GREENSBORO — UNC-Greensboro professor Arthur Anastopoulos says he thinks he has come up with a way to help students with ADHD do better in college.
Now Anastopoulos wants to see if it works.
UNCG announced late last month that Anastopoulos, a professor of human development and family studies, will share a $3.2 million federal grant to study a program developed at the university. That program, known as ACCESS, is designed to help college students understand and manage their disorder in conjunction with medication and other therapies.
“We like to think of it as treatment that provides an extra layer of support to a college student so they have a more comprehensive treatment plan in place,” said Anastopoulos, who directs the ADHD Clinic at UNCG.
ADHD — short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder— is a common childhood disorder that can persist into adulthood. People with ADHD have trouble staying focused and regulating their behavior.
Only about 20 percent of high school students with ADHD go on to college and only about 25 percent of those earn a degree.
The reason? According to Anastopoulos, many college students with ADHD don’t fully understand their disorder and aren’t able to cope easily in a demanding college environment. Slightly more than half of those with ADHD also suffer from depression, anxiety or another learning disorder.
Moreover, he added, teenagers who go off to college lose many of the support systems they had while they were growing up.
“That’s a big worry for a parent,” Anastopoulos said. “Dropping (their children) off at college is a bit scary.”
ADHD can manifest itself as poor note-taking, trouble concentrating in class or during exams, missed assignments and missed classes.
That often translates into lower grades and a higher probability of changing majors.
Many college students with ADHD take longer to finish college — if they finish at all.
“There are only so many times you can lose your books or come to class at the wrong time or on the wrong day or in the wrong building,” Anastopoulos said.
Anastopoulos has worked with children with ADHD throughout his professional career and has directed the ADHD Clinic at UNCG since 1996.
In 2011, Anastopoulos was part of a UNCG team that shared a $3 million grant with researchers at two other North Carolina universities, Appalachian State and East Carolina. The grant for the College STAR program — Supporting Transition, Access and Retention— paid for researchers to work with college students with learning difficulties.
The UNCG team chose to focus on students with ADHD. They came up with a program called ACCESS — Accessing Campus Connections and Empowering Student Success.
For eight weeks, students took part in group therapy and one-on-one mentoring sessions. They learned how ADHD affects them and they got organizational, time-management and thinking skills that help them manage the disorder.
In the following semester, students went to similar group and individual therapy sessions, but less often.
“We didn’t just want to focus on the academics,” Anastopoulos said. “It’s a much bigger story than that.”
The next year, Anastopoulos and researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania won a grant of nearly $3 million from the National Institutes of Health to better understand the college experience of students with ADHD. Researchers at the three universities are tracking about 450 students.
The new grant, $3.2 million over four years, comes from the U.S. Department of Education. Anastopoulos will work with Joshua Langberg, an associate professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.
The two researchers will recruit 24 freshmen per semester at their campuses. Half of those students will jump right into the ACCESS program this fall. Half won’t start with ACCESS until their second year in college. All students in the program can continue to take medication and seek disability services from the university while they’re in ACCESS.
The research grant will pay staff salaries and let each school hire three graduate students apiece.
College students who take part in the program will get a free ADHD evaluation — those tests normally cost several hundred dollars each, Anastopoulos said — as well as up to $200 for doing tests and surveys while they’re in the program.
Anastopoulos says early results from the ACCESS program appear promising, but he wants to study more students and collect more data over a longer period. He hopes that the new research — UNCG says it’s the first large controlled study of college students with ADHD that doesn’t involve medication — could point the way to something that could help these students thrive.
“We have an opportunity to help a competent college student be successful,” he said. “We know there’s a path that leads to successful adult outcomes. We know there’s a path that leads to negative adult outcomes.
“We have a chance to jump in and affect that trajectory.”
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.