Does Coaching Help College Students with ADHD?

Posted by | Mar 18, 2012

by Roy Michael Stefanik DO

Dr. David Rabiner of Duke University puts out frequent email updates regarding ADHD and its treatment. His most recent update addresses the question of whether coaching can be helpful for college students with ADHD.

Many students with ADHD struggle to be successful in college. The college day is quite unstructured compared to that of high school – students may have only 1 or 2 classes a day, with lots of “free time” in between. There are more long-range assignments, and no study halls or hovering parents making sure students are on track As a result, students with ADHD must rely more on their own abilities to regulate their behavior over time in pursuit of important goals, and they frequently have greater difficulty than their peers engaging consistently in such self-regulated behavior.

Interventions that focus on developing and enhancing important self-regulation skills – as well as other important executive functions – may be especially helpful for college students with ADHD. One intervention that focuses directly on this is ADHD Coaching. Coaches help individuals with ADHD by providing them with a clear understanding of the nature of ADHD and how it affects their lives.

This was addressed in a study recently published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders [Parker et. al., (2011)]. Coaches focused on seven major areas when working with students: scheduling, goal setting, confidence building, organization, focusing, prioritizing, and persisting at tasks. These areas were selected to directly address the problems in executive functioning that many students with ADHD experience.

Coaches and students engaged in weekly 30-minute phone calls during which coaches routinely asked students about their academic goals as well as their physical and emotional well-being. In addition to the weekly phone sessions, coaches communicated with students frequently via text, email, and shorter calls. Frequent communication also enabled coaches to track students’ pursuit of their goals/plans with greater frequency and to intervene earlier when students were falling off. Multiple benefits were reported:

1. Coaching help them to work towards their goals more productively. They felt better able to manage multiple deadlines using the structures their coach helped them to create and follow. They felt that coaches helped them develop better organizational strategies and more realistic academic goals.

2. Perhaps most importantly, students reported greater feelings of well-being and increased confidence about their future success.

Results from this study indicate that college students with ADHD experienced coaching to be helpful. This was true even though differences in students’ GPA were not found.