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Simple classroom measures may reduce the impact of ADHD on children

Posted on July 1st 2015

New research indicates that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be successfully supported in classrooms through strategies that do not involve drugs. A systematic review of research, led by the University of Exeter Medical School and supported by PenCLAHRC, has found that non-drug interventions in schools may be effective in improving outcomes, such as performance in standard tests, for children with ADHD.

Children with ADHD are typically restless, act without thinking and struggle to concentrate, which causes particular problems for them and for others in school. There are many different  ways of supporting these children, including training to increase particular skills (such as self-regulation or interacting with others), or increased intensity and planning of rewards and sanctions according to the child’s behaviour. Previous studies have reported on the use of lots of different strategies at the same time, with one particularly popular intervention being the use of daily report cards filled in by teachers and parents to give consistent and regular feedback.  

This new study, led by Professor Tamsin Ford from the University of Exeter Medical School with colleagues from Kings College London and the Hong Kong Institute for Education, has found that with so many different types of strategies, often combined and measured in different ways, it was that it was impossible to clearly identify a “gold standard” for teachers. The researchers have called for more standardised assessment to make future research outcomes more meaningful.

Professor Ford commented:

“There is strong evidence for the effectiveness of drugs for children with ADHD, but not all children can tolerate them or want to take them. ADHD can be disruptive to the learning of a child and in the classroom overall, but our study shows that effective psychological and behavioural management may make a significant improvement to children’s ability to cope with school. While this is encouraging, it’s not possible to give definitive guidance on what works because of variations between the strategies tested, and the design and analysis of the studies that we found. We now need more rigorous evaluation, with a focus on what works, for whom and in which contexts. Gaps in current research present opportunities to develop and test standardised interventions and research tools, and agree on gold standard outcome measure to provide answers to both schools and families.”

The research, published in the journal Health Technology Assessment, also found that studies of attitudes and experience suggest that differences in beliefs about ADHD can create tensions in relationships between teachers, pupils and parents that may be significant barriers to effective treatment. The review concluded that education around ADHD can break down preconceptions and stigma, and that classroom / school culture, as well as individualised support for children with ADHD, may make the support offered more or less effective.

You can read more about PenCLAHRC's involvement in this project via this link.

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