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Study Highlights Misperceptions about ADHD in College Students

Posted: July 16, 2007
A recent study warns parents of college-bound students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to be prepared for difficulties when adjusting to life in higher education, suppressing the notion that symptoms of the disorder disappear in adulthood.

Buffalo State College graduate Kate Norwalk and psychology professor Jill M. Norvilitis, Ph.D., conducted research on the subject of ADHD and how it can persist in college. College students with ADHD may not anticipate their academic difficulties because of the misconception that symptoms of the disorder fade away later in life.

"College students with ADHD can be in for a rude awakening when they arrive on a college campus," Norwalk said. "They can be blind-sided by the effects of the disorder, which can quickly lead to low self-esteem and in some cases dropping out."

The study found a negative correlation between ADHD symptomatology and college students' study skills and career decision making self-efficacy (CDMSE), which is the ability to feel confident about making career choices.
Norvilitis, a faculty member at Buffalo State since 1997, estimates between 3-7 percent of children have been diagnosed with ADHD, while 3-5 percent of college students are believed to have been diagnosed. She added that these figures are not indicative of the high number of ADHD cases that go unreported due to parents and children ignoring warning signs.

ADHD, the most commonly identified disorder in childhood, is a neurobehavioral disorder that is marked by pervasive inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, resulting in significant functional impairment. Symptoms can include impatience, failure to complete tasks, procrastination, unorganized work habits and forgetfulness.

Norvilitis advises parents that detecting symptoms of ADHD will be difficult when children are away at college. She encourages parents to maintain consistent contact and be very specific in the questions they ask. Otherwise, they will get the usual "everything is great" response, which is common with ADHD students as they tend to be over optimistic in their self assessment. Norvilitis suggests probing around these topics, which are indicators of poor study habits:

-Does your son or daughter cram? Procrastination is a common symptom.
-Are they asking questions in class? If not, your child may have trouble paying attention in class.
-Does your child follow a specific study schedule?
-Do they watch television or listen to music while they study?
-Do teachers know their name?

If a college student is diagnosed with ADHD, it is not the end of their college career, Norvilitis added. There is a wide array of support services available, but the first step is to register with the college's disability services department.

"Students will find professionals in these departments who are trained to assist and prepare them for the challenges they will encounter," Norvilitis said.

For those families still in the college selection process, Norvilitis said schools that feature smaller class sizes, are closer to home and provide comprehensive support services give students with ADHD an even better chance to succeed.
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