Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) usually appears in children at an early age. Parents of ADHD children struggle to help their children with everyday tasks and academic assignments. Many of these children are unable to complete their homework and find difficulty with routine responsibilities, posing a tense and frustrating situation for both the parent and the child. A number of children who have ADHD also have symptoms of other psychological problems, with nearly 25% of them meeting the clinical requirements for both ADHD and anxiety. Understanding which condition, the anxiety or the ADHD, is at the root of the child’s behavior is imperative for parents. Strategies that might help address the symptoms of ADHD may exacerbate the anxiety in these children, and vice versa.
To add to the scant research exploring the effectiveness of integrated treatments for anxiety and ADHD in children, Matthew A. Jarrett of the Department of Psychology at the University of Alabama recently led a study that utilized two modified treatment approaches in eight children between the ages of 8 and 12 years with comorbid anxiety and ADHD. Jarrett used a 10-week approach based on The Defiant Child. The treatment included parent training, parent-child interaction improvement, and modifications that allowed for timeouts to reduce the anxiety associated with punishment and criticism. The second method was derived from the Cool Kids Program and entailed anxiety education, cognitive development, and exposure through games, rewards, repetition, and minimal writing assignments.
After 10 weeks of integrated treatment, the children realized significant reductions in ADHD symptoms, and smaller, more short-term reductions in symptoms of anxiety. All of the children met the clinical threshold for ADHD before the treatment. After treatment, only six of the eight remained in the clinical range, demonstrating a reduction of 25%. Jarrett believes that these findings show promise for children and parents who struggle with the challenges of these issues, but clearly, there is still more work to be done. He added, “Future studies will be needed to identify children who might best respond to such an integrated treatment protocol for ADHD and anxiety.”
Jarrett, M. A., Ollendick, T. H. (2012). Treatment of comorbid attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety in children: A multiple baseline design analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80.2, 239-244.
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