Lenard A Adler, MDGray et al. (2014), The Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS): utility in college students with attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder. PeerJ 2:e324; DOI 10.7717/peerj.324

There has been ongoing interest in the identification of ADHD in college students; many transitional adults will present with ADHD related symptoms and problems with the transition to post-secondary education and the related demands on attention and executive function. This investigation examined the utility of the World Health Organization (WHO) Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) in identifying college students at risk for ADHD.

135 college students (mean age 24 years) who were enrolled in disability service programs at their respective institutions were surveyed; all students had received a prior diagnosis of ADHD and were asked to complete all scales as if they were not on ADHD medication (59% of the students were on medication at the time of the evaluation). Students first completed the six item ASRS screener by telephone and then, several weeks later, the completed a paper version of the 18 item ASRS symptom checklist. A collateral version “other-report” of the 18 item ASRS symptom checklist, and a self-report measure of executive function (BDEFS), were also collected.

There was a modest correlation of the other-report and self-report of ASRS symptoms (r(59) = .46, p < .001) and other-report scores were significantly lower than self-report scores (F(1,57) = 8.92, p = .004). There was a moderately high correlation of student self-report of symptoms on the ASRS Screener (telephonic) and the identical six items when completed on the 18 item ASRS Symptom Checklist several weeks later (r (131) = .66, p < .001), indicating some stability of self-report of ADHD symptoms. There were moderate correlations between the total score on the ASRS screener and total executive function (BDEFS summary) scores (r (129) = .40, p < .001); correlations between total scores on 18 item ASRS symptom checklist and summary score on BDEFs were higher than seen with the screener (r (131) = .62, p < .001), indicating that a total symptom inventory of ADHD symptoms better correlates with executive function than the screening subset (which is not surprising). This study has several limitations including: 1) the subjects being asked to complete scales in the hypothetical sense of when they were not on medication (and with 3/5 students being treated for ADHD), creating the possibility of reporter bias, and 2) the study utilized a non-validated version of the other report version of the ASRS symptom checklist which was not sanctioned by WHO.

The study does highlight the utility of the ASRS symptom checklist as a self-report measure in college students; this instrument carries the advantages of being easy to use and being in the public domain. It also indicates that gathering collateral information can be helpful, but as seen in other reports, collateral reports of symptoms are often lower than self and clinician symptom scores as the informant only sees the patient for a portion of their day (home vs. work vs. social).

Lenard A. Adler, MD

About Lenard A. Adler, MD

Dr. Adler is Professor, Department of Psychiatry, and Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as the Director of the Adult ADHD Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, New York. He is a member of APSARD, the American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders, and is on the Advisory Board of ADHD in Adults.com