College students with ADHD face a unique set of challenges — increased academic and social demands; diminished support; and an elevated risk for anxiety, stress, and mood disorders — that often lead to adverse outcomes.
Historically, colleges have seldom focused on services for students with ADHD — a trend that is changing given the increased interest in this group. Today, colleges are crafting ADHD-specific services, while researchers are continuing to uncover factors behind success in college for this population.
Focusing on College Students with ADHD
College students with ADHD represent a distinct and auspicious yet overlooked population. The assumption that this group, by virtue of its acceptance into higher education alone, needs no special support for managing ADHD symptoms has prevailed for far too long.
Given the unique factors that influence the college experience for students with ADHD — from academic and social challenges to treatment adherence — this population merits dedicated attention from clinicians, educators, families, and institutions of higher education themselves.
Improving outcomes for college students with ADHD requires a multi-pronged approach. Many colleges and universities across the U.S. do provide services of varying degrees, including recruitment into innovative programs that target specific areas of impairment with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD).
At the same time, a growing body of literature has sought to understand other factors — like increased parental involvement — that contribute to success in college for students with ADHD.
Students Diagnosed with ADHD
The population of college students with ADHD has increased substantially in the past 20 years — from roughly 2 percent of the student body to about 11.6 percent. In other words, roughly 1 in 9 college students today has an ADHD diagnosis.
ADHD in college is also associated with a range of challenges. According to clinical psychologist Arthur Anastopoulos, college freshmen with ADHD encounter a “perfect storm” of increased interpersonal and cognitive demands alongside decreased parental involvement and support, all with lingering executive function challenges and symptoms of inattention and impulsivity/hyperactivity.
Academic Challenges for Students with ADHD
Academic impairments: Less college readiness, lower GPA, fewer credits earned per semester, higher risk for discontinuous matriculation than among college peers without ADHD; lower rates of degree attainment than among peers without ADHD
Social Challenges for Students with ADHD
Comorbidities, including significant rates of anxiety and mood disorders
Higher levels of school disengagement and emotional difficulties than among peers without ADHD
What we know about ADHD in adolescence does not necessarily reflect the experience of many college students with ADHD, who likely performed better in high school and demonstrate higher ability levels than do their peers with ADHD who don’t attend college (one study found that college students with and without ADHD have relatively higher average IQs). They also experience different stressors than do same-age peers with ADHD who do not pursue college.
While college students with ADHD may benefit the most from on-campus resources and supports, data shows that these students use these services at alarmingly low rates. Less than a quarter of these students use disability services, and only about a third have used tutoring services.
In addition, adherence to ADHD medications in college is actually quite low, averaging roughly 50 percent. This means that a college student with ADHD takes their prescribed medication about once every two or three days. Medication adherence also follows a curvilinear pattern, where medication is taken at higher rates at the beginning and end of a semester.
For all these reasons, we must continue to investigate how to best support college students with ADHD.
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Schedule a consultation with NeuroHealth today and find out how we can help you.Tags: add, adhd, attention deficit, brain health, clinical research, executive function, health, mental health, parenting, self improvement