Children with ADHD often are given medication such as Ritalin to control the inattention, hyperactivity and poor behavior that characterizes the disorder. A Lehigh University research team will introduce alternative strategies with the goal of reducing the use of medication and preventing more serious problems among children 3- to 5-years-old.
Lehigh has received a nearly $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a study designed to improve the behavioral, social and educational outcomes of young children at risk for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The grant is a collaborative effort with Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH).
Prof. George DuPaul, coordinator of Lehigh's school psychology program, Associate Prof. Lee Kern of Lehigh's special education program, and John VanBrakle, M.D., chairperson of LVH's department of pediatrics, will head the research team exploring intervention as an early strategy to reduce problems associated with ADHD.
The initiative - called Project ACHIEVE - will be coordinated by Suzanne Irvine, an associate research scientist in Lehigh's College of Education. The project will include the work of graduate students in Lehigh's school psychology, special education, and counseling psychology programs, as well as Dr. Mary Pipan, a developmental pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"What we're trying to do, with early intervention, is prevent some of the behavioral problems that these children might otherwise take into elementary school, as well as improve their learning skills," DuPaul says. "Ultimately, we hope early-intervention will prove to be more cost-effective in treating ADHD, since fewer children will need special education and other services in order to succeed in the classroom."
A total of 200 children will be referred to the project from families in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas. There will be two study groups. Each study group will have 50 children during the first year of the study. Another 50 children will be placed in each group during the second year.
Children in the "multi-setting early intervention group" will receive a specially developed program at home and in preschool. The program will be highly individualized and assessment-based, and will include the use of positive supports to influence behavior. The researchers will modify the environment of homes and schools, such as altering tasks and activities in classrooms, in an effort to improve behavior. The research team will consult with parents and preschool teachers to help implement the program.
For comparison purposes, children in the "community intervention group" will receive services typically available in their communities. In addition, intensive teaching sessions will be provided to parents on a variety of topics related to child rearing and issues related to ADHD.
"The goal of the project is to determine the type of services that are most helpful to at-risk children over the long term," Kern says. The researchers will track the progress of the children throughout the five years of the study, which begins this year. The researchers hope to continue monitoring members of the study group as they continue through elementary school and enter middle school.