The most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder in children is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
It is estimated that ADHD affects about 10 percent of school-age children, with boys three times as likely to be diagnosed with the condition.
Children and adolescents with ADHD might present with inattention (poor sustained attention, distractibility), hyperactivity and impulsivity (excessive motor activity, restlessness, impulsive behaviors), or a combination of these symptoms.
Although impairment might range from mild to severe, without proper treatment children with ADHD are at a greater risk of developing a number of social, emotional, behavioral and academic problems that might persist into adulthood.
Most experts would agree that the most effective form of treatment of ADHD involves a combination of medication and therapy. However, a growing body of research has found that therapy alone, specifically behavior therapy, can be just as effective as medication, especially with young children.
Behavior therapy is a research-supported, “evidence-based” form of treatment in which children and their families are taught specific skills to prevent, manage and reduce maladaptive behavior patterns.
With the help of a behavior therapist, children learn basic social skills, behavior regulation, “stop and think” problem-solving skills, and proactive ways to relieve restlessness, initiate tasks, ask for help when needed, and follow rules at home and school.
A key component of behavior therapy is behavioral parent training, a form of treatment designed to help parents learn effective behavior management techniques to increase positive interactions with their child and reduce the occurrence of their child’s challenging behavior.
Parents learn how to pay closer attention or reward their child’s good behavior, thus “reinforcing” the types of behavior they want to see more often. They also learn how to set reasonable goals and establish meaningful consequences.
Behavioral parent training has been shown to be effective with children and teens, and helps prevent the development of more problematic conditions such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder, and other high-risk behavior problems.
Parents, schools and clinicians are encouraged to work together to be sure children and families are receiving treatment that is grounded in research and that has a track record of improving outcomes for children with ADHD and related challenging behaviors.
There are a number of helpful resources available on the web for parents and professionals, as well as for individuals diagnosed with ADHD.
For instance, CHADD (www.chadd .org) and ABCT (www.abct.org) provide education, support and tool kits for families and professionals.
Dr. Jeffrey S. Selman is a licensed psychologist, board certified behavior analyst, and nationally certified school psychologist. He is the co-owner and director of clinical services at JSS Behavioral Services.