Predictors of Academic Success among College Students with Attention Disorders

Article excerpt

Among 68 students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, academic success was positively correlated with time management skills and freedom from financial stress. As a group, students with higher grade point averages reported fewer coping resources than did academically lower achieving students. Less academically successful students likely spend more time using coping mechanisms and therefore may have less time to study. Implications for professional practice and suggestions for future research are discussed.

The purpose of the current study was to identify factors associated with academic success among a sample of college students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Of particular interest were students' resources for coping with stress and their descriptions of strategies used to manage their ADHD symptoms. First, however, we review the literature on ADHD and examine the obstacles faced by students with ADHD.

It was once widely believed that ADHD was common only in childhood, with the symptoms gradually disappearing through adolescence. Although the prevalence of ADHD symptoms does decline with age among clinic-referred samples (Biederman et al., 1996; Cantwell, 1996), longitudinal studies indicate a continuance of the disorder beyond childhood for a significant proportion of those affected (Barkley, Fischer, Edelbrock, & Smallish, 1991; Cadoret & Stewart, 1991; Weiss & Hechtman, 1993). In fact, 30% to 80% of ADHD children still meet the full diagnostic criteria for the disorder in adolescence (Biederman, 1991; Klein & Mannuzza, 1991). Investigations of college students also provide evidence of continuing ADHD symptoms beyond childhood (Ramirez et al., 1997; Turnock, Rosen, & Kaminski, 1998).

The attention-related demands of academic environments that cause difficulty for children with ADHD can also be a challenge for ADHD adults (e.g., Barkley, Murphy, & Kwasnik, 1996; Biederman et al., 1993; Mannuzza, Klein, Bessler, Malloy, & LaPadula, 1993; Turnock et al., 1998). Furthermore, recent discussions of the deficits in executive functions seen in ADHD (e.g., goal setting, organizing, time management) suggest that a college environment, which demands such skills, may pose new challenges for ADHD adults, even those who fared well in high school (Wolf, 2001).

Throughout their schooling, and independent of differences in IQ, ADHD individuals tend to have more academic problems than other students (Hectman, 1991; Lambert, 1988). Problems include lower grades, more failed or repeated grades, and fewer years of education completed (Hechtman, Weiss, & Perlman, 1984; Mannuzza, Klein, Bessler, Malloy, & Hynes, 1997; Slomkowski, Klein, & Mannuzza, 1995; Wilson & Marcotte, 1996). In fact, Mannuzza et al. (1993) found that approximately 25% of ADHD participants (vs. 2% of controls) never completed high school.

Although little is known about the prevalence or effect of ADHD in the university setting, clinicians suggest a positive educational outcome for a subset of ADHD college students (Hallowell & Ratey, 1994; Nadeau, 1994; Quinn, 1993). For example, in separate longitudinal studies, Mannuzza et al. (1997; 1993) found that 12% and 15% of their ADHD samples, respectively, had completed a bachelor's degree.

Some investigators have hypothesized that academically successful ADHD college students are better able to cope with their symptoms than are their academically lower achieving peers (Faigel, 1995; Hallowell & Ratey, 1994; Kaplan & Schachter, 1991; Nadeau, 1994; Quinn, 1993). Although the use of symptom-specific coping strategies among ADHD students has not received empirical support (Turnock et al., 1998), it may be that academically successful ADHD students rely on a number of coping resources (i.e., factors that are present and available even before stressors occur that lessen the costs of dealing with stressors; Curlette, Aycock, Matheny, Puch, & Taylor, 1990) to prevent or endure stresses that overwhelm less-resilient ADHD individuals (Wheaton, 1983). …