By Anna Allen, '16
It is a common misconception that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is primarily a childhood illness. Individuals can continue to suffer from symptoms of ADHD long into adulthood, and it can impact their lives in significant ways.
Laura Knouse, assistant professor of psychology and a licensed clinical psychologist, and her student research assistants, Caroline Smith, '15, Lauren Oddo, '15, and Leah Doghramji, '15, wanted to develop further research and better understand the clinical needs of adults with ADHD. That effort led to the creation of the RVADHD Project over the summer.
The team began the project by posting fliers all over the city and advertising online in order to recruit a sample of people from the greater Richmond area. “One of the primary goals of the RVADHD Project was to get involved in the community,” says Smith. “As researchers, we are always trying to make our sample more generalizable and a better example of that actual piece of the population we’re trying to study.”
After reaching out to the community to recruit participants, the students conducted structured clinical interviews about ADHD symptoms and impairment — a responsibility often left to graduate students. “I closely supervised them, and they were just so creative and thoughtful about how to build this research program from the ground up,” says Knouse. “The rapport the students developed with the clients was remarkable.”
The study took about three hours, offering plenty of time for the students to get to know the participants. “It was interesting to see people who have such severe ADHD and what they think about themselves and what they’ve gone through because of it,” says Doghramji. “Most of the participants were taking part in the study because they wanted to know more about their ADHD and help with the research, so they could also help themselves.”
The students also discovered the value of working as a team. The team had to work together to not only strategize what they were going to do, but also how they were going to accomplish their goals. “Everybody was bouncing off ideas of each other, whether it was thoughts about background research we read, or ideas we came up with on our own,” says Oddo.
When they first began the project, the team sought out similar undergraduate research studies that could inform their work, but turned up empty. Rather than get discouraged, they took the opportunity to create their own research legacy. “Our work was fun for us, but it’s also helpful for people at our schools, because if we do publish our work, it could inspire someone at a different college and they could have something to base it off of,” says Doghramji.
And that is what the research process is all about. “Research is not this idea that some hypothesis is just handed down to you from someone else. Research is being inquisitive and taking the responsibility to answer those questions,” says Smith.
Knouse adds, “it’s a very liberal arts idea that research is a human activity embedded in a very specific interpersonal context. The beauty of research is that if you take enough of those individual, interpersonal contexts, you can draw bigger conclusions.”
At the end of November, the team will present their research at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, a conference where researchers in related fields come together and explore the work of their peers.
Inspired by their work on the RVADHD Project and the interpersonal aspects of the field, all three students plan to continue their work in psychology through post-baccalaureate programs, with clinical psychology and psychiatry as potential career paths.
“Many people think there is this big divide between researchers and healthcare providers, but ultimately the goal is the same — to help people,” says Smith. “Through our experience, we were able to see how the two fields were intertwined and how they function best when integrated.”