November 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Psychology Students Present Academic Strengths and Weaknesses for Male and Female Adolescents With ADHD

Several Ohio University Psychology students presented a poster on “Academic Strengths and Weaknesses for Male and Female Adolescents With ADHD: Multiple Factors Leading to Equifinality in Grades” at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies annual convention Nov. 20-23 in Philadelphia.

Shannon Arnett and Hannah Craig are recent graduates of Ohio University who majored in psychology. Graduate students Steve Marshall and Clifton Mixon were co-authors, along with Dr. Steven Evans, who is Professor and Assistant Chair for Graduate Studies in Psychology.

Abstract: Research consistently demonstrates that boys exhibit more ADHD symptomatology than girls (Arnold et al., 1996). Little is known about whether males and females with ADHD differ in academic performance, especially in early adolescence. Complicating these questions, in the general population gender-specific impairment may vary by academic subject, as boys score higher in math whereas girls excel in language arts (NAEP, 2011). The aim of the current study is to examine the relative strengths and weakness for males and females with ADHD using measures of academically-enabling factors (classroom and interpersonal performance, core academic skills, self-efficacy, ADHD severity, and level of impairment) and to determine whether outcomes differ (i.e., end-of-year grades). Ultimately, we sought to determine whether gender-sensitive academic interventions may be needed for adolescents with ADHD.

Participants for this study were 323 adolescents (ages 10-14, 72% male) who were included in a RCT of a school-based intervention for ADHD. Measures were collected in math and language arts classes and included teacher ratings of academic and social skills on the Classroom Performance Survey (CPS; Brady et al., 2013) and academic impairment on the Impairment Rating Scale (IRS; Fabiano et al., 2006). Grade reports, WIAT-III scores, and ratings of self-efficacy were also analyzed.

With respect to the academically-enabling factors, teachers rated boys as displaying greater ADHD severity than girls in both language arts and math classes (p=.004 for LA; p=.001 for Math). Teachers also rated boys as having poorer academic and social performance in both subjects (CPS academic factor: p=.03 for LA, p= .002 for math; CPS social factor: p= .01 for LA, p=.05 for math) and greater ADHD-related impairment (IRS) in math (p= .019) but not language arts. Despite higher teacher-rated symptoms and impairment for males in 7 of 8 analyses, females showed more impairment in math skills on the WIAT-III (p= .05), and marginally poorer reading (p=.08) but not writing skills. In terms of scholastic self-efficacy, females had lower confidence than boys in their academic abilities (p=.003). These results portray gender-specific patterns in academic-enabling factors; however, end-of-year grade reports showed no gender differences.

Our results suggest that male and female adolescents with ADHD receive similar grades in school regardless of the subject. However, there are indications that there are group gender trends for relative strengths and weakness in factors that likely contribute to outcomes. For boys, interventions may need to focus more on reducing ADHD symptoms and improving academic habits (e.g., bringing materials to class, completing homework, interacting effectively with teachers). For girls, interventions may be more effective if they focus more on core academic skill deficits and improving self-efficacy in relation to academics. This is not to say that separate interventions should be developed for each gender or that every person of a particular gender evinces the same pattern of impairment. Rather, treatment plans should be based on assessments that are sensitive to factors that vary by gender. It may be worthwhile to develop and test treatment modifications that address some of these gender-specific trends.

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