Hyper Kids

healthy kids

What every parent needs to know about ADHD

More than a million kids take Ritalin and other drugs to help Control hyperactivity. Even more shocking: The use of ADHD meds in preschoolers has tripled in the past lo years. Now groundbreaking new research, suggests that parents can "vaccinate" kids against ADHD's behavioral problems early--avoiding or dramatically reducing the need for medication.

The new treatment: smart parenting and teaching. "The key is identifying preschoolers who may be at risk, then teaching their parents and teachers new skills--including firm (yet calm) discipline, anger and impulse control, and social awareness," says ADHD researcher George DuPaul, PhD, a Lehigh University psychologist and director of an innovative new ADHD prevention program. "This helps the child reduce hyperactivity and gain better focus.

"The prospect of medicating a little kid is one of the top reasons parents avoid seeking help early," says DuPaul. Many turn to unproven "ADHD diets" or health-food-store supplements--or do nothing, hoping that their impulsive, hard-to handle preschooler will just grow out of it.

DuPaul's approach could reduce, eliminate, or delay the need for ADHD drugs. Here's how it works: Psychologists first evaluate at-risk 3to-5-year-olds in their home and at preschool. They then meet regularly with parents--and even the child's preschool teachers--to teach them how to create an "ADH D-friendly" environment.

The cornerstone: Consistent, dear expectations, with rewards for good behavior and appropriate consequences for bad. The adults also learn how to help kids develop social skills and longer attention spans.

"The brains of ADHD kids are different. Behavioral cues can work just like medicine when all of a child's caregivers deliver them consistently and regularly," DuPaul says. "Changing a child's environment can change his brain function-so well, in fact, that the need for medication can sometimes be eliminated altogether." (DuPaul acknowledges that some kids do eventually need medication if they risk hurting themselves or others, but that behavior training still helps.)

While this model program is not widely available, DuPaul encourages parents to give it a try at home. "Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a child or school psychologist who can evaluate whether your child's at risk. Then find a school psychologist or family therapist to work with you and your child," he advises. (See "To Get Help.") "If children get this head start on learning to focus, making friends, and doing better school work, their chance of succeeding without medication when they reach elementary school age is much ,more promising."

early signs
A preschooler or kindergartner who is so overactive, inattentive, distracted, or impulsive that he endangers himself, or can't complete daily activities such as eating, getting dressed, and playing with friends, may be more likely to develop ADHD.

to get help
Speak up Ask your family doctor or preschool teacher for a referral to a school or child psychologist for a full evaluation. Tell them you would like to avoid medication if at all possible.

Connect Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a national nonprofit organization for ADHD families. Go to www.prevention.com /links for a chapter near you.

Read Taking Charge of ADHD, by Russell A. Barkley, PhD ($18.95), a parents' comprehensive, hands-on guide to behavior changes that help at-risk kids.

PHOTO (COLOR): The help he needs, without drugs.

PHOTO (COLOR): Calm, focused-and ready to learn

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By Marianne McGinnis

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