Ossining High School senior John Sukumar received a Rising Scientist Award last month from the Child Mind Institute and the City University of New York for his research on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The Child Mind Institute and the CUNY Graduate Center’s Advanced Science Research Center recognize students who show exceptional promise in the fields of child and adolescent mental health and/or pediatric neuroscience. John is one of five high school students in the New York metropolitan area to receive the award this year. The honor includes a $2,000 college scholarship.
The awards were given out at the Child Mind Institute’s “On the Shoulders of Giants” symposium October 18.
“Each recipient of the Rising Scientist Award shows drive, commitment and vision for the future of mental health and neuroscience,” said Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the Child Mind Institute’s co-founder and president.
Sukumar’s research was on the ability of some people with ADHD to “hyperfocus” on a topic or activity without getting distracted. It is more common for people with ADHD to have trouble focusing on topics for long periods. Because hyperfocus runs counter to the typical symptoms, it is poorly understood and often underrepresented, he said.
Sukumar was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in 10th grade, and he has the ability to hyperfocus. He decided to look into this topic when he began OHS’ Science Research Program.
He found that while anecdotally, a sense of urgency and a challenging task are commonly observed factors in inducing hyperfocus, there was no research to back this up. He conducted his own research and recruited volunteers. He used the Stroop Effect Test, in which names of colors are printed in colors that don’t match the name – for example, blue could be printed in brown text.
Based on previous research, Sukumar anticipated that the brain would rev up as the test became more challenging, and people who can hyperfocus would perform better than people without the ability.
His results, however, were a little inconsistent and didn’t turn out exactly as he had expected. But the scores showed that hyperfocusing strongly correlates with ADHD, he said.
Outside of academics, Sukumar is on the cross-country, winter and spring track teams. “I like being in shape. You’re using your whole body,” he said. “I find that especially when I’m running, my hyperfocus is automatically there.”
Like his older sister, Claire, Sukumar was homeschooled until ninth grade. While the initial transition to OHS was challenging, homeschooling gave him the chance to pursue things he was interested in on his own time.
“I think that’s helped me, especially with my research program, be able to think creatively and break through barriers,” he said.