Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Diana Ohanian

Training Track: Clinical
Lab: CHATS Lab  
Advisor: Grayson Holmbeck, Ph.D. 
Office: Coffey Hall 345


Interests: Psychosocial adjustment of youth with chronic illnesses, chronic pain management, cultural differences in management of chronic illnesses, identity formation for youth with chronic illnesses, neuropsychological assessment in pediatric populations

Masters Thesis Title

Pain and Academic Performance in Youth with Spina Bifida: The Mediating Role of Neuropsychological Functioning

Masters Thesis Abstract

Objective: The current literature has identified few modifiable condition parameters associated with academic performance in youth with spina bifida (SB). Nevertheless, youth with SB are more likely to struggle academically than their typically developing (TD) peers. Therefore, identifying areas for clinical intervention is paramount. Pain, an understudied secondary condition in youth with SB, has been found to be associated with poorer academic performance in TD youth. Further, neuropsychological functioning has been found to be both negatively associated with pain and positively associated with academic outcomes. The aims of this study were to examine (1) the relationship between pain and academic functioning in youth with SB and (2) neuropsychological mechanisms that may explain the potential relationship between pain symptoms and academic performance. These aims were examined cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Methods: Participants were recruited as part of a larger ongoing longitudinal study (Devine et al., 2012). The current study included parent and teacher report of attention, executive functioning (working memory, cognitive flexibility, inhibition), and academic competence, as well as teacher report of academic motivation and academic record. Moreover, this study included neuropsychological performance measures given to youth to examine working memory, attention, and academic achievement. Finally, this study used child self-report of three pain symptoms (frequency, intensity, duration). Analyses controlled for SES, age, and illness severity. Results: no significant associations were found between pain and academic constructs as well as pain and neuropsychological functioning, cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Attention and working memory were both found to be strongly associated with all academic outcomes. Inhibition was only significantly associated with academic motivation and cognitive flexibility was not found to be associated with any academic outcomes. Conclusions: Pain does not appear to be significantly associated with academic outcomes for youth with SB. Working memory and attention are strongly associated with academic outcomes over time. Results have clinical implications for developing a clinical intervention for academic success in this population.

Masters Thesis Committee

Grayson Holmbeck, PhD; Patricia Rupert, PhD