Ever read an article or research abstract and wish you could ask the author questions? In this new IES series, “What Does This Mean for Me,” we are doing just that. IES researchers are answering questions to help students, educators, and others use their research. In the first round of this series, NCER virtual college interns are reaching out with questions relevant to their interests, goals, and communities. We invite you to learn more about not only what education science means for real people but also what students and other community members care about. This blog was written by Shirley Liu, virtual intern at NCER.
As part of my virtual internship with IES, I wanted to learn about research that was applicable to my own experiences. I decided to ask Dr. Art Anastopoulos about the unique challenges for postsecondary students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as strategies and interventions that can help students with ADHD succeed in college. With funding from IES, Dr. Anastopoulos evaluated an intervention called Accessing Campus Connections and Empowering Student Success (ACCESS) for students with ADHD. ACCESS aims to help college students succeed by increasing student knowledge about and ability to manage their diagnosis and to leverage campus supports.
Why are students with ADHD more likely to struggle in college than students without ADHD? What might be particularly challenging for them?
There are many possible reasons for why students with ADHD are more likely to struggle. For one thing, many high school students with ADHD lag behind their peers without ADHD, in terms of grade point average, less well-developed study-skills, etc. And this lag persists as they make the transition into college. Students with ADHD are also at increased risk for experiencing co-occurring mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety disorders, which together with ADHD interfere with college functioning.
Another useful way to understand the unique challenges of students with ADHD is through the notion of a “perfect storm.” [In this video (from 2:21 – 4:28), Art describes the “perfect storm” as the interplay between a diminished capacity for self-regulation that students with ADHD may have and the high levels of self-regulation that postsecondary education requires of students.]
In addition to their attentional difficulties and impulsivity, many students with ADHD have co-occurring executive functioning deficits, affecting their organization, planning, and time management. Together, such difficulties may lead to academic problems such as having trouble sitting through a boring class, taking detailed lecture notes, attending classes and other meetings on time, waiting until the last minute to complete papers and other long-term assignments, forgetting to preregister for upcoming courses, and placing greater emphasis on speed versus accuracy when taking tests. For similar reasons, students with ADHD may experience interpersonal problems with their friends, as well as difficulties in employment situations.
ACCESS is an institution-supported intervention for students with ADHD, but how exactly does ACCESS work?
ACCESS targets multiple deficit areas that can lead to impairment in multiple domains of daily functioning. More specifically, ACCESS is designed to increase student knowledge and understanding of ADHD, their use of behavioral strategies, and their adaptive thinking skills. To the extent that these goals are achieved, improvements in academic, emotional, social, and personal functioning are expected to occur.
In your opinion, how can professors best support college students with ADHD?
The most important thing that college professors can do is to respect a student’s need for formally recommended accommodations and to facilitate their implementation. Listed below are four common accommodations for college students with ADHD:
- Taking exams in private locations where distractions are minimized
- Having extended time to take exams
- Being allowed to audio record lectures via smart pens or phone devices
- Having another person take notes for them
How can students with ADHD prepare to succeed in college?
One of the most important thing students can do is to prepare for the increased demands that college brings while still in high school. This includes, for example, increasing their knowledge of ADHD. The more developmentally appropriate their understanding of ADHD is, the more likely students will accept their diagnosis. This can also help them recognize the importance of continuing and/or seeking out necessary treatments, such as medication management and counseling. The more that a student can wean themselves from dependence on parents and others for managing academic demands while in high school, the better able that student will be to manage the increased demands for self-regulation that college brings. This goes beyond academics and includes managing money, preparing meals, doing laundry, getting to doctors’ appointments, etc.
In addition to the written responses to my questions, Dr. Anastopoulos also shared links to videos and resources he and his team created as part of the grant. These are curated below and provide general overviews of ACCESS and the research project. In addition, he and his team have two recent publications that share the findings from the evaluation.
Additional information about ACCESS:
- Anastopoulos, A.D., Langberg, J.M., Eddy, L.D., Silvia, P.J., & Labban, J.D. (2021). A randomized controlled trial examining CBT for college students with ADHD. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 89 (1), 21–33. – Reports significant differences for ACCESS participants, namely of improved ADHD symptoms, executive functioning, clinical change mechanisms, and use of disability accommodations.
- Eddy, L.D., Anastopoulos, A.D., Dvorsky, M.R., Silvia, P.J., Labban, J.D., & Langberg, J.M. (2021). An RCT of a CBT intervention for emerging adults with ADHD attending college: Functional outcomes. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. – Reports findings that ACCESS may improve students’ self-reported general well-being and functioning as well as improved time management and study skills and strategies but may not show as much impact on students’ interpersonal relationships or GPA.
Dr. Art Anastopoulos is a Professor and the Director of the ADHD Clinic in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the School of Health and Human Sciences at UNC Greensboro.
Written by Shirley Liu, virtual intern at NCER and an English major at Lafayette College.