ADHD – Coaching and College 

Ron Bashian, M.D. ,

We live in a special time for ADHD Coaching, a time of “intersectionality” as coaching, psychology, and educational literature are converging to establish new perspectives and understanding of ADHD.

Our papers and dialogues now consider the contributing role to ADHD of established constructs such as self-awareness, self-concept, and self-management. Each of these is an established search term and appearing in increasing frequency. Each such term appears several times in the article reviewed below, which focuses on coaching and college success.

Self-determination and executive functions, appearing numerous times in this article, are key parameters on which these authors focus. As these authors state, research has shown executive functions and self-determination to be “two processes that can minimize the academic, social, and emotional barriers in college settings.”

Self-determination considerations emerged from the 70’s, when the value of intrinsic motivation began to be seriously studied. Building on these early studies, Ryan and Deci established, empirically, their pivotal Self-Determination Theory. It posits three key psychological needs which motivate individuals, needs which are thought to be both universal and innate. Those needs are for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

An addendum, after the journal article review, provides two links to resources on self-determination.


Coaching and College Success – the study

Richman EL et al, Journal of Postsecondary Education 27 (1), 33-52, 2014.

This study continues an array of important studies coming out of the University of North Carolina’s Learning Center. Its authors methodically assessed the benefits of coaching to students who had ADHD and/or Learning Disabilities (LD). Their two coaches were certified by lengthy training in the Coaches Training Institute. Their object – common to coaching – was to assist students in setting specific measurable goals, and action plans, with accountability, to achieve these goals. Coaches did not provide solutions. Instead, they helped students by using broad based questions to encourage student reflection. Each student attended 6-12 weekly coaching sessions (in person or by phone).

The methods of evaluation chosen by these authors were previously existing and validated instruments, used in other research studies which reflect theoretical underpinnings of the key determinants studied. These instruments were: The Self-Determination Student Scales (S-DSS, 2004, Hoffman et al); the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function –Adults, (BRIEF-A, Roth et al, 2005); and the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI, Weinstein and Palmer, 2002). At the end of the coaching program, a qualitative interview was held with each student.

Student responses in those interviews were encouraging and heart-warming. Comments- “helping my self-esteem…helps me have management goals….gained confidence…communicated better…my setting up of a more aggressive accountability plan…removed the guilt…replacing those thoughts with positive self-talk” – are, literally, music to our ears.

Specifically, students describe six particular ways in which coaching helped them improve skills which enhanced academic success. Josh, a post-baccalaureat student spoke of how coaching helped him problem solve more effectively, and how to better problem-solve mood-management. Heather spoke of how coaching helped her become more aware of, and deal better with, procrastination.

Not statistically significant, although methodically conducted, such small studies encourage coaches – as we strive to effect one-on-one benefits when we coach students, particularly postsecondary students. This article adds to both the momentum and future hope of how our coaching can positively affect young student lives.


Addendum: Self-Determination

Paul Tough, an established and respected writer on education, has written of the application of self-determination theory principles in the classroom. (Atlantic Monthly, June, 2016 , ). Early results in targeted classrooms are highly encouraging, as discussed in this article and his new book (Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why (May, 2016).

It is also relevant to coaching practice that the S-DSS scale of Hoffman is commercially available, at very reasonable cost, in an inexpensive online form ( , with user’s manual).

I took this test, as a simulated 19 year old with ADHD, and found its written report to correctly identify and comment on areas of strengths and relative weaknesses.

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