Cognitive Information Processing Model and Students with LD/ADHD: Prescriptions for Intervention

By Rob Bahny and Abiola Dipeolu

Donna is a 20 year old female with a learning disability with accompanying ADHD who is very close to completing her associate degree. She is highly intelligent and consistently earns high marks but attended multiple colleges for only short stints until now. As the time drew near to transfer, she felt enormous pressure to make decisions about her future for which she was not prepared. She would second guess every decision to the point of inertia. Her feelings of stress, anxiety, and being overwhelmed were starting to take hold of her daily life. She felt that her learning disability especially, would cause her to be a failure no matter where she went.


Professionals who provide career development services to students with LD/ADHD understand that there exist a number barriers to making career decisions. This number is greater than the barriers exhibited by students without LD/ADHD. Typically, an examination of students’ strengths and weaknesses is considered a natural part of the career decision making process. This approach is however, limited when it comes to students whose weaknesses are profound enough to inhibit their ability to perform not only academically, but also in an employment setting. When it comes to this subset of student population, we have found the conceptual framework of the Cognitive Information Processing Model to be of considerable assistance to the career practitioner.


Cognitive Information Processing Model

Students with learning disabilities exhibit unique career needs that were not likely to have been addressed while the students were in high school (Hitchings, Luzzo, Ristow, Horvath, Retish & Tanners, 2001). One of the first steps to consider when counseling students with LD/ADHD is to identify the nature of the barriers, beginning with the obvious hindrances, including weak skills in the area of writing, reading, following directions, decision making and processing difficulties . Consideration should also be given to the not so obvious stumbling blocks to career decision making which include poor self image, low self efficacy, over parenting, and underexposure and/or lack of exposure to the world of work. With these less obvious obstacles, we have found the Cognitive Information Processing (CIP) model to be quite effective in helping to lay the groundwork for a successful career counseling process.


Students with LD/ADHD difficulties are naturally at a higher risk of experiencing negative career thoughts due to the difficulties often experienced in educational settings. Painter, Prevatt & Welles (2008) state that common symptomatology of ADHD would lead to negative or dysfunctional career beliefs. Research also tells us that career readiness and decision making abilities among students with LD/ADHD are lower when compared with their non-disabled peers. Bullock-Yowell, Peterson, Reardon, Leierer, and Reed (2011) noted that helping students alter negative career thoughts is essential to fostering positive career outcomes and should be addressed at the beginning of the career decision making process. Conquering these thoughts before reaching the more advanced stages of career development is essential to a successful outcome. The CIP approach with its accompanying Career Thoughts Inventory/ Workbook is quite effective at identifying inhibiting career thoughts so they can be addressed. In the authors’ experiences, the CTI can often confirm what is already suspected, though having some concrete results provides clarity to the problem for both the student and counselor.



CIP-Based Interventions

The CIP approach is effective with this student population because of the unique concepts that embody the model, including reasons noted below:

  1. The CIP provides a visual template, simplifying the often mysterious counseling process. The structure is clear enough for thought processing which both the counselor and student are able to follow simultaneously (Dipeolu, 2011). The accompanying diagrams and charts effectively illustrate for the client the essential framework of what will be happening in the counseling process. The client/student version of the Pyramid of Information Processing Domain and the illustration of the CASVE Cycle provide visual aid and diagrams which students can easily grasp. More importantly, the aids allow students to follow the process, and the counselor is able to retain students’ attention and interest (Dipeolu).


  1. LD/ADHD is sometimes associated with processing difficulties; therefore, the Cognitive Information Processing model seems a compatible theoretical framework for understanding related limitations and appropriate effective interventions.


  1. The accompanying Career Thoughts Inventory provides students with concrete examples of career difficulties he/she may be experiencing. The inventory is simple and easy to understand. Thus, most students with LD/ADHD are able to complete the inventory.


  1. The CIP materials are designed to be user friendly. Specifically, the accompanying workbook has been found to be quite appropriate for most LD/ADHD students (Gilbert, 1997).


  1. The CTI is useful for identification of non-functional career thoughts, hence early intervention plan can be put in place well before career difficulties becomes endemic and resistant to change.


Returning to the case of Donna, it was decided that before attempting any career interest inventories that she’d try the Career Thoughts Inventory. Her scores clearly indicated that Decision Making Confusion was her main stumbling block. Using the CTI was extremely helpful because she had previously been unable to separate her learning disability from her indecision. That she could now identify her challenges with a DMC label, allowed her to at least begin to wrap her head around the issue and understand how to address her challenges. Without the CTI, this would have been impossible for her. Lastly, using the CASVE cycle template to inform/educate Donna about decision making provided a focus to anchor the counseling process.


In conclusion, students with LD/ADHD bring to the career counseling process, unique difficulties that need to be acknowledged and addressed. The CIP model with its accompanying materials is well suited for use in career counseling and career decision making processes with this population.



Bullock-Yowell, E., Peterson, G., Reardon, R., Leierer, S., & Reed, C. (2011). Relationshipsamong career and life stress, negative career thoughts, and career decision state: A cognitive information processing perspective. The Career Development Quarterly. 59, 302-314.

Dipeolu, A. College students with ADHD : Prescriptive concepts for best practices in careerdevelopment, Journal of Career Development, 38, 408-427.

Hitchings, W.E., Luzzo, D.A., Ristow, R., Horvath, M., Retish, P., & Tanners, A. (2001). The career development needs of college students with learning disabilities: In their own words. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 16, 8-17.

Painter, C.A., Prevatt, F., Welles, T. (2008). Career beliefs and job satisfaction in adults withsymptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Employment Counseling.45, 178-188.


Rob BahnyRob Bahny is currently the Director of Transfer & Career Services and Landmark College in Vermont, the nation's leading college for students with Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders and ASD. He's worked at Landmark College for over nine years in roles including Transfer/Career Services, Admissions, Financial Aid and Parent Relations. He received his Master's Degree in Student Personnel Administration from Buffalo State College and his Bachelor's Degree in Sociology from Penn State.  


Abiola DipeoluDr. Abiola Dipeolu is an Assistant Professor, SUNY, University at Buffalo, and a licensed Psychologist with specialty areas in career development, transitions, and vocational psychology. Her research interests encompass career development of ethnic minorities and individuals with disabilities, including assessment and post-school transitions of students with learning disabilities, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorders, and asperger's. Dr. Dipeolu has presented her work in a number of countries, namely China, England, Canada, and throughout the USA. She was honored with the American Psychological Association State Leadership award, 2005 and 2007. She can be reached at adipeolu@buffalo.edu

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1 Comment

Bethe Jankelson   on Wednesday 11/07/2012 at 02:48 PM

Congratulations, Rob! This is great tool and provides employers with useful insights. Well done

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