How Does ADHD Challenge Students?

Can a web-based training program help parents of 3- to 5-year-olds with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) learn strategies to ease their child’s transition to kindergarten? How do college students with ADHD fare educationally and socially year to year? Among teens with ADHD, how effective is a particular school-based treatment program in helping them succeed?

George DuPaul, professor of school psychology, and fellow researchers are conducting three separate studies into the chronic neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals through adulthood. The research, which focuses on different age groups, spans students’ educational stages—from preschool through college.

“We’re really interested in how ADHD challenges these individuals,” says DuPaul, a co-principal investigator on each project. “And what can we do to support them to be successful?”

To help preschoolers with ADHD, DuPaul and Lee Kern, professor of special education, developed Project PEAK (Promoting Engagement with ADHD Pre-Kindergartners), a training program parents can take in face-to-face sessions or online. The study is funded with a $1.2 million Institute of Education Sciences grant.

Parents learn what to expect over the course of their child’s development as well as strategies to help their child change his or her behaviors, such as by setting routines and relying more on praise and positive reinforcement than punishment.

“Our hypothesis, and we’re not alone in this, is that the earlier we can identify students with ADHD and work with them, the better the outcome,” DuPaul says.

On the college level, DuPaul’s research centers on how ADHD affects students’ educational and social functioning. Project TRAC (Trajectories Related to ADHD in College) is funded with a $3 million National Institute of Mental Health grant.

DuPaul and researchers from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and the University of Rhode Island are following students at six colleges over four years. Preliminary findings are sobering: Students with ADHD have lower grade point averages than students who do not have the disorder, struggle socially and engage in riskier sexual behavior, he says.

Both the ADHD and control samples have students who are doing well and students who are struggling. The researchers expect to compare the year-to-year progress of students in both groups. “Do they grow further and further apart?” he asks. “Or do kids with ADHD get better over time as they learn the environment and get support services?”

In the BEST (Bridges to Educational Success for Teens) project, DuPaul and researchers from Ohio University are conducting a first-of-its-kind intervention program for high school students. The study is funded with a $3 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences.

The researchers are tracking 96 students with ADHD who receive training in organizational and interpersonal skills and other areas. By monitoring the students, DuPaul says, researchers will be able to spot any red flags so that students can be connected to services, if needed. 

“What we’re trying to do is give them skills that are lifelong, to self-regulate,” he says. “And that’s critical, because it cuts to the heart of the disorder.”

George DuPaul’s research interests include the assessment and treatment of individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related behavior disorders. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island. 

Story by Mary Ellen Alu

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