New study shows parent power may be best for kids with ADHD symptoms

A new study launched today by children’s charity Archways, shows promising results for young Irish children with ADHD symptoms and suggests that training for parents may derive the greatest benefits for kids. 

Over 40% of children showing high levels of behavioural difficulties including hyperactivity, attention deficit problems or aggression, fell to within a normal range on a behaviour measurement scale after just 20 weeks of the parent programme intervention, according to the NUI Maynooth evaluation of a programme called Incredible Years.   The most positive results emerged for the children whose parents participated in the parent-training element of the programme.  

The findings also suggest that the Incredible Years programme may help to reduce ADHD or ADHD-type symptoms without the use of medication.  None of the participating children were on medication at the start or throughout the programme.

It is estimated that ADHD affects up to 5% of all children – or one in 20 kids – with boys at increased risk of developing the disorder.   ADHD is amongst the most commonly reported diagnosis of all children in contact with mental health services in this country.  In Ireland, there has been a 62% increase in prescriptions for ADHD drugs over the past six years.  The researchers acknowledge that medication has been shown to help some symptoms of ADHD.  However, there are persistent ethical and other considerations regarding their long-term use for young children, they say.

“This research is very good news for parents and children living with the stress and uncertainty of ADHD,” said Aileen O’Donoghue, CEO of Archways.  “As a country, we must be investing further and seriously in the Incredible Years training programmes as a frontline intervention for families.  In fact, given the evidence from this study and others, these programmes should be as standard for children and families living with behaviour difficulties as vaccinations are for infants.”

The study, called “Proving the Power of Positive Engagement”, was a randomized controlled trial with two elements. The first element involved families who received the parent programme only and the second element involved families that received a combination of the parent programme and child programme (called the Dina programme). The study indicates that young children derived the greatest benefit from the parent training element of the programme.  Contrary to expectations, the programme for children, in combination with the parent training, did not result in benefits for the parents or the children in the short term.

Researchers acknowledge that this may be as a result of the small sample size of 45 families.  However, they regard the positive emerging findings from the parent progrmme as grounds for further, larger scale research into the potential of preventative and treatment programmes for parents and children as a first line of intervention for children with severe behaviour difficulties.

Tallaght Family Resource Centre and Deansrath Family Centre in Clondalkin delivered the service to the families involved in the study. More than two-thirds of the families were from disadvantaged backgrounds. The evaluation of the impact of the programme on ADHD symptoms is the final set of findings to emerge from a five-year Incredible Years Ireland Study, led by NUI Maynooth, and commissioned by Archways. The research was funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and was led by Dr. Sinead McGilloway, Principal Investigator and Director of the Mental Health and Social Research Unit at NUI Maynooth.


Note on Incredible Years

The Incredible Years programme , was introduced to Ireland by Archways, and is designed to prevent and treat emotional and behavioural difficulties in children aged 0 to 12 years. It comprises three separate training programmes for children, parents and teachers.  These were developed by US based, Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton and most have been rigorously tested for over 30 years.  The programme emphasises positive affirmation rather than punitive measures to help children regulate their emotions and improve their social skills.  National and international research has also noted the positive effects of the programme on parental mental health and well-being.

Issued by NUI Maynooth Communications Office 01-7086160