As part of the five year study titled 'Project Achieve', George DuPaul and colleagues examined 135 preschool students, age 3 to 5, who showed significant symptoms of ADHD and evaluated the effectiveness of early intervention techniques in helping children to decrease defiant behaviour and aggression, while improving academic and social skills.
The study found that after using a variety of early intervention strategies, parents reported, on average, a 17-percent decrease in aggression and a 21-percent improvement in their children's social skills. Teachers saw similarly strong results; in the classroom, there was a 28-percent improvement in both categories. Early literacy skills improved up to three times over their baseline status.
"Medication may address the symptoms of ADHD, but it does not necessarily improve children's academic and social skills. And because this is a lifelong disorder, without any cure, it's important that we start understanding what tools and strategies are effective for children with ADHD at such an early age," DuPaul said.
Early intervention techniques include highly individualized programs that often rely on positive supports to reinforce behaviour. For example, in consultation with parents and preschool teachers, the researchers modified the environments in home and school (such as altering tasks and activities in the classroom to accommodate for ADHD students) in an effort to improve behaviour. The highly interactive techniques were presented as alternatives to medicine.
The researchers suggest that a multi-tiered approach to intervention, offering more traditional services to at-risk children and more intensive services to children in greatest need, might be the most practical and cost-effective strategy for helping preschoolers overcome behavioural and academic challenges.
The findings of the study were published in the School Psychology Review.