Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Academic Impairment of College Students with ADHD

The following is an excerpt from my 2007 Dissertation study. The study referenced by Reaser, Prevatt, & Petscher is actually my own ('Reaser' is my maiden name):

Academic Impairment of College Students with ADHD

Few studies have investigated the nature of academic dysfunction experienced by college students with ADHD in relation to symptoms of the disorder. In these few, college students diagnosed with ADHD have reported problems with study skills, as well as note taking, summarizing, outlining, and test taking (Zwart & Kallemeyn, 2001). Reaser, Prevatt, & Petscher (2007) found that college students with ADHD report significant difficulty in the areas of time management, concentration, selecting main ideas, test strategies, motivation, anxiety, information processing, and self testing, as related to their peers. Similarly, Javorsky and Gussin (1994) reviewed studies suggesting that college students classified as having ADHD often exhibit problems with study strategies, note taking, summarizing and outlining, and test taking. Heiligenstein and Keeling (1995) found that the self-reported histories of college students classified as having ADHD revealed low academic achievement, as well.

Other documented problems that contribute to academic failure for college students with ADHD include negative attributional style (internal, stable, and global causes) and internal restlessness (Tominey, 1996; Weyandt, Iwaszuk, & Fulton et al., 2003). Wallace, Winsler and NeSmith (1999) found that students with ADHD demonstrated motivational impairments characterized by a preference for easy work, less enjoyment of learning, less persistence, and a greater reliance on external than on internal standards to judge their performance. Based on surveys of disability service coordinators, McDonald-Richard (1995) reported that academic performance by students with ADHD was hindered due to problems in self-regulation, task persistence, and attention.

Heiligenstein, Guenther, Levy, Savino, & Fulwiler (1999) compared a small number of students (n = 26) who were first classified as having ADHD in college with students without ADHD (n = 28) who presented with career concerns at the university counseling center. Students classified as having ADHD reported poorer functioning than the comparison group on several academic variables. The students classified as having ADHD had lower mean grade point averages, (ADHD M = 2.5; comparison M = 3.2) and were also more likely to be on academic probation. In the same study, on the Inventory of Common Problems, a self-report rating scale for college students, the ADHD group reported significantly more academic problems than the comparison group. Moreover, students classified as having ADHD did not differ significantly from the comparison group on questions relating to anxiety, depression, interpersonal relationships, physical health, substance use, and lethality (e.g., suicidal ideation). From these findings, Heiligenstein et al. suggested that understanding the pattern and development of academic impairment in ADHD is particularly important because the majority of their participants did not have academic problems that were apparent during childhood. Consequently, they hypothesized that the onset of academic impairment and subsequent classification of ADHD may be related more to external factors (e.g., academic difficulty at a particular university, loss of family structure that supported academic success, absence of individual education services) than to the presence of ADHD symptoms per se.


Heiligenstein, E., Guenther, G., Levy, A., Savino, F., & Fulwiler, J. (1999). Psychological and academic functioning in college students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of American College Health, 47, 181-185.

Heilegenstein, E. & Keeling, R. P. (1995). Presentation of unrecognized attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder in college students. Journal of American College Health, 43, 226-228.

Javorsky, J., & Gussin, B. (1994). Serving college students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: An overview and program guidelines. Journal College Student Development, 35, 170-177.

McDonald Richard, Mary. (1998). Students with attention deficit disorders in postsecondary education: Issues in Identification and Accommodation. A Comprehensive Guide to Attention Deficit Disorder in Adults, (pp. 285-306). New York: Brunner/Mazel publishers.

Reaser, A., Prevatt, F., & Petscher, Y. (2007). The learning and study strategies of college students with ADHD. Psychology in the Schools, 44(6), 627-638.

Tominey, M. F. (1996). Attributional Style as a Predictor of Academic Success for Students with Learning Disabilities and/or Attention Deficit Disorder in Postsecondary Education. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Disabilities Association (Chicago, IL, Feb. 19-22, 1997).

Wallace, B. A., Winsler, A., & NeSmith, P. (1999). Factors associated with success for college students with ADHD: Are standard accommodations helping? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (Montreal, Quebec, Canada, April 19-23, 1999).

Weyandt, L. L., Iwaszuk, W., Fulton, K., Ollerton, M., Beatty, N., Fouts, H., et al. (2003). The Internal Restlessness Scale: Performance of college students with and without ADHD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 36, 382-389.

Zwart, L.M. & Kallemeyn, L. M. (2001). Peer-based coaching for college students with ADHD and learning disabilities. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 15(1), 1-15.

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