George DuPaul, professor and associate dean of research in the College of Education, published his most recent study last month. He is the first to study the long-term effects ADHD has on a student’s academic performance through research. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

George DuPaul publishes research on long-term effects of ADHD on academic performance

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George DuPaul, professor and associate dean of research in the College of Education, published his most recent study regarding ADHD last month.

DuPaul’s research, which was published on Feb. 2, is the first to study the long-term effects ADHD has on a student’s academic performance.

Examining 201 college students with ADHD–97 of whom were on medication and 104 who were not–and 205 college students without ADHD, over a period of four years, DuPaul and his colleagues found that students with ADHD performed worse academically than their peers without. 

DuPaul said this is only exacerbated by factors such as race, sex and symptoms of other mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. 

DuPaul said his interest in studying ADHD within students first began when he was in graduate school and worked as a school psychologist. For many years his work primarily focused on students K-12, but this has changed since he began teaching at Lehigh. 

As he started to note the growing prevalence of ADHD on college campuses, he became interested in researching what was then widely understudied. 

DuPaul and his colleagues’ research found that students with ADHD receive lower grades and students’ academic performances did not fluctuate throughout the four years of the study. DuPaul said they also found that medication did not have a significant effect, while receiving academic support was at least correlated with higher GPAs. 

Despite this, less than half of the students in the study were receiving support services, DuPaul said. 

“And, why is that?” DuPaul said. “Are they not aware that they can get support? Is there stigma around getting support that drives them away from that?”

His advice to students who are hesitant to receive help is to be their own advocate and seek services they need. 

Maria Zullo, assistant dean for Disability Support Services, said she believes many students do not seek support because of stigma, which makes it difficult to ask for help, especially within an unfamiliar environment. 

“We know national data indicates that students with disabilities are going to university, to college, attending post-secondary institutions at higher rates than ever before, and, at the same time, we also know that they are not seeking services at the same rate,” Zullo said. “So, when you talk about stigma, we know that things like stigma, ableism, and academic ableism, really impact, in some cases, a students’ willingness to disclose that they have a disability.”

Disability Support Services offers a number of resources, including academic coaching. Up to 60 students receive academic coaching. Zullo said these students have higher GPAs on average than those who do not utilize the service.

Max, ‘24, who asked to remain anonymous, said the accommodations he has received from Disability Support Services have allowed him to succeed academically.

“It certainly helped me to focus at my most optimal level,” Max said. “I’d say it really helps me be able to perform the best I can in the classroom setting and with exams, because it is hard to focus and do things without the accommodations or extra time.”

While he agrees there is stigma surrounding ADHD, Max also said ADHD can be a superpower, as it allows him to think outside of the box. 

Zullo said she hopes the office makes students feel welcome at Lehigh’s campus and feel confident in seeking the same opportunities as their nondisabled peers. 

“We really work hard to make sure that students feel comfortable with our office, to make sure that disability is something that is not hidden away, but again just a facet of identity and a type of diversity that is celebrated,” Zullo said. 

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