College is far more stressful for undergrads with ADHD than for their classmates, but it doesn’t have to defeat them.
New research finds that resilience seems to be an important buffer.
“The results offer hope to students because each of the resilience factors can be strengthened at any point in life either on one’s own or with the help of a counselor,” said study author Shelia Kennison, a professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University.
ADHD — short for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — is marked by difficulty concentrating, sitting still and/or controlling impulsive behaviors.
When Kennison’s team used standardized scales to measure ADHD symptoms, stress levels and resilience in 558 college students, they found that those who reported more symptoms also had more stress.
But four benchmarks of resilience — social support, social skills, the perception of one’s ability to reach a goal, and planning and prioritizing — made a big difference.
Resilient students had less stress than their ADHD symptoms would have otherwise predicted, the study showed.
Kennison said college students can take several steps to strengthen their resilience.
Spending more time with family and friends can increase social support, while starting conversations with people one doesn’t know well or joining in more group activities can boost social skills, she said.
Setting aside time to plan for the next week, month and beyond is a good way to improve planning and prioritizing, while setting realistic goals and tracking progress until they are met also helps, Kennison added.
The new research appears in the April issue of the Journal of College Counseling.
Margaret Sibley, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, reviewed the findings.
She noted that college is extremely hard for students with ADHD for a host of reasons. A big one is that many struggle with independent management of schoolwork.
“College academics draw heavily on self-regulated learning at a time when these skills may not yet be developed in individuals with ADHD,” said Sibley, who is also a board member of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
“In addition, individuals with ADHD are at risk for difficulties with independent living, difficulties maintaining healthy lifestyles, and social difficulties,” she added.
ADHD can be treated successfully with medication and/or behavioral therapy.
“If individuals feel that they are struggling with motivation problems, forgetfulness, organization difficulties, or time management, and these difficulties are significantly impacting their ability to succeed in school or at home, these treatments can be effective solutions,” Sibley said.
Building resilience is a long-term process, however.
It begins with identifying and cultivating a student’s strengths, developing competencies and skills in areas they enjoy, and learning from their mistakes, Sibley said.
Dr. Victor Fornari, vice chairman of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., also reviewed the findings.
“The importance of this study is to demonstrate that college students with ADHD who experience stress may benefit from strategies that focus on increasing factors that support resilience: social skills, social support as well as other educational strategies,” he said. “Supporting these factors may reduce student stress and enhance their resilience.”
Learn more about preparing your teen with ADHD for college at Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
SOURCES: Shelia Kennison, PhD, professor, psychology, Oklahoma State University, Tulsa; Victor Fornari, MD, vice chairman, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, N.Y.; Margaret Sibley, PhD, associate professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, and member, professional advisory board, CHADD; Journal of College Counseling, April 2021