What’s the best way to help a child cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? New study findings confirm that kids do better with a collaborative approach to ADHD that includes parents throughout diagnosis and treatment.
The study, which will be published in the April 2015 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), took a look at 156 children between the ages of 6 and 12 who were being evaluated for ADHD.
ADHD is diagnosed once a specialist makes a thorough assessment of a child’s behavior. It’s a complex process: Parents, teachers and other adults who interact with the child on a regular basis offer detailed observations by completing questionnaires and checklists.
“There is no blood test to tell if a child has ADHD or not,” says developmental pediatrician Robin K. Blitz, MD, of Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
When responses to questionnaires are carefully reviewed with parents, physicians often gain insights into what is causing impairments that prevent a child from functioning at the best of his or her ability.
“Our job is to look at a child who may have difficulty within the context of the whole family because that’s their world,” says Blitz.
Once a child is diagnosed, understanding the complexities of the home atmosphere, discussing parent attitudes toward medication and even delving into the health histories of the parents fold into creating a solid plan for care.
“You have to know where the parents are coming from to provide effective treatment,” says Blitz, a member of the AAP’s Arizona Chapter (AzAAP). She adds that parents themselves may have a history of behavioral disorders or metal health problems that need to be addressed. Often, kids with ADHD have parents with ADHD.
“We may tell parents that they need to put in more structure and more discipline. That may be impossible for them,” says Blitz. “If we can’t help them get treatment, they can’t be effective parents.”
When parents reduced the inclination to threaten or force children to change behaviors—so-called “coercive parenting skills”—scores improved, according to the study.
ADHD affects eight to 12 percent of school-age children nationwide, according to the AAP, though far more children show symptoms without meeting the full diagnostic criteria. Only 30 to 50 percent of kids who have ADHD have only ADHD, says Blitz. The rest have other challenges, too.
Collaborating with educators, setting up behavior-management techniques at home and pursuing testing for other disabilities requires an enormous amount of time, effort and commitment from parents who also have responsibilities for other children, work and home.
“Speaking as a parent of two kids with ADHD, it’s a lot of work!” says Blitz.
Study authors found that when a collaborative approach was taken, children with an ADHD diagnosis experienced significant improvement in social skills and common indicators of ADHD, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, opposition and refusal.