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David Baxter

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Learning new ways to fight ADHD: U.Va. study trains parents, monitors kids and reports successes
December 27, 2006
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia

Stephanie Shelton said her son Brandon is more adept at making friends now, a huge leap for the 10-year-old who has been diagnosed with ADHD.

Shelton enrolled her son in a University of Virginia study designed to help children with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder become more socially skilled. More than half of children with the disorder have serious problems making friends.

"It was very helpful," Shelton said. "His teacher's comment on his last report card was that his friendship-making skills had improved tenfold."

"These are the kids who want to be first in lines. They're sore winners, sore losers. They can't follow social cues and they can't follow rules," said Amori Yee Mikami, an assistant professor of psychology at U.Va. and the principal investigator in the study. "Children with ADHD have more problems making friends than any other disorder."

Mikami started the study last year and enrolled 40 families with the mission of training parents to help their children.

The training is unique. Most treatments for ADHD children involve the use of medication and counseling designed to help improve attention span and to control impulses.

"We train parents to be coaches," Mikami said. "They help teach the child survival skills." Shelton said the clinic gave her the tools she needed to help her son. "I didn't really know how to handle a child with this problem. I was taught how to really listen to what he's saying instead of interjecting my own ideas."

Mikami's clinic, located in the basement of U.Va.'s Gilmer Hall, offers an eight-week program. Parents working in groups with a therapist are trained for 90 minutes every week in skills ranging from how to help their children play cooperatively to how to intervene in a positive way when problems occur.

Children also are monitored during three one-hour supervised playgroups to better understand their social skills.

"We ask the parents to give praise and constructive criticism," Mikami said. "We do role plays and focus on the positive as much as we can. These parents become more confident and more able to intervene to help fix behavior in a better way. We have seen that."

The role play involves the parent stepping into the role of the child to understand the world from the child's viewpoint, Mikami said.

"So far I'm encouraged," Mikami said. "Parents are reporting very, very large improvements."

But most important, surveys of teachers of the children -- who don't know the child is being treated -- are also reporting improvement in behavior. "That's very encouraging to me," Mikami said.

Mikami said she does not believe that parents of ADHD children are necessarily ineffective parents. "It's not that they're doing things badly, it's just that their children need more help and the parents need all the help they can get. They almost have to be super parents."

Shelton said just being in a group with parents with children who have ADHD was helpful.

"You find you're not alone. Sometimes you feel isolated in this. It's refreshing to have someone else know where you're coming from."

Mikami plans to continue the study. "More work needs to be done," she said. "We need more children to validate the research."
 

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