Education grant focuses on social impairment of children with ADHD
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often have social problems and generally do poorly in school — but no one completely understands why those kids are socially impaired and what behavioral treatments could best help them.
USC assistant professor of psychology and Research Consortium for Children and Families member Kate Flory thinks the disappointing results from social skills treatment programs for ADHD children stem from a fundamental lack of knowledge. She’s the principal investigator for a new $1.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant aimed at better understanding the relationship between ADHD symptoms and social and academic functioning.
“I don’t think we’ve ever really understood why kids with ADHD have social impairments or how those impairments relate to their academic performance,” Flory said.
“We want to find out to what degree they possess social skills and are able to use them effectively with other children and to what extent they’re able to work past common problems that co-occur with ADHD traits such as aggression.”
Flory’s research team includes scientists at USC, the Ohio University and the University of Kentucky and will study 240 children at the three university sites. Data will be collected from teachers and parents of children as well as from various exercises tasks done with the children, half of whom will have will been diagnosed with ADHD.
“We plan to have them watch episodes of the old TV show “Growing Pains,” then talk about the story lines to get a sense of their understanding of social skills goals and how they work,” Flory said. “We’ll also have them play a computer game that measures impulsivity.”
Many research studies have documented that children with ADHD — who account for 3-5 percent of American schoolchildren — are often rejected by their peers. But trying to improve the social skills of ADHD children has often produced disappointing results.
“I don’t think we understand the basic mechanisms that account for the social impairment experienced by children with ADHD,” Flory said. “It’s possible that social impairment might be an important predictor of academic impairment among those with ADHD, which is all the more reason for developing more effective treatment programs.”
In the final portion of the study, groups of 10 children — each group evenly mixed with ADHD and non-ADHD participants — will spend three hours in structured play time together. Their interactions will be videotaped and coded for positive and negative behaviors to capture “in vivo” data on the social functioning of children with ADHD.
“A lot of children with ADHD are prescribed medications such as Ritalin or Adderall, but I’m a big advocate of parent training in behavioral strategies because that can have a longer lasting effect than medication,” Flory said.