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ADHD in Children Health Center

Can Parents Be Taught to Improve Symptoms of ADHD?

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April 12, 2001 -- While symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are seen in children as young as 3 years old, many parents and doctors are reluctant to turn to Ritalin as a treatment. A new study finds that when mothers are coached to learn some alternative parenting techniques, children behave better. Mom's sanity also seems to fare better.

So-called "parent training" classes produced a significant effect on ADHD symptoms -- and on mothers' emotional well-being. "Structured parent training delivered by healthcare professionals can provide an effective vehicle for treating ADHD in this age group," writes Edmund J.S. Sonuga-Barke, PhD, a researcher with the Centre for Research into Psychological Development at the University of Southampton, England. He is the author of a paper appearing in this month's Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

If you have questions about ADHD, WebMD has several chat boards to discuss the condition. Go to NewlyDiagnosed, or to the board moderated by Richard Sogn, MD.

In their study, Sonuga-Barke and colleagues enrolled 78 3-year-old children -- all boys -- who, based on information provided by their mothers, had shown symptoms of ADHD in a variety of situations including home, with friends, and in public, over the previous six-month period.

Children were assigned either to a parent-training or parent-counseling-and-support group, or were placed on a waiting list. This served as the comparison group. Treatments consisted of a structured eight-week program involving eight one-hour weekly visits to the mother's home, made by a specially trained therapist.

In the parent-training group, mothers were given background information on ADHD. They were taught a wide range of behavioral strategies to use with their children, to reduce defiant and difficult behavior. These included strategies on how to reward and reinforce good behavior, and ignore bad behavior. In most sessions, therapists worked with both mother and child.

In the parent-counseling-and-support group, mothers received no training in behavioral strategies. They were, however, provided a nonthreatening environment where they could discuss their concerns: their feelings about their child as well as the impact the child had on the family.

The group on the waiting list received no clinical services.

After the parent-training group, the researchers found a significant effect on both ADHD symptoms and mother's mental health. A full 53% of the parent-training group children were "recovered"; 38% of the parent-counseling-and-support group, and 25% of the waiting-list children also met the criteria for recovery. Mothers in the parent-training group also fared better in terms of emotional health, say the authors.

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