CASA of Arizona

ADHD - pg. 8

Psychosocial treatments of ADHD



Important options for the management of ADHD are psychosocial treatments, particularly in the form of training in behavioral techniques for parents and teachers. Behavioral techniques typically employ time-outs, point systems and contingent attention (adults reinforcing appropriate behavior by paying attention to it). Psychosocial treatments are useful for the child who does not respond to medication at all or for whom the therapeutic benefits of the medication have worn off, and for the child who responds only partially to medication or cannot tolerate medication. In addition, some families express a strong preference not to use medication. Even children who are receiving medication may continue to have residual ADHD symptoms or symptoms from other disorders which make specialized child management skills necessary and helpful. Furthermore, children with ADHD can present a challenge that puts significant stress on the family. Skills training for parents can help reduce this stress on parents and siblings.

Behavioral Approaches

The main psychosocial treatments for ADHD are behavioral training for parent and teacher, as well as systematic programs of contingency management. Of these options, systematic programs of intensive contingency management, conducted in specialized classrooms or summer camps with the setting controlled by highly trained individuals, are the most effective. A number of studies have compared parent training or school-based behavioral modification with the use of stimulants. Most of the studies are of outpatient behavioral therapy programs in which parents meet in groups and are taught behavioral techniques such as time out, point systems, and contingent attention. Teachers are taught similar classroom strategies, as well as the use of a daily report card for parents that evaluates the child's in-school behavior. The improvements in the symptoms of ADHD achieved with psychosocial treatments are not as large as those found with psycho stimulants. Behavioral interventions tend to improve targeted behaviors or skills but are not as helpful in reducing the core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. Questions remain about the effectiveness of these treatments in other settings. To be fully effective, treatments for ADHD need to be conducted at school, at home and within the community. This involves different people in the separate environments and consistency and comprehensiveness can be hard to achieve.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), primarily training in problem solving and social skills, has not been shown to provide clinically important changes in behavior and academic performance of children with ADHD. However, CBT might be helpful in treating symptoms of accompanying disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder, depression, or anxiety disorders.


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