Researchers in a new program at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education are seeking ways to unlock the potential of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“The end goal is we’re trying to look at ADHD from a positive youth development perspective,” said research professor Michael Kofler.
He added, “What we want to know is, what are the strengths? How can we build capabilities in kids with ADHD?’”
“Behavioral management training” frequently ends up looking a lot like regular parenting, but much more regimented," Kofler said. Timeouts, reports from teachers and rewards all can factor in to the program, the researchers recommend.
UVa researchers want to know why certain techniques work so much better with some children than with others, Kofler said.
“The ultimate goal is, ‘How can we make these behavioral therapies more effective for more families?'” Kofler said.
The Galant family gave $340,000 to establish and fund the Children’s Learning Clinic at Curry. Cindy Galant is on the Curry School board. Her husband, Mark, and son Tyler have been diagnosed as having ADHD.
“Our initial impression of the Curry School was that it was cutting edge, seeking new and unconventional ways of addressing challenges in education,” Cindy Galant said in a news release. “Our ongoing involvement with Curry has confirmed that impression. And the ADHD research fits in perfectly with that approach.”
The researchers start with a thorough examination, including having children wear wristwatch-like devices to measure how much they move while they perform different mental tasks. Researchers will screen participants to check whether they actually have the disorder.
ADHD covers children who struggle to sustain their attention, are hyperactive or impulsive or show a combination of symptoms.
Kofler said researchers frequently find children misdiagnosed. Everything from anxiety and autism spectrum to sleep disorders have been mistaken for ADHD, Kofler said.
“If they have attention problems, we want to see them,” he said.
Children with problems other than ADHD will be referred to appropriate care.
Hyperactivity is generally considered a negative, but Kofler said researchers believe the activity level “is actually purposeful.” Movement is linked to thought, he said. For example, he encourages teachers not to chide children for fidgeting in their seats unless it’s disruptive to the rest of the class.
“It helps us pay attention; it helps us think; it helps us maintain our focus,” Kofler said.
Anyone interested in having a child between the ages of 8 to 12 participate may contact the Sheila C. Johnson Center at 924-7034 for additional information or visit http://curry.virginia.edu/research/labs/childrens-learning-clinic.