ADHD/Balance Coaching for Gifted Students

Gifted high school students with ADHD and anxiety or depression have a special place in my heart, because I was once the same (anxiety in high school followed by depression as an adult). I call this combination of ADHD with anxiety and/or depression “ADHD-plus.” It isn’t easy.

Here are three common themes for students with ADHD and ADHD-plus.

  1. Things come easy or things come hard. There’s little in between. Teachers and other students may resent the student’s smarts while refusing to recognize the student’s struggles.
  2. Big smarts can hide a lack of planning skills and self-discipline through early high school or even later. It’s a great shock when life finally demands them–as it inevitably will.
  3. ADHD with anxiety or depression is a constant source of internal conflict. ADHD says “go, go, go!” while anxiety or depression say “hide, hide, hide!”

When I was in high school, nobody knew what “ADHD” was, so nobody knew how to help me. Now that we are wiser I’d be honored to coach students whose wiring and circumstances in the early 2020s look a little like mine were in the early 1980s.


The student’s well-being is our central goal: Health and Joy, both of which rely on peace of mind. More specifically, we can work within any or all of the following major areas:

  • Schoolwork: What is required? What is optional? What are you achieving or not achieving? How can you achieve what you want and need to?
  • Self-Management: How do you manage your time, energy, and emotions? How can you be your own best advocate?
  • Self-Knowledge: What are your strengths, weaknesses, likes, mysteries, and near-term goals? How do you balance “playing to your strengths” vs. “shoring up weaknesses”?
  • Place-in-the-World: What does it mean to have ADHD, anxiety and/or depression? How have people with ADHD, anxiety, and/or depression learned to live well? Everybody’s peculiar in one way or another–it’s nice to know how our pieces can fit with everybody else’s.

Tools and Techniques

We can work with tools including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Goal-setting and priority-setting
  • Breaking down projects into logical, do-able pieces
  • Timeline planning
  • Schedule planning
  • Analog tools (e.g., planning cards, signage)
  • Digital tools (e.g., Trello, smart watches)
  • Distraction management
  • Self-talk and visualization
  • Tools borrowed from cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Self-assessment
  • Self-observation and self-analysis, particularly around motivation, action, energy, and mood
  • Work-space organization
  • “Gamification” and challenges with rewards or penalties

Coaching Plan: Elements and Structure

Coaching typically includes:

  • Weekly conferences (face-to-face or online) focused on review of the previous week, goal-setting, priority-setting, task breakdown, task-scheduling, and goal-tracking. Conferences are usually 50 minutes.
  • Weekly emails with brief reports from the student on progress and challenges, and brief responses from the coach.

Additional tools may include:

  • Shared online work spaces for logging goals, tasks, progress, and notes (e.g., Trello, Google Docs, and Slack).
  • Text message check-ins.

Collaboration tasks may include:

  • Updates to parents (in person, by phone, and/or email)
  • Reports to share with therapist(s), doctor(s) and/or school counselor(s)

Attitude and Approach

  • The coach respects the student as a human with dignity, strength, and autonomy. The coach treats the student as an emerging adult.
  • Our work and plans are primarily driven by the student, with input from the parents and other advisors, and help from the coach.
  • The student does the student’s work. The coach instructs, encourages, and assists but does not do the student’s job.
  • We recognize that we can do almost anything, but that we cannot do everything.
  • The coach challenges but does not nag.
  • Along with good will, we add good humor! [Check out these memes ☺] We laugh at ourselves and our circumstances while we improve ourselves and our circumstances.
  • We tell personal stories about ourselves and people we know, so that we share the full wisdom of ourselves and our community.
  • We understand that life can be Joyful and Beautiful without being perfect.
  • We are honest.

Monthly Pricing and Evaluation

Pricing is based on which coaching elements the student and family wish to use. Typical fees range from $300 to $600 per month, depending on intensity.

Each month, the student, coach (and parents, if desired) can do a brief evaluation of the student’s progress, and the effectiveness of the month’s coaching.

Coaching, Therapy, and Medicine

How do therapy and coaching compare?

In general, therapy focuses on the student’s mental wiring, while coaching focuses on the student’s actions. There is some overlap.

How do therapy, medicine, and coaching work together?

Ideally, the therapist, doctor(s) and coach can collaborate, sharing insights that increase their odds for success (e.g., the student’s motivations, how their energy changes over the course of each day, etc.). Collaboration helps the coach avoid known hazards like emotional triggers or areas of deep resistance. The coach can offer observations like how the student seems to respond to changes in medication.

The coach defers to parents, doctors, and therapists with regard to hazard avoidance and agreed-upon plans.

Working with Minors

For comfort and safety, it’s best for the coach and student to meet where other people are nearby. The family’s home often works well, along with public like cafes with quiet seating.

Working with Parents

Good coaching incorporates both collaboration and confidentiality. The student, parent(s), and coach will agree on rules about which parts of our coach-student conversation can be shared with the parents, and which parts will remain confidential.

Ready to Talk

I welcome to the opportunity to talk with students and their parents any time. Please feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation.

Phil Marsosudiro