistently more extreme.

add in school children | the being well centerEarly identification of ADD should be a goal for parents and teachers. This makes it possible to begin treatment before the child enters a destructive cycle of failure that can interfere with successful growth and development. Sometimes parents and teachers hesitate to identify and investigate an extreme behavior for fear of creating a problem where there really is not one. While this is an understandable concern, over the years I have learned that parents know their kids better than anyone (and teachers aren’t far behind).  Their difficulty, more commonly, is being honest about what they see and holding back, as opposed to inaccurately observing and jumping the gun.

Therefore, my advice to parents and teachers is: “If you think there is a problem, then there is.”

It may not necessarily be ADD, but something is out of sync. All developmental, learning, and behavioral concerns in children deserve some type of comprehensive assessment. The “worst thing” that can happen by taking the step to investigate a concern is that parents and teachers can be reassured that they are handling things in the right way!

And even more importantly, when we evaluate a problem, identify the factors–including ADD–that are contributing to the problem, and implement a specific treatment plan, we are likely to prevent the development of more significant problem.


How can you be sure your ADD/ADHD diagnosis is accurate?  One sure-fire way is to book a Discovery Session with Dr. Liden at The Being Well Center!  Another great way is to download Dr. Liden’s book, ADD Basics 101, currently offered as a free ebook.


Our current blog series is excerpted from Dr. Liden’s best-selling book, Pay Attention!: Answers to Common Questions About the Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder.

ATTITUDES: Tips for “Having some skin in the game”

Over the last 10 years, as we have seen increasing numbers of new patients enter our Confidence@College program, we have been shocked by the number of kids who take parental financial support for college expenses for granted.  Tuition, room and board, meal tickets, books, new computer, dorm furnishings, toiletries, laundry, pizza, and beer . . . It all adds up to the second biggest investment parents will make in their lives.  Most college-age kids we’ve met don’t really have a clue!  Parents sure do, and the expense is one of the major sources of angst when their kid heads off to college . . . “will he make good on this huge investment?”

It’s easy for kids to be sheltered from the expensive reality of college when most parents see a college education or post-high school training as a necessity in today’s world and feel it is their responsibility to make it happen.  In today’s economy, large numbers of parents actually can’t fulfill this responsibility; in fact, lack of finances is the number one reason for falling graduation rates in the U.S.  Other more fortunate families take a “do whatever it takes approach”, including:

  • Work an extra job
  • Long-term savings plan
  • 529 accounts
  • Selling assets
  • Home equity loans
  • Grant or other aid from colleges
  • Gov’t sponsored loans
  • Hunt for scholarship opportunities
  • Gift from family and grandparents

More often than not, these financial efforts exclude their child.  At most, the parent has to nag him/her about completing an essay for a scholarship application.  A significant number of the parents we work with have actually written part or all of college essays out of the frustration or the need to meet a deadline!

Some parents set the expectation that their child will sign a promissory note and commit to paying back all of the loan money if they fail to graduate.  For most of the kids we see, this large negative consequence may strike some fear initially but is seen by most as something in the distant future that they’ll deal with if they have to.  Trouble is, without some type of degree or certificate the likelihood of getting a decent paying job that will make it possible to repay this obligation is small.  It should be no surprise that the highest rate of college loan defaults is in situations where the student fails to graduate.  Every escalating college costs have pushed the student loan crisis into position to become our next big national financial disaster.

c@c_whole_you_blog_attitudes

Many parents take a baby step in the right direction when they ask their child throw something into the pot.  Maybe it is a chunk of their savings account built up from mowing lawns, babysitting, having a part-time job, or from birthday and graduation gifts.  Kids often push back and negotiations often end in them having to cover the costs of their books or their monthly entertainment.  In our experience, this is rarely coupled with the establishment of a monthly budget for expenditures and we’ve seen many kids spend their contributions for the year in one month buying pizza and drinks for everybody at midnight, buying a new Xbox, or frequently going out with new friends to party!  Then, what are parents to do?  Certainly most give an irate lecture, but it’s pretty unrealistic for them to say that they’re not going to give their child any more money for the rest of the semester.

In reality, helping kids meet the demands of financial responsibility that come with college is a serious and complex issue that requires targeted attention and ongoing support particularly for students with ADD/ADHD.  We’ve found that one relatively simple, yet profound, step that parents can take is to set an expectation for the student to give the parents a set amount of money before the start of each college year.  Payment of some amount by the child represents the purchase price of a “ticket of admission” to the parent’s checkbook or signature on a loan.  The actual dollar amount of this down payment isn’t critical but it should be enough to stretch the student to some degree . . . something in the ballpark of $750-$1500 is about right.  For most students this means getting (and keeping) a full-time job (or two part-time jobs), saving money rather than impulsively spending it on food, entertainment, etc. and making sacrifices.  To save this amount of money and contribute it by a certain date requires some of the same life skills it takes to be successful at college.

When kids meet this expectation they feel the pride of accomplishment, feel more mature and take a more serious approach to college.  This “skin in the game” often helps them choose the pain of self-discipline over the pain of regret when temptations arise to kick back rather than bear down.

It’s not a perfect solution but it moves things in the right direction.  Some parents use the contribution as the starting point to establish a monthly budget for their child and develop a plan to redistribute the money back to the student in agreed amounts during the school year.  Others simply take the money, quietly invest it and then return it (with dividends) to the student when they earn a diploma . . . it can be the down payment on a car or condo/home to jump start their future!

At Confidence@College we have lots of strategies to help protect parents’ investment!  Our committed staff always has a “skin in the game” and goes the extra mile to insure success.  Call us now to set up a Discovery Session and experience the confidence we can give you and your child.