Story by Whitney Harder
School is tough for a lot of children, but the classroom can be especially stressful for kids struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As a matter of fact, nearly 15 percent of Kentucky children are currently diagnosed with ADHD, the highest rate in the nation. Many struggle to pay attention, sit still or finish school work, overwhelmed with distraction and hyperactivity. Is medication the answer?
Although medication may help to manage some symptoms of ADHD in the classroom, mounting research indicates that medicine alone doesn’t necessarily lead to improved academic performance in the long run.
University of Kentucky researchers Elizabeth Lorch and Janice Almasi believe an answer may lie in a new after school program they’ve developed, using small group activities and novel learning strategies.
“Children might look as if they’re paying more attention with medication, but medication by itself doesn’t necessarily translate into better learning,” said Lorch, a professor in the Department of Psychology and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
That’s why the researchers are taking their program to 30 schools across Central Kentucky, testing how it can help elementary school students, thanks to a five year, $3.2 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences.
More than 1,400 third and fourth grade students either diagnosed with or determined at-risk for ADHD will have the opportunity to participate in their study.
Children will head to the after-school program three times a week for five weeks, where they’ll meet in small group sessions. The sessions will include activities designed to stimulate participation from students and help them comprehend information and master new skills.
“The goal is to not only improve academic performance, but also their confidence and interest in school activities,” said Almasi, a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
The sessions will be led by Kentucky teachers, literacy coaches and interventionists, who will be trained by Lorch, Almasi and co-investigators Richard Milich and Angela Hayden to deliver the activities.
“This could also help teachers create lessons for their classrooms that work for kids who show ADHD symptoms,” the researchers said.
Lauren Coleman, a second-grade teacher at Sts. Peter and Paul Regional Catholic School, has taught students with ADHD and worked with the researchers on a past project. She says the program could “absolutely benefit children with ADHD.”
“Dr. Almasi and Dr. Lorch have developed a way to explicitly teach comprehension strategies that cause children to think about stories and information differently than they are typically taught to think about them,” she said.
After completing the program, academic performance of each student will be compared to their performance before the program using a number of measures. Eventually, the UK researchers hope their work leads to interventions in the classroom, ensuring every child with ADHD can perform to the best of their ability.
“I hope to see research like this leading to changes in education because these interventions open a new way of thinking and can be used with diverse populations of learners,” she said.