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ADHD Preschool Children Likely to Improve with Behavioral Therapy

Sep 7, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Preschoolers with Severe ADHD are often Helped More by Behavioral Therapies than Drug Intervetion

Preschoolers with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often helped more by behavioral therapies than drug intervention.   A five year study at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University has found promising evidence that behavior-only therapies could be the best way to help the youngest sufferers of ADHD.

Estimates of the number of preschoolers thought to have ADHD stand somewhere between three and five-percent.  Exact figures are hard to determine because so much of what is considered “ADHD behavior” is also quite normal for some preschoolers.  But if a young child’s behavioral issues are so severe that they often injure themselves, or are asked to leave preschool, there is the possibility that he or she suffers from ADHD.  

ADHD drugs, like Ritalin are not formally approved for use in children so young.   Though they are sometimes used in preschoolers, these drugs have serious side effects, and are known to slow growth.  A small study conducted by the University of Texas and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center also found a link between Ritalin and increased risk of cancer. While this research only involved 12 children, those taking Ritalin all experienced a significant increase in the chromosomal abnormalities associated with an a higher chance of developing cancer.  Other known side effects of Ritalin include loss of appetite, abdominal pain, sleep problems and headaches.  Considering all of this, it is easy to understand why some researchers are working to come up with non-drug ADHD therapies.

Lehigh University's Study, which was Paid for by the National Institutes of Health, Treated 135 Preschoolers with ADHD

Lehigh University’s study, which was paid for by the National Institutes of Health, treated 135 preschoolers with ADHD with a variety of behavior-only therapies.  After a year, researchers found that the children’s behavior and learning had improved by about 30 percent.  The most effective techniques stressed consistency in both rules and routine, and offered more praise for good behavior and less punishment when things went wrong.    The study also found that the children with ADHD learned best through repeated practice, so role playing was a learning technique that worked well.  Channeling extra energy also helped these children avoid misbehaving.   For example, children who couldn’t sit still during a music class were given an instrument to play while their classmates sang.  

Early intervention for preschool-aged children with ADHD seems to offer great benefits, the researchers said.  If the techniques they described in the study are used early and consistently, it could be possible to entirely avoid drug therapy.   ADHD carries a lot of long-term risks, and children with the disorder often have difficulty making friends and have high rates of drug and alcohol abuse when they get older, as well as other problems.  In this light, it makes sense to intervene with behavioral therapies as early as possible.

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