November 12th, 2010
05:19 PM ET
Tell students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to show up for an appointment to learn how to manage a calendar, and here's what's going to happen: They won't show up, they'll forget their calendar, or they won't follow through, says David Parker, a researcher at Wayne State University.
Instead, Parker and colleagues argue, college students with ADHD benefit from a more inclusive, personal model of learning how to manage their time and organize their lives.
These researchers found that college students got enormous benefits in scholastic life from a "coaching" model designed by the Edge Foundation, an organization that helps young people with ADHD reach their potential in their academic and personal lives. They presented their results Friday at an international ADHD conference sponsored by the non-profit organization Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, known as CHADD.
At eight universities and two community colleges, a total of 110 undergraduates participated in the study, which lasted from fall 2009 to spring 2010. They were randomly assigned to either the coaching program or the "comparison" group, which did not receive this intervention. Everyone in the study had the same access to the other services that their universities offered.
The coaching in the study targeted eight central areas of students' lives: scheduling, goal setting, confidence building, organizing, focusing, prioritizing, and persisting at tasks. Students engaged in weekly 30-minute phone calls with their coaches - in some cases, in person or via Skype when available - in addition to e-mail and text check-ins when needed. They had no more than two weeks off of the program during the study.
Coaches helped students plot a course for the goals that they set for themselves, Robert Tudisco, executive director of Edge Foundation, said.
One important limitation of the study is that researchers did not track which students were taking medication, or which students were receiving other kinds of therapy beyond coaching. That means that it's unknown whether medication or therapy contributed to the benefit seen in students in the Edge program.
Results will appear in the Journal of Postsecondary Education later this year, said researcher Sharon Field of Wayne State University.
Coaching made a significant difference in students' organization, time management skills, and their ability to assume control of things like studying, Field said. Students reported less stress and a greater sense of calm as a result of the coaching.
"Overwhelmingly we heard, from student after student, that coaching helps students to live what they considered more 'balanced' lives," she said.
Students took the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) test, which measures learning strategies and related skills, before and after the coaching program. Those in the coaching program gained more than 180 points on the second try, while the comparison group's gains were much more modest. Coached students especially made strides in the area of "self-regulation," which measures time-management and concentration.
Making such coaching accessible to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds is a priority going forward, Tudisco said. For the study, participants received coaching free of charge. Going forward, the Edge Foundation is working toward underwriting the cost of the program, which is normally $400 per month for unlimited access to the coach.
In a separate session of the conference, Michael Posner, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon and National Medal of Science recipient, discussed his research on novel ADHD treatments also. He studies the brain's networks of attention, and spoke about interventions that can help those networks. For example, computer-based exercises may help attention, as may meditation.
Joanna Fowler, another National Medal of Science recipient, looks at the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. She noted that drugs such as cocaine that people abuse raise dopamine levels in the reward center of the brain. Ritalin is similar. This work may lead to a greater understanding of ADHD and treatments as well.
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